The Problem with Empathy

by: hawkgrrrl

March 8, 2011

I have been undergoing some interesting cultural training as part of a work assignment.  Part of this training explores the continuum of inculcation that people undergo when they experience a new culture.  I found some very interesting parallels with how members of the church view those from other faiths or the process by which people become disaffected.  Like an iceberg, culture consists of two aspects (above the surface, below the surface):

  • Explicit (above the surface, what is visible).  Observable characteristics, traits or behaviors that are uniquely a part of that culture.  LDS external cultural traits might include:  clean cut, conservatively dressed, uniform appearance, willing to help, lots of kids compared to averages, insular.
  • Implicit (below the surface).  The underlying beliefs, assumptions, and values that drive those behaviors and characteristics.  LDS implicit values might include:  family-centric, provident living and frugality, obedience, conformity, respect for authority / compliance, consecration / donating to the group and God, sacrifice, loyalty.

Usually we only notice the outward cultural traits without looking below the surface to see what values and assumptions are driving those traits or behaviors.  Becoming more culturally aware causes people to re-examine their own values as they learn to see merit in alternative viewpoints.  Sometimes those values and assumptions are reinforced, sometimes they are discarded as new values and assumptions are embraced.

I find that friends who spend a lot of time with disaffected church members often experience their own distancing from the church.  I used to think of this as Father Damien syndrome.  Father Damien was a priest who devoted his life to working with the leper colony on Molokai.  Eventually, he too contracted leprosy and died there.  In his words:  “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”  If you go to Molokai, you can visit his chapel and also see his statue.  What is interesting is that, contrary to belief at that time, leprosy is not a communicable disease.  Father Damien caught leprosy from the same factors that resulted in others getting the disease, not from its sufferers directly.  The idea of working with others only to be subject to the same conditions that resulted in their disaffection is worth exploring.  (Lest I be accused of calling those who are disaffected lepers, I am not saying this at all.  The analogy is about the process of identification and immersion in a new culture, being exposed to the ideas and environment of that culture for a prolonged period).

There are six levels of immersion in another culture:

  1. Denial.  These would be individuals who deny the existence of other cultures.  LDS equivalent While total denial is not likely, this would be individuals who disbelieve that anyone actually espouses other beliefs in good faith.  For example, someone who says that anyone who has changed their religious beliefs still knows it’s true but denies it.  Empathy level:  none, and low to no sympathy as well.
  2. Defense.   These individuals are aware of other cultures and perspectives, but only view them in defense of their own way; what is different is viewed as inferior, while the familiar is always seen as superior.  LDS equivalent:  This is actually somewhat common among members, especially because we are a proselyting religion:  there is a desire to justify one’s own views while dismissing dissenting views.  If one is operating at this level, this is done with very little effort to understand the other viewpoint more than superficially and usually with a desire to refute it.  Interest in others only serves as a way to see them as inferior.  Empathy level:  there is sympathy for those whose different views are seen as limiting and inferior.  The sympathy leads the person to want to enlighten others and point out the error of their ways.
  3. Minimization.  These individuals have realized that there are enough similarities to be able to find common ground and navigate the culture.  LDS equivalent:  These individuals downplay the differences with others, seeking to emphasize common ground and mutual understanding.  Empathy level:  high sympathy and a desire to understand, but not yet actually viewing things from the other perspective.  Perhaps a “dry” Mormon  (a non-LDS scholar who is knowledgeable and sympathetic to Mormons) would fit into this category.
  4. Acceptance.  Focus shifts from minimizing differences to acknowledging the differences and beginning to understand that the differences exist for valid reasons. LDS equivalent:  At this stage, one begins to see things from another viewpoint, and to find validity in that viewpoint.  Empathy level:  beginning stages of empathy.
  5. Adaptation.  By this stage, the person begins to shift his/her own views to fit the new culture in many significant ways.  It becomes possible and even customary (through practice) to see things through this new perspective.  LDS equivalent:  Essentially the person can navigate another belief system at this stage, nearly as an insider.  Among the disaffected, this is when they begin to feel more like an outsider than an insider in the church; differences begin to feel more important than similarities.  Empathy level:  high levels of empathy for the new viewpoint or culture, and possibly the desire to integrate fully.
  6. Integration.  At this stage, which most people never achieve, the person completely adopts the new culture and its perspectives, beliefs and assumptions.  LDS equivalent:  At this point, one has completely adopted and become part of another set of assumptions or beliefs, abandoning original views.  Empathy level:  for the new culture, very high – one may become fanatically devoted to the new “chosen” culture and forever critical of the original culture with its accompanying beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors.  However, full integration is extremely rare.  Even individuals who have defected from one country to another often still retain viewpoints from their original culture at the most basic level.

