In my recent interaction with Brad Littlejohn about N.T. Wright, a phrase taken from Matt Anderson was invoked, that phrase being intellectual empathy. His original post on it is here, and in the main I think what he was saying — when applied to what he was talking about — is just fine.
But there are a number of other issues that are relevant to guys like me after we have left the wood-paneled seminar room at the college, and have gotten involved in a saloon brawl down the street. Intellectual empathy is great if you are in a situation that calls for such empathy. But a lot of times, that is not the kind of situation you are dealing with.
The defense of Western civilization ain’t beanbag, if you know what I mean. In certain conflicts, no quarter is given, and no quarter should be expected. The warning of Bunyan is appropriate here.
“Then it came burning hot in my mind, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.”
As Christians, we are constrained by the Word of God, which is another way of saying that we don’t get to fight dirty. But not getting to fight dirty, as God defines it, is not the same thing as not getting to fight dirty as our adversaries define it. You see, they define us fighting dirty as us winning, or scoring any points whatever. They also think we are fighting dirty whenever we effectively deny being misogynistic racists.
So in those sorts of conflicts, it is folly to give quarter. This is true when dealing with evil groups, with evil individuals, and with good individuals who have been snookered into supporting (or anemically opposing) some key element of the bad-guy agenda. Reading from left to right, an example of each would be Nazis, Hitler, and Chamberlain.
At Helm’s Deep, when Theoden rode out, the trumpets of war were bracing and clear, and the orcs fell back in a panic. What we do not want in such a moment are the trumpets of smooth jazz. “What was that?” Gimli asked, astonished. “That, my friend,” said Legolas, “was intellectual empathy. Entirely out of place here, if you ask me.”
Did Jesus practice intellectual empathy? Yes — when it was called for. He reserved such kindness in argument, usually, for Marine colonels with sick slaves and Syro-Phoenician women with demon-possessed daughters. But when dealing the professional class of theologian, the kind of men who are paid to be the wood termites in the cedar-lined house of the Lord, not so much.
Jesus was charged with a number of things, gluttony and tippling among them. But he was also accused of being insensitive in polemical exchanges. His response is instructive and uplifting.
“One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! . . .” (Luke 11:45-46a, ESV)
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. You lawyers . . .