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On when compassion was a bad thing

Summary

Edwin Judge explains that to the Greeks, passion of any kind was a vice of the soul.

Summary

Edwin Judge explains that to the Greeks, passion of any kind was a vice of the soul.

Transcript

The Greeks did definitely not favour compassion, in the active suffering-with-the-other stance that the gospel advocates. They didn’t, because passion itself was a vice, a vice of the soul. It was a vice of the soul, for example, to be furiously angry. It was also a vice of the soul to be extremely humble. It was a vice of the soul to be extremely anything.

And the strange thing is that our culture actively wants us to be passionate about something. People stick the thing in your face, the microphone, and say, what are you passionate about? I advise people to try the following answer: say, apathy. Because that is the principle that the Stoics brought to this scene, and all apathy means is not suffering. That is, it means detachment. Apathy is detachment, which is the rational position in a rational universe – to be detached from other problems, and above all not to be unhinged yourself by the other people’s problems.

Other people have their problems, but you do not have to be overthrown by them. And yet that’s what our demand for passion now expects; we admire people who are passionate, who lose their temper even, and so on. And so it’s one of those things in which our culture is deeply infused with the New Testament ideal; that is, that suffering is the point where the truth comes out.