The first 3 levels are really only on the level of sympathy for others, but when one enters the 4th through 6th levels, empathy is achieved to varying degrees.

Children who move a lot can become what is called a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and eventually when they grow up, they can become Global Nomads.  These are individuals who are so aware of other perspectives that they do not really fit into a single culture, but have established their own unique values through understanding a variety of perspectives.  On the upside, they are empathetic, open-minded and mature.  On the downside, they may be rootless and may not really have a single culture that fits them.  They may feel like a perpetual outsider, but with unique insights into a variety of cultures.  Global nomads are also often anti-authoritarian.  Having perspective on the power systems that govern organizations makes them less in awe of those power systems.

As I consider what happens when friends have become very close with those who are disaffected, I think it is equivalent to this experience.  The majority of members do not truly empathize (many do not even sympathize) with outsiders.  As a result, someone who makes it to level 4 or 5 on this inculcation scale may find it difficult to affiliate as an insider in the church, especially if some of the values, beliefs and assumptions that are common to church members are questioned or discarded in the process.

BTW, these 6 levels can just as easily apply to someone from a non-LDS culture looking at the church; someone at a level 1 might believe all Mormons are disingenuous deceivers, while someone at a level 6 has joined the church and become a true convert and a cultural insider.

What do you think of this model to explain the process?  Does this ring true?  My own view is that most church members stay at level 2.  A few go to level 3 and are viewed as very tolerant by contrast.  Those who make it to level 4 or greater have a hard time going back because they have newfound distance and perspective on the cultural assumptions that those at earlier levels may lack (just as returning expats may be more open to criticism of their native country now that they have an international perspective).

Do you think the church is right to caution people to stay at level 2 or 3?  Is it undesirable to become a “faith nomad” (the religious equivalent of a global nomad) through over-exposure to differing and opposing perspectives?  Is empathy with other viewpoints a problem or the only path to enlightenment?  Discuss.

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37 Responses to The Problem with Empathy

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 8, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    I should also add that moving a lot causes one to be disconnected from a primal human trait of affinity for a specific area. Having moved a good deal throughout my life it took me good deal to understand that.

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  2. Senile Old Fart on March 8, 2011 at 5:54 AM

    I agree that Level 3 Mormons are viewed as extremely tolerant of others’ mistaken religious views. A Level 4 Mormon ceases to belive in the ONE TRUE and LIVING CHURCH, yet may still believe the LDS church is his best religious choice.

    The move from Level 3 to Level 4 may not be reversible. For those of us of a certain age, black & white TV once sufficied; we knew no better. Now being habituated to color TV, YouTube b&w clips from the ’60s may evoke a certain nostalgia, but we’ve happily moved on to another world view.

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  3. SilverRain on March 8, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    I think I’m failing utterly to see your point.

    Are you saying that it isn’t possible to see merit or validity in other viewpoints, but still find more merit and validity in your original one?

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  4. hawkgrrrl on March 8, 2011 at 8:15 AM

    Silver Rain – I think you are describing Level 3. At Level 4, you actually begin to adapt to the other way of thinking. Level 3 is the highest level of sympathy for the other viewpoint, but you don’t really empathize until Level 4 when you are able to view things in that other way, when at least parts of that perspective begin to become your own.

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  5. Mike S on March 8, 2011 at 8:39 AM


    I think this is a good point. While it is possible to see “good” in other viewpoints, your question is whether it is possible to see:“merit or validity in other viewpoints, but still find more merit and validity in your original one

    It depends on how far you take that. If you see merit and validity in other religions yet still think everyone ultimately has to choose the LDS religion (in this life or the next) to be “saved” at the highest possible level, it’s ultimately saying that the other religions aren’t “valid”. It is sympathy but not really empathy in the sense of this post.

    If, instead, saying that you see “merit and validity” in other religions means that you think they have that same chance on returning to the same reward following their path that we do, then you are truly seeing their religion as “valid” for THEM. You may ultimately decide that the LDS Church is the best one for you, but you must accept that other religions are perhaps better for others, and equally as valid.

    The problem with the second point-of-view in the context of the Church is that it essentially negates the “one true Church” doctrine that we teach. It also determines allocation of resources. If you espouse the first alternative above, than the missionary and temple programs make a lot of sense. If you espouse the second alternative above, where other religions are also “valid”, then it makes you perhaps wonder if the time and money spent on the missionary and temple programs might be better utilized helping the poor and disadvantaged among us.

