In my limited experience, I have noticed among some of the theists I am around that they seem to have an altered sense of empathy in certain cases.  When discussing Proposition 8 and the resulting case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, I overheard one of my religious acquaintances say that she just "can't understand why people would have a problem with Proposition 8" presumably because it passed by majority vote by the people.  Hearing this shocked me, because here was a sweet girl who does oodles of volunteer work, saying that homosexuals shouldn't have a problem with Prop8 because it was voted on by their peers!  I have no issue seeing how homosexuals would l take issue with their rights being put to a vote, but I do have an issue seeing how a normally sweet person can make an exception in their empathy for homosexuals.


This was the only personal experience I have had with this type of “empathy for all but homosexuals” mentality in person, but I have seen plenty of this kind of mentality in message boards.  Does a belief system, which many theists regard as central to their whole worldview and life, which stresses infinite pain and torture for small trespasses lead to such mentality?  Have any you who were former theists, looking back, seen this kind of exemption in your empathy during that time?


Are there any studies observing empathy in theists versus atheists?  And has anyone noticed similar gaps in empathy among their friends and family, or strangers on the street?


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Um, no, according to that chart Spain is still decreasing, if at a slower rate, but still they're accepting homosexuality more and more in the recent past. It's the UNITED STATES in which anti-gay attitudes are INCREASING in the recent past. Ugh.

People feel empathy for all who they feel "deserve" empathy. If someone murdered your family, you probably wouldn't feel empathy for them, even if they are crying and going to be executed as a punishment. If you think, for whatever reason, that homosexuality is wrong/evil/etc., then you're not going to feel empathy for people who are homosexual. Your opinion might change if say... your child came out as gay. And you'd be confused at first and you might be horrible to them and tune them out ignore their feelings etc. but there is also a chance that you actually might start feeling empathy for gay people because you realize they are affected negatively by laws like Prop 8 and you realize homosexual people are people too. It all depends on your worldview.

I think you could apply the empathy thing to animals too. Some people consider animals not worthy of empathy, and others consider them as having feelings or possibly having some kind of pain and/or emotion that therefore means that it is cruel to eat them/test medicines/cosmetics on them, etc. Right? Why is this? Why do people vary so much in their views on these "empathy" matters?
Some humans, no matter what their upbringing, simply are incapable of empathy.
Empathy is the basis of all morality. Religion simply corrupts empathy with a set of rules that benefit the rule giver. This is verified here through multiple studies. If children are left to their own devices, fairness and protecting social order is natural. It's to be expected in evolution as well. Societies that work together as a team for the greater good have a better chance of surviving to procreation. If you have a small group that is murdering and pillaging, they will eventually be met and challenged. When they are conquered in return, they will likely die out.

The Blue Laws of most areas are listed as Moral Laws. Anti-prostitution, selling items on Sunday, anti intoxication, etc are all laws that have consistently failed and or have been pushed off the books. These are the morals of religion placed into law. We as a society are rejecting the rules laid out in the Abrahamic Religions in favor of empathy for others. You don't need commandments to know that theft is wrong. You only need to think of your fellow human. When you see and treat them as an equal, all morality can explained by empathy. My most common question to my child (when we get around to it) is likely to be, "How would that make others feel?"
To me this is less a question of empathy, which means being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to understand them better (which is basically impossible to do since you really have to be in that specific group to truly know what it is like). This is more a question about oppression, both external and internal.

Studies have shown that many people that are vehemently against homosexuals are fighting their own personal demons by lashing out at the very group of people that they themselves secretly identify with .... but have come to hate (themselves) due to conditioning by church, family and other institutions (cultural, legal, educational, religious, etc.)

And for those that aren't fighting their own homosexual or bisexual tendencies (we are all on a sexual continuum, very rare to be at either extreme of the sexual orientation spectrum ... truth be told), they need to be reminded that popular vote should never be a determiner for morals or fairness. Slavery was not abolished due to popular vote ... the Supreme Court exists to makes decisions of what is right or wrong regardless of popular vote. Sometime making a decision against popular vote is the moral and just thing to do. That is what we call civilization. Women's suffrage was not all that long ago either.

