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“Were You There?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote

ConnECtion2017

June 3, 2017

Were you there when this question and response was heard each week across America?  “What sort of day was it?  A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times – and you, were there.”  Were you, there?

Those words were spoken in the mid-1950s – so, as a more familiar voice echoes in your ears, “So, you couldn’t have been there, could you.”  You couldn’t have been there? Really?!

I was there.  As the only one here from The Silent Generation, I speak up to say: “I was there.”  Each week in my mid-teens, I heard those sonorous words – there in Youngstown, Ohio, in front of our 21” black-and-white Capehart television set in our living room. Walter Cronkite spoke those words at the end of every episode of You Are There.  It was his CBS series of reenactments and film clips of great historical events.

Watching them, we did have a sense that, yeah, we were there! Of course, that generation was reared to “be there” through radiosound filtered through imagination. Now, we “were there” through sound and sight, so, less was left to imagination and we were there! As it were!

Cronkite’s sign-off made a big impression on me.  His sound and inflections, even his cadence, echoes in my long-term memory.  And, he made good sense!  We all, throughout history, have, as it’s said today, “been there, done that”. Every day is, “a day like all days”, filled with experiences and opportunities that, if used wisely, can be illuminating and life altering.  Live and learn!  But, often, we don’t.

Even facing what we haven’t experienced personally, we should remind ourselves that others, with less experience, less advantage, have “been there, done that”, and have managed fairly well.  As Terence, the ancient playwright who’d also been a slave, learned: “I’m human, so nothing human is alien to me.”

Today is yet another day like all days when, again, we get to live and learn, if we know well enough, and will enough, to do so.  And we may do that from all the hard-won wisdom still available to us.

Throughout the ups and downs of human history, the wise have been wise to the fact that every day is, indeed, a day like all days.  At our recent weekly Bible studies and at our most recent Bible Study Weekend, we’ve seen evidence of this in the timeless truths from the old Hebrew wisdom literature.  As Kohelet said: “There’s nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9)  Of course, if we don’t know what they knew and we don’t bother to learn from what they passed on for us, none of it is of any use to us.

Yet now, in our turn, we have opportunity to learn what they learned (or didn’t), if we pay attention to their wisdom and folly. Read more →

Wesleyan Practice & Homosexual Practice

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is a slightly expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the Annual Michigan Area United Methodist Pastor’s School, August 22, 1983 on the campus of Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Blair’s address followed one by Dr. Robert Lyon, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Lyon had been invited to focus on biblical and theological considerations and Dr. Blair had been invited to focus on clinical and scientific data, though both speakers included other material as well. A question and answer period followed both presentations.

(PDF version available here.)

Introduction

I suppose that an audience of United Methodist preachers isn’t the very easiest audience to address with much of what I have to say tonight, but I guess that there are preachers of other denominations (unnamed) with whom I might have an even harder time. In spite of all the seeming openness about sex today, we all, including clergy, have a certain uncomfortable feeling about it. And there is even more uncomfortableness about homosexuality. Even though the Bible leads the way in our thinking of God as the great Cosmic Lover, no less than John Wesley himself felt a sort of homophobic squeamishness over Charles’ phrasing: “Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly.” [1] So I thank you for this opportunity to “calmly consider”—as Wesley might have put it again [2]—some material on homosexuality.

I’m tempted to try to win you over by adopting the strategy Thomas Coke used in another controversy. Your first American bishop reported having “found out a method of delivering [his testimony against slavery] without much offense, or at least without causing a tumult.” His tactic was this: “by first addressing the negroes in a very pathetic manner on the duty of servants to masters, … the whites will receive quietly what I have to say to them.” [3] As there are not very many openly gay people here this evening, however, I cannot really begin by “first addressing the homosexuals in a very pathetic manner.” I assure you, though, that when I’m speaking before openly gay groups, I’ve been known to come down hard against self-destructive patterns of what too often parades for homosexuality per se in some gay lifestyles, especially those of some urban gay males. [4]