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  6. Will on March 8, 2011 at 8:52 AM


    I look at it from the perspective of keeping members in the faith. If the higher levels cause them to stray, then stay away. The counsel I gave my son before he left on his mission was along the lines “you are sent to teach, not to be taught”. If all they want to do is debate and argue, then don’t waste your time. Move on to someone who is willing to listen.

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  7. Lorin on March 8, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    ” … you don’t really empathize until Level 4 when you are able to view things in that other way, when at least parts of that perspective begin to become your own.”

    It’s possible that SilverRain and I aren’t following this for the same reasons: It’s interesting, but it may not be a completely accurate map of reality. Or if it is, you are parsing words differently than I would.

    For instance, I believe there is at least one pretty distinct stage between levels 3 and 4, based on my understanding of “empathy” and “sympathy.” That intermediate step would be where you not only can intellectually but emotionally put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and not only understand but feel things from their perspective. To me that’s empathy — and there are areas in my life in which I can exquisitely sense things from someone else’s perspective and feel the full validity of their viewpoint. I may be a lot more kind and tolerant as a result of mentally and emotionally stepping into their world, but when I step back into my own experiences and beliefs, there are cases where my ultimate views are little changed.

    There are only certain instances where I can empathize with a viewpoint that I ultimately reject — it’s very time-consuming and taxing to intellectually and emotionally connect with something that you can’t willingly absorb — but there are areas where this is possible. I’ve seen it in others as well.

    There are other parts of this map that don’t quite ring with my experiences, either, but some provoking thoughts that I’ll have to consider as well. Thanks for the effort in putting this together.

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  8. Paul on March 8, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    I guess my question is similar to SilverRain’s and Lorin’s, though phrasede differently:

    Is the only way to feel empathy to abandon one’s point of view. Can I not feel empathy for another person who believes differently than I do? Your analysis would suggest I cannot, and I guess I have to think more about it to see how that fits with my experience.

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  9. Kevin Christensen on March 8, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    Interesting. Though, I think it more helpful to reframe the situation so as to remove a possible stigma from empathy, which I see as a desirable trait. I’ve found Thomas Kuhn’s discussion of how paradigm shift occurs in sciences to be unfailingly helpful in analyzing exit and conversion narratives. Particularly his discussion of the reasons for paradigm choice, which includes consideration of how individuals decide which problems are more important to have solved, and which paradigm is better overall.

    Plus, I’m very fond of the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth and find it very helpful. (There is a Wikipedia article, for the uninitiated.) The first stages in the Perry Scheme have somethings in common with the Denial and Defense descriptions, but the eight and nine levels of the Perry Scheme have very different implications.

    For instance, from the Summary that Veda Hale gave me a while back:

    POSITION 2 – Multiplicity Prelegitimate. (Resisting snake)

    Now the person moves to accept that there is diversity, but they still think there are TRUE authorities who are right, that the others are confused by complexities or are just frauds. They think they are with the true authorities and are right while all others are wrong. They accept that their good authorities present problems so they can learn to reach right answers independently.

    And on to Positions 8 and 9:

    POSITION 8. Commitments in Relativism developed continues.

    The person makes several more Commitments while realizing he must find balance and establish painful priorities of energy, action and time. He starts to experience periodically serenity and well-being in the midst of complexity. He has a sense of living with trust in the midst of heightened awareness of risk. He accepts fact that order and disorder are fluctuations in experience. He searches for models of knowledgeability and courage to affirm commitment in full awareness of uncertainty. HE STILL NEEDS TO RECOGNIZE THAT EVEN THE MODEL MUST BE TRANSCENDED, AND HE SENSES HE NEEDS TO DEVELOP IRONY. The TRANSITION between Position 8 and 9 brings trauma. The person feels everything is contradictory and he just can’t make sense out of life’s dilemmas. But he begins to develop sense of irony and sees he must embrace viewpoints in conflict with his own, not in the old multiplistic way of “separate but equal” or “live and let live” but truly embrace them with what might as well be called “love”.

    POSITION 9. Commitments in Relativism further developed.

