Empathy and pathological altruism for refugees in an Oxfordshire town

This is a footnote to Tim Murray’s current TOO article, “Pulling at Our heartstring: How the Enemy Within Uses Our Empathy Against Us.” In this Guardian article, note the reference to the famous photo and its effect in motivating empathy and (pathological) altruism:

The school hall was packed, with all eyes fixed on the video screen and its images of overladen boats, lines of refugees and shell-shattered buildings in Syria.

This was no normal Sunday service for the congregation of the Cornerstone Baptist church, who gather each week at the local primary school in Thame, south Oxfordshire.

Sunday’s service was dedicated to the plight of refugees, mainly Syrian, but those from Eritrea and elsewhere too.

The pastor, Paddy Harris, had thrown open the doors to all in the local community, to anyone troubled, especially by recent tragic images, including that of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. To anyone that wanted to find a way to help, he said. Now, more than 100 people – parents with young children, teenagers, the elderly, a whole cross section – had gathered.

“I’m hoping it will show me ways to act, guide towards a practical solution,” said Sally Hobson, 39, a community paediatrician and regular church attendee, whose heart had been telling her to do something but she wasn’t quite sure what.

Amanda Clarke, 46, a barrister and part-time judge, agreed. “I’m hoping it will inspire us towards a more positive way forward,” she said.

Thame is a small town, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, whose former MPs include Boris Johnson and Michael Heseltine. Here, as in many communities across the UK, the scale of the humanitarian refugee crisis was appreciated. The question to be addressed on Sunday, though, was what they could each do.

So these are predominantly White, Christian people in a Conservative district — more evidence for the pathology and bankruptcy of so much of contemporary Christianity and what passes as conservatism. I notice that Thame is a few miles from Oxford where there was a notorious ring of Asians who raped ~300 young girls, often with “violent depravity.” One would think the good citizens of Thame would have had quite enough of immigrants from that part of the world — that the empathy well would have about run dry. But hope (and empathy) spring eternal.

How could they help? They could pray, he told them. Or pledge money. Anyone with a property for rent could make it available to the local council for refugees. Perhaps they could foster an unaccompanied minor. Or find other ways to help integrate refugees into their community.

The image of tiny Aylan, whose lifeless body cradled by a Turkish police officer went around the world last week, was not shown. But others, stark images of walking lines of the displaced, and the bombed-out places they once called home, conveyed just as powerful a message. …

Mike Hill, a senior officer with the Metropolitan police, believed the horrific picture of little Aylan, and the tragedy that led to the death of him, his mother and his five-year-old brother, had shocked the nation into awareness that the government’s policies “are not looking after the most vulnerable people”.

Then this from a someone from South Africa:

“I think it is a dilemma for Christians,” said Steve Paver, 48, who is originally from South Africa and who described himself as “an economic migrant”.

“The temptation is the quick and easy actions and the short-term needs. And that is important, but it’s going to be a long-term problem,” he said.

“I think the need is so overwhelming and as a Christian I believe even the small things we can do have greater value than we realise.”

One detects a bit of skepticism in the South African. Could it be he is really a racial migrant—a White who got out before he could be victimized because of his race — and before the deluge to come? Or had he already become a victim? Were his economic prospects dashed by favoritism to Black South Africans? One has the feeling the South African understands that the long-term effects of this are not going to be at all easy.

But in the heat of the upwelling of empathy, all that is forgotten. Their descendants won’t so easily forget.

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