Need it be said here that what I’m supporting is not every expression of homosexuality anymore than what most of you support is every expression of heterosexuality? I had hoped not. But apparently it does need to be said, in view of the negative caricature of all so-called “pro-homosexual” advocates painted by the first speaker [Robert Lyon of Asbury Seminary]. Need it be said here that what I support is not every expression of every homosexual anymore than what most of you support is every expression of every heterosexual? Sadly, it seems that I do need to say that I don’t support every expression of every homosexual. May I say, too, that I’m not in favor of the ancient forms of homosexuality known to the Apostle Paul, e.g., rape, cultic prostitution, “call boy” prostitution, and the inequalities of Roman and Greek master-slave pederasty. [5] There are some types of contemporary same-sex expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, and so-called “value-free” gay pride rhetoric that I don’t support any more than you support some types of heterosexual expression such as promiscuity, prostitution, “kiddieporn,” sex with minors, and so-called “value-free” open marriage. Neither you nor I want to be identified with all homosexualities or all heterosexualities any more than we want to be identified with all expressions of Christianity, be it Donald Wildmon’s, Jimmy Swaggart’s, or Mary Baker Eddy’s. I no more support the silly lesbian separatism of a Sally Gearhart than you support the stupid racial separatism of a Bob Jones. I am no more to be confused with advocating the gay est delusions of a David Goodstein than you are probably to be confused with the straight est delusions of a Werner Erhard. When “Gay is Good” becomes “Gay is God,” I protest just as I do when, failing to see the implications of the incarnation, others fail to see that “God is Gay” as well as God is all the rest of what we are, “yet without sin.” Read more →

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

The Bond that Breaks the Boundaries

An expanded version of a lecture by Dr. Ralph Blair to Courage Trust at the Anglican Church of St. James the Less, Pimlico, London, November 2, 2001.

(PDF version available here.)


When it comes to the subject of gay and lesbian evangelical Christians, most evangelical Christians agree with most gays and lesbians. Just as Grape-Nuts is neither grapes nor nuts and Christian Science is neither Christian nor science and Therapeutic Touch is neither therapeutic nor touch, to most evangelicals and to most gay people, a gay evangelical Christian is neither truly gay nor truly Christian. For most people, you cannot be both an openly evangelical Christian and an openly gay man or lesbian.

Evangelical and Gay/Lesbian Diversity

Actually there are all sorts of evangelicals—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t. And there are all sorts of gay men and lesbians—from the all-out-of-sorts kind to those who aren’t.

According to an evangelical history professor: “Once past a shared commitment to a supernatural gospel, evangelicals are all over the place theologically.” [Mark Noll] The president of Southern Baptist Seminary joins a church historian at Westminster Seminary to declare that “No single evangelical tradition exists.” [Albert Mohler, Jr. and D. G. Hart] A Regent College theology professor states: “Evangelicalism is a network and tradition of Christians united on a few select convictions. As such, evangelicalism is not essentially committed to this or that … so long as Christ is glorified, the Bible obeyed, the gospel preached and the kingdom extended.” [John G. Stackhouse, Jr.]

“Evangelical identity,” says an Anglican evangelical, “has come to embrace such a wide range of theological options.” And he grants that it has been so ever since the 18th century split between John Wesley and George Whitefield—during the very beginnings of what is known as evangelicalism. [Gerald Bray] He notes that “from that day to this, there has never been an evangelical church or even a confession of faith, which all evangelicals can accept as definitive of this movement.”

In his new book, Christian America?, sociologist Christian Smith again reports research that undercuts the notion that evangelicals make up a monolithic community. Evangelicals are divided along political, racial and class lines. And contrary to popular opinion, evangelicalism and the Religious Right are not synonymous, though most people who identify as evangelicals do not approve of homosexuality.

The president of the board of the Religious Right’s World magazine has proposed that a group of conservative Christians start a daily newspaper “from a distinctively Christian point of view.” If his World magazine is any indication, what he means by reporting the news “from a perspective committed to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God” is a perspective that’s against homosexuals and for capital-gains tax cuts. But, at any rate, he laments that there’s an even bigger obstacle than the raising of the millions of dollars it would take to finance such a daily newspaper. He complains: “We Christians are woefully disunified and unprepared ideologically and philosophically to define and then live out the profile of a ‘Christian’ daily newspaper. We Christians still disagree way too much on what it means to be a ‘Christian’ anything.” [Joel Belz] Evangelical Christian diversity is “way too much” for him.