    The person now has a developed sense of irony and can more easily embrace other’s viewpoints. He can accept life as just that “life”, just the way IT is! Now he holds the commitments he makes in a condition of “PROVISIONAL ULTIMACY”, meaning that for him what he chooses to be truth IS his truth, and he acts as if it is ultimate truth, but there is still a “provision” for change. He has no illusions about having “arrived” permanently on top of some heap, he is ready and knows he will have to retrace his journey over and over, but he has hope that he will do it each time more wisely. He is aware that he is developing his IDENTITY through Commitment. He can affirm the inseparable nature of the knower and the known–meaning he knows he as knower contributes to what he calls known. He helps weld a community by sharing realization of aloneness and gains strength and intimacy through this shared vulnerability. He has discarded obedience in favor of his own agency, and he continues to select, judge, and build.


    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

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  10. Paul on March 8, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Here’s a for-instance:

    A no-longer believer and I may have shared experiences, even if we are not the same. We may both have the experience of wrestling with difficult doctrinal questions, for instance, and in that experience, can I not be empathetic, even if we came ultimately to different conclusions about the answers to those questions?

    This example seems to fit more in your #3 (regarding common ground), but I had always thought about empathy being about shared experiences (or at least similar experiences), compared with sympathy which may exist without shared experience.

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  11. Thomas on March 8, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    As many thumbs-down as Will is collecting, he may have a point. It may be that the kind of universalist religion so many of us are drawn to, is simply incompatible with Mormonism’s essential core.

    J. Reuben Clark, who was no slouch in the intellectual department, came (after a flirtation in his youth with atheism) to the conclusion that intellectual inquiry inevitably leads to loss of belief — and therefore, a disciple should consciously resolve not to pursue reason to its inevitable conclusions.

    I’m not persuaded — I think Elder Clark’s reasoning was imperfect, possibly because Mormonism is more exposed than most religions (whose origins are safely hidden in the murky pre-printing past) to intellectual challenge.

    But I do perceive that if you mean to be a model Church member — to be the kind of man who becomes a stake president or higher, for instance — you really do have to consciously wall off certain possibilities from consideration. I know people like this — men with megawatts of brainpower, well-read, capable of spotting a weak argument (in any other sphere than Church) ten miles away. And yet they somehow have a gift for applying a different mental standard to Church matters. They will hold up relatively weak apologetic arguments as being virtually beyond dispute — when if they ran across a similarly-constructed argument in (say) their litigation practices, they’d rip it to bloody shreds.

    To someone lacking whatever it is that makes these men tick, this comes across as simply tuning out dissonant information. On the other hand, if they truly have received some kind of inerrant spiritual confirmation of the Church’s overall truth, radically different from the means by which they access other areas of knowledge, then maybe it does make a point to tune out all data to the apparent contrary: It’s irrelevant.

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  12. Lorin on March 8, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    “… a disciple should consciously resolve not to pursue reason to its inevitable conclusions.”

    (Are you sure that’s an accurate representation of what Clark believed? I’m not sure I agree.)

    “And yet they somehow have a gift for applying a different mental standard to Church matters.”

    Wish I had the time for a real reply to this, but let’s just say that I don’t quite buy this explanation of “why stake presidents can at time offer intellectually weak arguments in defense of the church.” I’ve worked with some brilliant men in church leadership, and there’s a more to it than that.

    You’re halfway to the answer with the spiritual confirmation part, but I don’t believe they’ve necessarily tuned out all arguments to the contrary, either. I’m also puzzled by the “inevitable conclusions” that reason supposedly leads us to, which are away from the church.

    Most of the “faith VERSUS reason” arguments I’ve heard (from either side) don’t hold much water for me. But I won’t get any work done today if I start down that path.

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  13. Will on March 8, 2011 at 12:59 PM


    Exactly my point.

    Faith comes from nourishing the WORD. This is the whole point of Holland’s talk on Safety for the Soul. Those who follow this counsel are judged as weak; but, in reality are meek. Those that will inherit the earth.

    Kindly moving on to someone who will listen is not arrogance, but meekness. Meekness is a presentation of self in a posture of kindness and gentleness, reflecting certitude, strength, serenity, and a healthy self-esteem and self-control. It is the self-esteem and self control that encourages one to teach and not be taught.

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  14. Mike S on March 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    In many ways, I approach this differently. In my mind, it’s kind of like the quantum theory, where light is BOTH a wave AND a particle, for example. In different circumstances, things collapse one way and other times, they collapse another way.

    As an example, I was raised Mormon. I accept many of the ways of viewing the world around me from my Mormon upbringing. I accept Mormonism and its tenets, and accept it as a perfectly valid way of living one’s life. At the same time, I have studied a lot of Buddhism. I have meditated. I accept Buddhism as a perfect valid way of living one’s life as well.

