Regardless of its evolutionary roots, many people experience satisfaction by saying (or thinking), “Do you see? I was right.” After months of trying to convince anti-waxers, anti-masks and anti-social distancers that life-saving measures are for the good of both themselves and others, frustration can prevail.
There is injury joy across the ideological spectrum. Recently, on Fox News, Laura Ingraham, a commentator who often expresses her belief in “Christian values,” welcomed the news that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had tested positive for coronavirus despite being been vaccinated and boosted.
The problem is that even a mild case of injury joy is the opposite of a “Christian value.” Jesus asked us to pray for our enemies, not to celebrate their calamities. He wanted us to take care of the sick, not laugh at them. When Jesus was crucified with two thieves, he says to one of them, according to the Gospel of Luke, not “This is what you get,” but “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Schadenfreude is not a Christian value. It is not even a loose moral value.
At this point, I was able to review a list of philosophers, theologians, and wise voices from religions and traditions around the world to prove my point. Instead, I want to recover a word that has largely been lost from our discourse: gemen. To rave about someone’s suffering or death is as far from a moral act as one can imagine. That’s cruel.
Pampered regularly, schadenfreude ends up distorting the soul. It robs us of empathy for those we disagree with. It diminishes our compassion. To use any language from both the Old and New Testaments, it “hardens” our hearts. No matter how much I disagree with anti-waxers, I know that rejoicing over their death is a dead end.
“Come on!” some might say. “It’s a natural feeling.” That’s true – and emotions are usually beyond our control. If someone coughs intentionally (or thoughtlessly) in your face in the subway, it’s natural to get angry. At least for a few seconds.
But what you do with those feelings — give in to them, prolong them, or intensify them — is a moral decision. After your fellow subway rider has coughed you in the face, you do not have to express your anger by hitting him. Just letting your emotions take you where they want to go is what a baby does, not an adult.