As the dean of American church historians puts it: “There are evangelicals and there are evangelicals.” [Martin E. Marty] Read more →

REVIEW: Summer 2017

“Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Cheap Shots: Why the Christian Philosopher’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage is Shallow” by Wesley Hill, First Things, November 1, 2016;  “The Tyranny of Decadence” by Peter Jones, truthXchange, June 5, 2017. 

 by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here)

More than a decade before Wesley Hill graduated from college and two years before InterVarsity published the 1995 Christianity Today Book of the Year award-winner, Philosophers Who Believe, featuring Wolterstorff and ten others, Wolterstorff keynoted an Evangelicals Concerned gay/lesbian-affirming summer conference.  He’d have done so sooner, but for his heavy schedule of academic writing and speaking.

Hill hadn’t started elementary school when Wolterstorff was wrapping up his 30-year-tenure as philosophy professor at Calvin College.  Before Hill was born, Wolterstorff was traveling the world, giving the Free University of Amsterdam’s Kuyper Lectures, Oxford University’s Wilde Lectures, The University of St. Andrews’ Gifford Lectures, Southern Methodist University’s Tate-Willson Lectures, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Stone Lectures, Yale University’s Taylor Lectures, Regent College’s Laing Lectures and major lectures, too, at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  He’s also held Visiting Professorships at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, Notre Dame, the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, Temple University, the Free University of Amsterdam and the University of Virginia.  He’s “been around the block” – and not only as a solidly Christian philosopher.

While not responsible for when or even if we’re born, how about some humility later, before charging full blast against such a seasoned thinker as Wolterstorff?  Hill mocks his case for same-sex marriage as “shallow”, “flippant”, “superficial”, full of “cheap shots” and even unbiblical.  He cavils over Wolterstorff’s smiled aside on gay procreativity in this lecture given at a church, as if this grieving dad had never written Lament For a Son.

What’s most odd about Hill’s attempt to rebut Wolterstorff is how he begins his attack.  He objects to Wolterstorff’s following Jesus’ lead in Jesus’ response to a question he was asked: “What is the great commandment?”  Jesus summed up all the commandments and all the prophets in this twofold statement: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  And love your neighbor as yourself.”  This self-evident, pragmatic rule of reciprocity is in all three Synoptics.  Clearly, it was very well recalled. Read more →

RECORD: Summer 2017

(PDF version available here)

2017 is another milestone year for Evangelicals Concerned.  In early June we held our 75th summer ConnECtion retreat, our Diamond Jubilee (considering all of EC’s summer retreats in the East, Midwest and West, since 1980).  Besides another keynote from EC’s founder, we heard a keynote from Sully screenwriter Todd Komarnicki and excerpts from the inspiring words of the missionary, Amy Carmichael, read and commented upon by Jane Bradbury.  Longtime conferees agreed it was one of the very best EC retreats ever.

In February, we held our 30th Annual Presidents Day Weekend Bible Study up in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail.  We studied the Book of Proverbs and heard a lecture on philanthropist D. D. Davis in this, the 100th year of his birth.  We watched a video of Ravi Zacharias’ 1983 address at Billy Graham’s Amsterdam conference for itinerate evangelists.  Later that year, Davis met Zacharias in Ohio and financed RZIM’s founding.

Over the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, October 6-8, 2017, EC will again meet at Ocean Grove on the Jersey shore for our Fall Festival – our 15th.  We’ll commemorate the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s Reformation for a return to Scripture, Grace and Faith.

Walter R. Hearn, biochemist, veteran leader in the evangelical American Scientific Affiliation, poet, and a 2005 keynoter for Evangelicals Concerned, has passed away.  In his long scientific career, he taught in the medical schools at Yale and Baylor as well as at Iowa State University and, later in life, he was the professor of Christianity and science at New College, Berkeley.  He was also the author of Being a Christian in Science (InterVarsity Press).  His wife, Ginny Hearn, a longtime leader in the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, survives him.