    On the face of it, these are very incompatible belief systems. The LDS faith has a supreme focus on the hereafter and God. We have temples and genealogy and all that goes along with it. Buddhism doesn’t even really define God, saying that the answer is unknowable and that at the end of the day, it’s a less important question to ask than what is the best way to live while we ARE here in mortality. Mormonism presents itself as the “one true Church”. Buddhism accepts many different beliefs. Mormonism presents a strict hierarchal model where a commandment or concept should be accepted merely because of the office of the person giving that commandment. Buddhism rejects this and is more along the model of “Prove all things, hold fast that which is true”.

    But I believe in BOTH equally validly. In some circumstances, my LDS faith gives me a better perspective on things. In other circumstances, Buddhism helps me understand the world better and be a better person. And in between times, I have no problem letting my beliefs sit in that ill-defined “uncertainty” of BOTH being true. (BTW: I also feel similarly about Islam and Hinduism, as well as other Christian faiths. These are just the two I know most.)

    This obviously doesn’t sit well with most people. It obviously doesn’t work well when confronted with a “missionary task” where I ideally should point out that the LDS-way is the best way. But, for me, it has provided a much richer outlook on life. It has provided a much broader set of tools for mortality. And it feels much more natural, right, and spiritual to me.

    I don’t know which stage this makes me (1-6) but probably some strange sort of hybrid.

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  15. SilverRain on March 8, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    I don’t think you have to wall off anything to be a member of the Church in good standing, though some members might not think you’re in good standing.

    I think Lorin said better what I was trying to get at, and what so many people assume is impossible, simply because THEY have not done it themselves: that it is possible to empathize, to see things from another’s perspective, take things that you have learned from that empathy back into your own perspective, but still keep the good things from your own perspective. That is not step three at all.

    To take the church example, why can’t I believe that people who belong to other Churches still might find their way back to God, and that those other paths might indeed be best for them in their lives, but also believe that the LDS church is not only the right church for me, but actually the one true church? (And by one true church, I mean the church that God has established here on the earth to administer His ordinances, with prophets who are responsible for true prophecy to the world?)

    The soft dichotomy of one true church vs. relativism seems to illustrate a lack of understanding of covenants, ordinances, agency, the purpose of this life, church and its purpose from God’s perspective.

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  16. Shorty on March 8, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    ” The counsel I gave my son before he left on his mission was along the lines “you are sent to teach, not to be taught”. If all they want to do is debate and argue, then don’t waste your time. Move on to someone who is willing to listen.”

    Though more than a handful have disagreed with Will’s comment, I don’t see anyone offering a reason why they do. I will offer my reasons for disagreeing with the above sentiment, and it starts with pride.

    Mike S., above, stated:

    [Modern] Mormonism presents a strict hierarchal model where a commandment or concept should be accepted merely because of the office of the person giving that commandment. Buddhism rejects this and is more along the model of “Prove all things, hold fast that which is true”.”

    To his quote, I took the liberty of adding “Modern”. What Mike wrote is indeed true for Modern Mormonism (i.e. the Mormonism that all of us here on this board or the internet have grown up with/around). I don’t think it’s true as a matter of historical fact. I happen to believe that we’ve managed to screw up a lot since the founding days and, in the process, established a hierarchical society which mirrors Wills comment.

    Will isn’t the only one to espouse the “you teach, you aren’t taught” mentality. In fact, it’s the same mentality you see most weeks in church. The same mentality that many LDS youth are “endowed” with, and it’s the mentality that all Truth is housed within the walls of Mormondom. That Truth simply doesn’t exist outside our sphere of influence.

    And it’s this same mentality which reeks of pride (i.e. I will teach you, but you will not teach me because I was sent to teach, you are here to listen. “It is my province to teach … what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent.”) Until Mormonism really embraces the “truth come from whence it may” mentality JS claimed we believe, then we’ll continue to be the “I am here to teach, you are here to listen” corn dodgers that we are [“There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. …The Saints are slow to understand” -JS (History of the Church, 6:184).”]

    Yes, missionaries are sent to “teach”, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t come home with a better knowledge of and appreciation for divergent beliefs. It doesn’t mean that we ignore ideas that are superior to our own. It doesn’t mean that we profess to be the Saints, while acting like narcissistic lug nuts.

    The best piece of advice I could give to a prospective missionary: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Don’t ever think that your above being “taught” by someone else.