I am pretty certain that the majority of gays don't want or need empathy to begin with. They want equality and justice and acceptance, nothing less. Empathy sounds so victim-fronted.
"Empathy, which literally translates as in feeling, is the capability to share another being's emotions and feelings."

You don't have to understand someone else's shoes as a whole, just what specific acts to to any person. ie, If someone denied me the right to love whom I want, I would not think it's fair. Therefore, I will not deny anyone else that right. There is strength in that as I see it. Weakness would be to deny what is obviously right for fear of no longer being a part of the group. When I read your last sentence,"Empathy sounds so victim-fronted." it makes me wonder if that's a holdover connotation from past life experiences? People generally appreciate empathy, it's sympathy that I could do without.

My understanding of empathy was reshaped in my late teens because I victimized some people and had to relearn it and why all of that happened. Empathy gave me strength to understand and respect others instead of acting out on my anger. Teen years... arrrgh!!! But that's my take on it.
I am not saying that empathy is wrong ... I am just saying that it isn't enough ... and too many people practice "empathy" from the comfort of their armchairs ... and it stops there. Action, not passive empathy (like passive praying), is what changes the world. Empathy alone keeps oppression at its status quo. I am sure that it is comforting somehow for the person that is feeling the empathy to get a false sense that they are somehow helping ... but having empathy for a black person from a distance is quite different than routinely inviting black friends to your dinner table and other activities. And standing up for them (or any group, even white, Christian, heterosexual men ... who often don't even realize that they are being oppressed, too.) is what we as civilized and fair people need to do.

There is a saying that goes something like this:

When a black woman looks into the mirror, she sees a black woman looking back at her...
When a white woman looks into the mirror, she sees a woman looking back at her ...
When a white man looks into the mirror, he sees a person looking back at him.

So, in less you ARE a gay person, it is hard to really "see" the difference in a meaningful way. To live that discrimination on a daily basis is a shame against society and those that protect it from the comfort of their empathy and armchairs. Let's move beyond a veiled sense of understanding and get down to some real participation. Let's move beyond the passive surface niceties and do something.

And yes, this does come from past experiences @Gaytor. I was a diversity educator for the University of California. Also, I was a workplace conflict manager for the US Federal Gov. And I served on a conflict-resolution team of negotiators to facilitate dialog to resolve problems between city-wide groups at odds over this and that. I have met oodles and ooldes of Gay people in the workplaces and communities, listened to their issues and listened to the responses from well-meaning heterosexuals that had lots of empathy. But until the mainstream empathy-feelers actually act individually and organizationally ... nothing with change beyond just empathy. Empathy can be a self-serving drug that impairs one's ability to actively participate in the end of oppression.
I just stumbled on this post on the blog For Good Reason and it seemed both timely, relevant, and appropriate to add some real-world depth to this discussion thread.

The question isn't what would make someone act politically to change the circumstances for others. The question Jordan put forth is, "Are there any studies observing empathy in theists versus atheists?" I gave her a partial answer with the link to the studies.

My point with empathy is that morality comes from empathy, and empathy alone. I'd need an example to not buy that, or have to alter that position. If you consider the feelings of others, you will always act morally. I'm really rejecting the Bible as a source or morality, and largely empathy. There are a few exceptions to that where empathy is shown in the Bible. those are often held as the Gold standards of the Bible as well. "He who is without sin, cast out the first stone." "Treat others as you would want to be treated."

I have to agree with Randi's assessment that it shouldn't matter (one's race, beard, sexuality). There are pockets of society where this isn't true, but looking in the mirror and not seeing a person is more often self-imposed shackles. I'm an 1/8th Indian. i can get benefits and really look like a classic Lummi Indian. But I don't self-identify that way on a daily basis. I was raised as a man and the peripheral issues aren't relevant. I treat others that way as well. Would people rather i treated them differently specifically because of their difference? If you noted that you went out of your way to invite someone to dinner because they are different, you might end up eating alone. I feel that I can understand how people feel in given situations regardless of race, creed, or other reason.

It's funny how much we've changed in 20 years. When I was 16 in Washington you would have had to look for someone out of the closet. Today it's a ho hum deal. Thanks for sharing the link.


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