Of the over 100 EC keynoters since 1980, seventeen of these sisters and brothers, including Walt, have passed on into the nearer presence of the Lord: John F. Alexander, Mary V. Borhek, R. Maurice Boyd, Val Clear, Gary Cooper, Virginia West Davidson, Nancy A. Hardesty, Walden Howard, Kay Lindskoog, Mildred Pearson, Howard L. Rice, Rosalind Rinker, Charlie Shedd, Gerald T. Sheppard, Lewis B. Smedes and James Tinney.

 Frank Worthen, long time “ex-gay” leader, has died.  He was 87.  His father died when Frank was just 13.  Then, as he’s said, his pastor, who was gay, “mentored” him into “the homosexuality lifestyle”.  From age 19, and for some 25 years, he was actively involved in the promiscuous gay scene in San Francisco.  He recalled it as depressing.  In his mid-40s, although financially successful, he was otherwise empty and was ready to kill himself.  A young Christian employee took him to church, reconnecting him with his childhood faith in God.  He then met some gay men who’d started an “ex-gay” ministry.  One of these was John Evans, “Ted” in the “ex-gay” book, The Third Sex.  Evans soon left that group and became one of the first folks in Evangelicals Concerned in the west.

At 55, Frank met Anita.  She and Frank married.  They then become leaders in Exodus, the “ex-gay” network.  They worked with founders of Melodyland’s EXIT ministry and other “ex-gay” leaders who’d later all leave the “ex-gay” movement with apologies for all of the harm their false promises had caused to so many.

John Paulk is one of the best known of the former “ex-gay” activists, having chaired Exodus and the “ex-gay” efforts at Focus on the Family.  Upon hearing of Worthen’s death, Paulk graciously posted this heartfelt tribute on Facebook: “I will never forget getting off the bus in 1987 on my journey from Ohio to California and Frank wrapping me in his arms. … No matter my journey, he always loved me unconditionally.  May the Lord give your soul and heart rest, my dear Frank.” Read more →

Undoing Every Do; Doing Every Don’t: The Ten Commandments, the Religious Right & the Lesbigayt Left

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Based on Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtions2000, Evangelicals Concerned’s summer conferences at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania and at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.


A couple months ago, in Uganda, under the banner of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, more than a thousand men, women and children were exterminated. They had been told that the Virgin Mary demanded strict enforcement of the Ten Commandments in order for them to escape damnation. But in the end, the Ten Commandments cult leader was the one who broke every one of the Ten Commandments. And in doing so, she caused the death of more people than any other religious movement in modem history. Also in Uganda, there’s the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army—with its goal to run Uganda according to the Ten Commandments. It’s notorious for kidnapping children and turning them into sex slaves. Today happens to be the day that Christians around the world are remembering the martyrs of Uganda.

Are these anomalous—these atrocities rationalized under the cover of the Ten Commandments? We’ll see. First, for something lighter.

If you do a Web search of The Ten Commandments, you’ll come up with everything from “The Ten Commandments of Tennis” and “The Ten Commandments of Tea” to “The Ten Commandments of HTML” and “The Ten Commandments of HMOs.” There are even “The Alternative Ten Commandments” of an atheist in the U.K., e.g. “Thou shalt not tell atheists that thy God loveth them.”

The Ten Commandments are for sale on “simulated parchment” ($1.50), in stone ($78—“museum quality suitable for outdoor use”), and on T-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry and of course, bumper stickers.

The Ten Commandments Project and National T-Day are ministries of “Operation Save Our Nation.” The enterprise distributes stone copies of the Ten Commandments to government officials.

A “Ten Commandments Resolution” in defense of the display of the Ten Commandments “against all enemies, domestic and foreign, public and private” is a feature of another Web site called: Take Back Georgia, Inc.

You’ll also find tencommandments.org. Here it gets darker. According to this group, the Constitution’s “an inverted document” because of its “ability [through The Bill of Rights] to create the abominable and death-worthy crime of homosexuality.” The site features a diatribe entitled “Against Homosexuality.” It’s stated: “God has not prescribed that homosexuals should merely be spoken against, rejected, discriminated against, or banished from the nation, but God requires that they be put to death by the governments under which they reside (Leviticus 20:13) and no sorrow should be had for them. … Any homosexual who thinks he or she is accepted by God and His true Church has to be cursed with the deepest depths of blindness and satanic depravity.”