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  17. Will on March 8, 2011 at 4:07 PM


    First off, he is there to be taught by his priesthood leaders. However, with respect to the honest in heart, he is there to teach. Like the one who sent him, he is there to find the honest. It is not prideful or arrogant to move on from someone who does not want the message, to someone who does. Most importantly, it is not arrogant to think you are right, if you are in fact right.

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  18. hawkgrrrl on March 8, 2011 at 5:13 PM

    Just to add emphasis to a few points, I think a level 6 cultural immersion is extremely unlikely, perhaps impossible. Most converts to the church retain a flavor of their old religion in how they view Mormonism. This is evidence that they are not level 6. But there is also a real shift between level 3 and 4. In level 3 you see validity in a different culture because it is similar to your own. In level 4 you see that some points from the other culture are superior to your own, and you begin to discard what you now think is inferior about your own.

    This can be a major thing (shifting core values) or a minor thing (preferring a different cultural norm). For example, in the play Saturday’s Warrior, the son is exposed to the idea of zero population and begins to be critical of his parents’ values. (He has a point – maybe these people need a TV in their bedroom).

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  19. Thomas on March 8, 2011 at 7:09 PM


    I don’t quite buy this explanation of “why stake presidents can at time offer intellectually weak arguments in defense of the church.”….I don’t believe they’ve necessarily tuned out all arguments to the contrary, either.

    I’d like to hear more of whatever it is you’re thinking.

    I think I’m picking up a clue with your use of the word “offer.” The thing is, I don’t get the impression that these men are knowingly offering up weak reasoning. They really do seem to find these supposedly faith-promoting arguments convincing. There just seems to be a lowered level of due diligence applied, by these agreedly brilliant men, to evaluating just how strong these arguments are, than I see them applying in other contexts.

    Why is that?

    I really do suspect it is similar to what allows a Nobel Prize laureate like Paul Krugman to make thumpingly boneheaded statements that a five-minute Google search could prevent. If something supports a narrative that is a vital part of a person’s worldview — if that person has a desire to believe what that thing supports — he tends not to cast out that thing by unbelief, but rather to nourish it.

    Unless you take a completely opposite approach — to apply a greater level of scrutiny to the things you most want to believe, to counter your tendency to apply a lesser level — you don’t need to “tune out” opposing evidence. It never occurs to you in the first place.

    I knew one very intelligent and professionally skeptical person, who really believed that the “ships of the sea/ships of Tarshish” passage in the Book of Mormon was a slam dunk evidence of antiquity. How else could Joseph have known that one ancient translation said one thing, and another one said the other?

    If a person asks that question non-rhetorically, more than a few possibilities present themselves. But that’s just it: This man asked that question rhetorically, and only rhetorically. Something made him not ask it in earnest. I don’t quite understand what that thing is.

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  20. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 8, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    Speaking of empathy and viewpoint:

    “If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there are men on base.” ~Dave Barry

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  21. simplysarah on March 8, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    I think this is intriguing stuff. I can certainly see how my own experiences in transitioning out of mormonism are somewhat reflected in these stages (I guess I am now somewhere on my way to 6).

    My question: is this theory/model suggesting that true empathy involves *valuing* things in the same way?

    Your post could possibly use some clarification re: empathy. It seems like the conflict many here are feeling is that they value the *idea* of empathy but have different definitions for it.

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  22. Douglas on March 9, 2011 at 1:11 AM

    I wouldn’t have classed levels 1 through 6 as some sort of Progression or regression. Most of us have elements of each of the levels. For example: I once had a bishop (not the same bishop that I’ve griped about in previous posts) that opined that my devotion (during baseball season only, of course) to my ‘Gints was proof that I wasn’t ‘really’ converted. And if I’d skipped my Sunday meetings to avoid missing a game, sure, he might have had a point. Even then, though, there was a VCR. Nowadays, with a DVR, Slingbox, Internet available over a Smartphone, etc, one can proverbially have it all. It might seem silly to use baseball fandom (or nutdom depending on your view) but it was sillier still to question a member’s testimony simply because he likes baseball. So some joyless, frumpy dude doesn’t dig it. Less competition for tickets!
    This thread might make more sense if we hear about how the Church members in foreign lands adapt their testimonies to their culture. Hypothetically, shouldn’t be a problem. Problems probably occur when we try to land upon, say, a Brazillian the American LDS paradigms. Not everyone works the same. I once had a missionary comp from the Navajo reservation. By “whitey” standards, he was slow and lazy. But in his ‘native’ culture, which is decidedly more laid-back and less anal-retentive, he was one hard-working kid. He did work very well with Southern Italians, who likewise are very easy going.

