Compassion Fatigue and Metaphysics
Yesterday I made an observation about emotions and metaphysics. Specifically, in the West we've inherited emotional expectations from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but have jettisoned the metaphysics that catalyzed and sustained those emotions. Consequently, the emotional engine of many in the West is running on fumes. Without the metaphysical scaffolding, we're emotionally out of gas.
The emotion I mentioned yesterday was hope. Stripped of the Christian eschatological imagination, hope in the post-Christian West is just a feeling, a subjective state of optimism. This is weak tea in the face of troubling news reports, but feelings are all that are left behind once the Christian eschatological imagination has been stripped from a metaphysics of hope. Without metaphysical support, maintaining feelings of optimism, as no more than a warm emotional glow, is increasingly exhausting. The suggestion "Don't worry, be happy!" just isn't emotionally sustainable.
We're also observing a related exhaustion in relation to what is called empathy fatigue or compassion fatigue.
Again, we've inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition the emotional expectation that good people are to care for all the world's suffering. We're to love everyone and care for everyone. This universal vision of compassion is the direct inheritance of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Good people care about all the things all the time.
And yet, as with hope, without the metaphysical support of the Judeo-Christian faith, universal compassion is an exhausting prospect. We see evidence of this everywhere, as post-Christian people cannot handle their social media feeds without massive amounts of compassion fatigue dragging them into despair, hopelessness, rage, and panic attacks. Just like we lack the metaphysics to support hope, we lack the metaphysics to support universal compassion. In fact, I’d argue that hope is precisely the metaphysical commitment that sustains engaged compassion.
The modern world is facing an unsustainable emotional predicament. As the children of Christianity, we believe we should be both hopeful and compassionate. And yet, as post-Christian moderns who have rejected Christian metaphysics, we find the emotions of both hope and compassion unsustainable and exhausting.