There are more familiar names behind these Ten Commandment arsenals. Gary Bauer’s old “Family Research Council” is sponsoring an effort to get public officials to hang copies of the Ten Commandments in public schools and court houses. This campaign is called “Hang Ten.”

And there’s an Alabama county court judge who gives new meaning to the expression “a hanging judge.” The ACLU brought a lawsuit against him for his hanging Ten in his courtroom. The suit was dismissed on a technicality. Now he’s defeated three other candidates for the Republican nomination for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice. Read more →

Homosexual Counseling Journal

The Quarterly Journal of The Homosexual Community Counseling Center

EDITORIALS

Dr. Ralph Blair, Editor

1974 Editorials: Charter Volume, Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4

1975 Editorials: Volume II, Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4

1976 Editorials: Volume III, Numbers 1, 2


“Dr. Blair is scrupulously thorough and shows a remarkable analytic ability in his evaluation of the research of others. Indeed, his survey of the etiology of homosexuality is to my mind the best in existence.”

Carlfred B. Broderick, Ph.D., Editor
Journal of Marriage and the Family


“Ralph Blair has written a splendid survey of the etiology of homosexuality. [Blair’s] Homosexual Counseling Journal is attractive and so full of news and helpful information that it should be welcomed by many.”

Walter C. Alvarez, M.D.
Emeritus Consultant, Mayo Clinic


VOL. 1, NO. 1, JANUARY 1974

It was right for the Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality from the listing of mental disorders in the Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. At long last, those at the top of the psychiatric profession reached the conclusion that, in terms of nomenclature, homosexuality does not meet the criteria for being considered a psychiatric disorder. These psychiatrists educated themselves through critical evaluation of the evidence from both within and without the homosexual community. They recognized that homosexuality per se does not regularly cause subjective distress nor is it regularly associated with some generalized impairment in social effectiveness. This decision should help to improve the chances for greater public acceptance of homosexual men and women.

The one unfortunate move of the Trustees was that they also created a new category, Sexual orientation disturbance, to replace the discarded category of homosexuality. This entry applies to those who, among others and because of introjected negative thinking about homosexuality, feel that they would be better off as heterosexual. To this end they will be led to invest large amounts of time and money to try for psychiatric reversal of orientation. Unfortunately, their hopes cannot be bolstered by histories of success in such effort. In the process, the lives of third parties will be disrupted and the homosexuals will lose opportunities to learn repertoire for functioning appropriately in terms of their fundamental sexual orientation.

Homoerotiphobic psychiatrists are pressing now for a referendum of the entire APA membership in an attempt to overturn the Trustees’ decision to no longer list homosexuality as a mental disorder. When psychiatrists think about behavior which has been so unacceptable in their society, it may be unrealistic to expect that many of them could set aside their prejudices and assess the matter in rigorous diagnostic and statistical terms. Elsewhere in this issue of the Journal, May’s findings suggest that attitudes of members of the helping professions may have little to do with professional training and much to do with pre-professional opinions. The training of psychiatrists has been inadequate to counter popular notions about homosexuality. The response to a referendum might be characterized by what could be called, in Veblenian terms, a “trained incapacity” on the part of grass roots psychiatrists, as either citizens or psychiatrists, to change their impressions in light of more recent and accurate information. Read more →

With Sunshine & Rainfall For All: An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights

by Dr. Ralph Blair

With Sunshine & Rainfall for All: An Evangelical Affirmation of Gay Rights is an expanded version of an address delivered by Dr. Blair at the 34th Annual Meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society in 1982. Dr. Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He is the founder and president of Evangelicals Concerned and is a member of The Evangelical Theological Society, The Christian Association for Psychological Studies, and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues of The American Psychological Association.

Copyright 1983 by Ralph Blair. All rights reserved. HCCC, Inc.


Let’s Listen With Love.