    “Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning” – Hermann Goring

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  23. SilverRain on March 9, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    I just realized that maybe I’m having such a hard time making sense of this because I have never in my life been completely a part of any culture. Nor do I guess I will ever be. This “us” vs. “them” type of viewpoint is so different from how I view the world and people.

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  24. jmb275 on March 9, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Awesome post Hawk!
    I agree with much of what both Thomas and Mike S have said. I believe with regard to Mormonism I have been in stages 1-5 in various parts of my life. During my faith crisis, I was clearly in level 5, finding all the valid points of atheism/agnosticism, and denying everything within Mormonism.

    However, I think I have swung back and forth. At this point I find it rather easy to defend the church to anti-Mormon sentiment, and defend anti-Mormon sentiment to the uber orthodox Mormons. I’ve often wondered if this makes me look like a hypocrite, perhaps just disagreement is the goal.

    I have assimilated many points from other religions, and even areligious points. They make sense to me, and I can agree with them. But I can also agree with many aspects of Mormonism. This is why I find it so hard to label myself.

    Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in God? No. What does that make me?

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  25. Thomas on March 9, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    The post-Second Vatican Council teaching of the Catholic Church has adopted a doctrine associated with the theologian Karl Rahner, known as “anonymous Christianity.” Essentially, the teaching is that although the Catholic Church sticks to its declaration that it is the one true church, with a special, exclusive authority to perform ordinances and declare doctrine, the Kingdom of God is greater than the Church. The Catechism allows for the possibility that the Kingdom includes people who are faithful to that portion of truth that their circumstances have granted them access to, and who, if they are ignorant or unconvinced of the more complete truths found in the Church, are so by no fault of their own.

    That is, there may be Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, or even secular people, who will be counted as Christians in the final accounting.

    The interesting thing is — and this is not part of the Catechism, just yet — is that it implies that religious affiliation is not the deciding factor on a person’s salvation. Fidelity to truth is — and if you stumble across true truth in a non-Christian context, it’s counted to you for Christian righteousness. The implication of this, is that just as a righteous Buddhist may be an “anonymous Catholic” (if the Catholic Church is the One True Church), a righteous Catholic may be an anonymous Buddhist if it turns out to be the other way ’round.

    Some people would probably call it infidelity to entertain the possibility that his religion may be less than literally true in every respect, but rather a kind of treasure box containing the saving truth packaged with other, perhaps nonessential items. But I think that if you have faith that your religion does contain the necessary truth, and are faithful to it, it probably doesn’t matter much how tightly you insulate your mind against the possibility that someone might have a few more or less of the details right than you do.

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  26. FireTag on March 9, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    It seems more difficult to implement an “anonymous Mormon” concept in the LDS version of Mormonism because of its interpretation of the saving ordinances in a legalistic physical act rather than a natural law theology. In the CofChrist, an anonymous Christian theology makes perfect sense, although we seem to gulp at the Mormon part.

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  27. hawkgrrrl on March 9, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    As usual, Thomas says it better than I do. SilverRain’s comment is also helpful – the cultural scale is interesting because it starts from a level 1 that most never experience except remote Amazonian tribes or perhaps people who live in really tiny towns. Most people live life in level 2 (very provincial mindset) or level 3 (aware of other cultures, but not part of them). But some never really affiliate with a given culture, so they live their life as observers who pick and choose cultural values. Yet this is to be a “third culture” person – one who really only identifies culturally with other “third culture” people.

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  28. FireTag on March 9, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Didn’t someone say something about “being in the world but not of it”?

    Maybe that’s the potential of third culture people.

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  29. Thomas on March 9, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    But some never really affiliate with a given culture, so they live their life as observers who pick and choose cultural values. Yet this is to be a “third culture” person – one who really only identifies culturally with other “third culture” people.

    Very insightful. The proudly tribeless become their own tribe.

    This is why I like C.S. Lewis’s warning, in the preface to Mere Christianity, against remaining in the “hallway” from which all of the Christian churches branch. The real living goes on in the rooms, not in the common area.

    The challenge is to partake fully of what is available in whatever given room you pick (or find yourself in), while recognizing that another room or two might be just as good. While I’m not quite as horrified about “picking and choosing” religious beliefs as some people declare themselves to be (everybody picks and chooses, even the strenuously orthodox), there is a danger there, in that there’s a natural tendency to pick out and set aside doctrines more by how much they impose on us, than by an impartial judgment of whether they are objectively good or not.

