Saturday, January 03, 2004

Kleiman v. Bainbridge

I'm a bit late to the dance on this one, but I've never claimed that my blog was to be dedicated only to the very latest, up-to-the-minute news. So here's what I think about a recent dustup between Mark Kleiman and Stephen Bainbridge. It all began when Cardinal Martino of the Vatican made some ill-considered remarks expressing sympathy for Saddam after his capture:
"I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said.

"Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he said in answer to questions about Saddam's arrest.
Bainbridge, like many Catholics, was appalled:
Even with Cardinal's qualifier that Saddam bears "heavy blame," this is still pretty appalling. Despite Christ's teaching that we should love our enemies, it's hard for me to feel "pity" and "compassion" for a mass murderer just because he got his teeth checked on TV.
Which in turn led Kleiman to accuse Bainbridge, in essence, of being a bad Christian:
[Bainbridge] says that he finds it hard to accept the application of what he acknowledges to be black-letter Christianity to the case before him. No doubt that is true; it is hard, just as intense meditation is hard, just as controlling anger or envy or lust or pride is hard. But why should the Professor's perception that the Path laid out by his Teacher is a difficult one lead him to criticize someone else who finds it easier, or at least manageable?

It's not hard to see where the Professor is coming from. Not being enough of a Christian himself to want to love his enemies, Bainbridge doubts that the Cardinal is actually a Christian, and assumes that when Martino says he has compassion for Saddam Hussein despite his crimes, Martino actually means that he doesn't really think Saddam Hussein a criminal. Disbelieving that Martino is capable of loving his enemies, Bainbridge interprets Martino's remark as implying that Martino counts Saddam Hussein among his friends. Since (in non-Christian, worldly reckoning) the friend of my enemy is my enemy, that makes the Cardinal the Professor's enemy, as the Professor sees it.

Now for all I know Bainbridge is right about Martino, and Martino wouldn't feel, or express, compassion for someone whose behavior Martino really disapproved of. But Bainbridge does seem to be saying that, although Jesus of Nazareth was and is God, doing what Jesus said everyone should do makes Martino a bad person.
Bainbridge then updated his original post to respond to Kleiman.

To all of this I'd add: Kleiman seems to think that the Christian ideal of loving one's enemies is equivalent to expressing feelings of extravagantly soft-hearted sentimentalism towards them. This is wrong. Love, properly understood, has nothing to do with soft-hearted sentimentalism. To the contrary, love is perfectly compatible with -- and may even require -- a desire that someone gets exactly what he deserves.

To take a mundane example from everyday life, imagine a set of parents who find that their alcoholic adult son has been arrested for driving with a blood alcohol level of .20. They are utterly mistaken if they think that loving their son means that they should do nothing but sit around and feel sorry for him, or whine about how awful it was that the police forced him to take a Breathalyzer test. A better expression of their love would be for them to say, "Too bad he turned out this way, but maybe getting arrested is just what he deserves; maybe it will shake him up and spur him to finally seek treatment and become a better human being."

C.S. Lewis has an excellent discussion of this in Mere Christianity, where he concludes:

[W]e might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself!

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently "Love your neighbor" does not mean "feel fond of him" or "find him attractive." I ought to have seen that before, because of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do 1 think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can at look some of the things I have done with loathing and horror. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this is a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.

* * *

Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment -- even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy.

* * *

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves -- to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.
So, then, Cardinal Martino would have been expressing true Christian love for his enemy if he had said, "I'm sorry that Saddam, who was created in the image of God, turned out to be such a monstrously evil person. His capture and subsequent treatment do not even approach what he deserves, nor does it compare to the punishment God has in store for him if he doesn't repent for his evil deeds, which I pray he will do forthwith." That would have been a Christian attitude.


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