If we evangelical Christians are going to have anything worth saying in response to proposed gay civil rights legislation, we would do well first to hear what is being said. Quite apart from our having nothing intelligent to say if we really haven’t heard what’s being said, we fail to render what Bonhoeffer reminded us was the “first service one owes to others:” that of “listening to them.” When the early church faced what seemed to be strange claims of Gentiles to full rights in the church, believers did what evangelicals today are not so willing to do with homosexuals: they engaged in dialogue and really tried to hear each other. And they began by emphasizing truths about which they were all in agreement (Acts 15).

We have to listen caringly to what homosexuals and other supporters of gay civil rights legislation are really saying. We have to listen carefully to the wording of proposed legislation. We have to listen caringly when some people tell us of their being attracted sexually, romantically, only to some people of their own sex. We have to listen caringly when they tell us of the ways they’ve been discriminated against in a predominantly homophobic society and thus need the protection of such law. Our failure even to hear them constitutes part of the discrimination they’re trying to tell us about.

We who would preach the gospel to all the world—including homosexuals—must, with Westminster Seminary’s Harvie Conn, recognize that “A gospel that does not address people as the sinned-against poses a lot of problems … for the sinned-against.” (1) Conn helps us see that “compassion becomes possible when we perceive people as the sinned-against,” and that “at the heart of compassion is the idea of ‘suffering with’ (Rom 8:17), involvement in the pain” of the sinned-against. (2) To listen this way may tax some of us beyond what we can yet afford, for as Angelina Grimké said last century, “I am sure that the poor and oppressed … can never be benefitted without mingling with them on terms of equality.” (3) Hers was as repulsive an idea to those who then sought to keep “niggers” in their place as it is now to those who want to keep “queers” in their place. Her empathy, though, reflects what Ray Anderson, writing in The Reformed Journal, has called God’s “structure of human existence … the one for the other, the one with the other, [which] is essential humanity [and] the basis for social justice.” (4) Read more →

Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

Empathways

by Ralph Blair

Empathways is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address at connECtions98 in the summer of 1998.


INTRODUCTION

“Can I see another’s woe, / And not be in sorrow, too? / Can I see another’s grief, / And not seek for kind relief?”

What William Blake here had in mind was empathy as we usually think of it—in connection with another person’s misfortune. But empathy can also connect with another person’s good fortune. In his prayer-poem, “The Celestial Surgeon,” Robert Louis Stevenson reproaches himself at the thought that “beams from happy human eyes / Have moved me not.”

Someone tells of a man who came by to meet his friend and saw her talking with a shabbily-dressed woman with a small child at her side. As he approached, he saw his friend give money to the stranger who then, with her child in tow, quickly moved on. When he reached his friend she told him that that little child had leukemia. He said: “Nonsense. That kid’s not sick. It’s a scam!” His friend said: “You mean that child doesn’t have leukemia?” “Of course not,” he insisted. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s a relief!”’

Who do you think was practicing empathy here? The woman who gave money to that mother or the man who said the mother was lying? Maybe both? Maybe both. You might be as surprised about that as you were with the woman’s expression of relief. We’re going to think about empathy so we might do empathy better.

Some people insist on distinguishing empathy from sympathy. These purists want us to say we empathize with people in the same boat and sympathize with people in a different boat. To them, “I feel your pain” is empathy but “I can imagine your pain” is sympathy. Fair enough. We don’t want to be so insensitive as to tell people we “know exactly” what they’re going through when we’ve never gone through exactly what they’re going through. But fussing over rigid distinctions might mean we’ll miss the boat on empathy—no matter what we call it. Besides, are we not all in the same boat? Some may be in First Class and some may be in steerage, but we’re all on the “Titanic.”

In addition to empathy as this ability to feel for or identify with another in his or her situation, there’s another dimension to empathy. The emphasis here is on accurate prediction. Empathy can be the ability to predict accurately the thinking, feeling and behavior of others.

Back when I was in grad school I studied a psychometric instrument called The Empathy Test. Its validity was established on the basis of how well car salesmen (they were all men in those days) could predict the difference between those who were serious about buying a car and those who dropped by only to take a ride. Obviously, an ability to predict which were serious buyers and which were not could save lots of time and money for the dealer. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride. Here, empathy wasn’t about warm fuzzies; it was about cold cash. So empathy isn’t just hand-holding. The better we are at empathic accuracy, the more successful we’ll be in all sorts of relationships with other people. Read more →

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