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  30. LovelyLauren on March 10, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    I think my problem with Stage 6 is that it implies that there is something inherently wrong with the original culture and something greater with the adopted one.

    After all, why would I adopt a new culture and completely abandon my old one unless it was somehow superior? I’m not suggesting that being LDS is superior to everything, but I could never truly empathize with, say, an African community that practices female genital mutilation.

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  31. Andrew S. on March 10, 2011 at 11:51 AM

    re 30:


    But suppose you were a member of an African community that practices female genital mutilation. Could you empathize with LDS culture?

    (I guess one thing could be: maybe it’s not about “inherent wrong” but about the wrong/right/good/bad perceived. So that way, we can say, “Well, I perceive good in this culture/group but not this other one” without worrying about “intrinsic” goodness.)

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  32. LovelyLauren on March 10, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I suppose the problem with the entire premise then is that it assumes that all cultures are equal. Whether that is true or not, in the LDS church we are taught that things are intrinsically good and bad and thus can never empathize with another culture that we see possess elements that are intrinsically bad. Because of our own culture, we see other religious communities as inferior, and therefore not worthy of empathy.

    The idea that the church is “all true” plays into this as well. I think it’s fair to say that many Mormons in the United States don’t identify as Democrats because it is a political affiliation (or “culture” for the sake of example) that possesses elements that are “intrinsically bad” like abortion, gun control, etc.

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  33. Andrew S on March 10, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Is it possible for a culture to be a bundling of good and bad things? In other words, why is it all or nothing? Is it impossible for there to be gradations?

    If it is “all or nothing,” then wouldn’t we want to avoid any “culture”? (I mean, maybe some people believe the church is all true…but most people are very quick to distance themselves with SOME thing related to it. e.g., “The church is true but the people aren’t.” or “Sometimes, the prophet speaks as a man,” etc.,)

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  34. LovelyLauren on March 10, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    I think that’s what I was getting onto when I talked about a culture possessing elements. Obviously, cultures aren’t all good or all bad.

    I don’t know what I’m getting at really, but I found this post quite troubling in some ways. Like why do you have to abandon all of your old views to achieve total empathy?

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  35. Andrew S on March 10, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    re 34,


    I guess I still don’t see the issue.

    The last and first items in the list are meant to describe extreme (perhaps rarely attainable or unattainable) states.

    I don’t quite see why there would be a problem with saying that total empathy implies the abandonment of old views.

    I mean, to consider empathy as something different than sympathy…empathy is a stepping into another’s shoes — the vicarious experiencing of another’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, etc., etc. For total empathy, one would basically have to be in the other person’s/culture’s entire outfit, so to speak. Why is that? Anything less would be a lapse in the vicarious process.

    Trying to connect this with some of your earlier comments, this wouldn’t necessarily presume that one culture is superior and that one is inferior…just that the person who is doing the empathizing/integrating feels that way.

    If I empathize with Mormonism enough to integrate fully with its many elements, it’s because I feel those elements in totality are superior. If I do not, then that shows a gap between me and the Mormon believer, so I cannot be said to fully empathize with that Mormon believer.

    This is regardless of their actual, objective value of Mormonism.

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  36. Sophia on March 10, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    This is a good post. Thought provoking and will take me weeks to digest. I was LDS for 30 years and look forward to the next 30 years not being LDS and I feel fine. I also suppose my children are being raised “rootless” and find nothing but peace in that fact. To each their own! I would have no problem still going to church and raising my kiddos on the conventional path if it didn’t require me to lie to them. I won’t lie to my kids, even in the endeavor of good intentions.

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  37. hawkgrrrl on March 10, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    I think there’s some confusion that Andrew is doing a good job clarifying. These are 6 levels of immersion in another culture. Empathy requires some immersion, but since we all have an original culture, full empathy is never really possible (let alone desirable). And yet, the further one travels into empathy, the more likely one is to abandon some elements of one’s original culture: assumptions, beliefs and even values. True empathy (as opposed to sympathy) does lead to re-examination of these things, and some of them are changed or discarded in the process, making one an outsider to the original culture in that regard. Empathy with the opposition creates distance from the original perspective.

    While some people will actually change one culture for another, the more likely outcome is that someone will become a “third culture” person in the process, keeping some degree of skeptical distance of all cultures. But when you are that sort of person, you no longer identify with a single provincial viewpoint because you see things from more than one viewpoint.

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