Thursday, June 07, 2012

Dialogue with Keith Parsons on loving bad people

Parsons: A further issue I have always had with Christianity is the one you express as follows:

"Christians are enjoined by their faith to love others, and I take it that means that regardless of how badly a person has gone wrong, we think that, by the grace of God, that they could someday be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance."

Taken literally, this means that Christians are enjoined to love, say, people who throw acid into the faces of little girls to keep them from going to school. Indeed, Christians are enjoined to love tyrants, serial killers, traffickers in sexual slavery, drug cartel thugs, terrorists, fanatics, con men who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, etc.

This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you love someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad? SHOULD you even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

I submit that a person with any sense of decency who is well informed about the actions of Assad--shelling towns, sending death squads to massacre unarmed civilians, etc.--cannot love such an individual, not even "by the grace of God." If such a person claims to do so, I think that he is fooling himself or attempting to fool the rest of us.

Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt.

VR: Sometimes this issue gets cast when Christians ask whether they ought to love Satan. For non-universalists, Satan is a spiritual hopeless case; there is no good for Satan that anyone can possibly hope for. Again, with some persons who do great evil, you it's hard to find anything in that person that could give you a basis for a movement back toward good.

For me, loving people like that is, as Obama would say, "above my pay grade." It's tough enough for me to maintain an appropriate loving attitude toward people who behave rudely on Dangerous Idea (of all persuasions). So, your question is better addressed to sa better candidate for canonization than yours truly. And to pretend that you have actually succeeded in loving people when you really haven't is worse than just hating their guts. Falwell makes a fool of himself, of course, when he pretends that he loves gay people.

There are remarkable transformations of evildoers, and it is a major theme in Christianity and literature. John Newton, the slave ship owner who wrote Amazing Grace comes to mind, and even from Star Wars there is the (fictional) transformation of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.
I wonder if Bonhoeffer ever addressed this sort of thing. Did he think it was possible to love Hitler, and what could he mean by that given his involvement in efforts to kill him.

29 comments:

Crude said...

This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you love someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad? SHOULD you even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

And here comes one of the hardest lessons to learn. The answer to both questions is yes, given Christianity. And Parsons doesn't seem to understand that a person can be outraged, or hold various actions and policies in contempt, even while loving or striving to love the person responsible for them.

The idea that loving someone means that you always approve of what they do or think they're a great individual with no serious flaws - and Parsons at least seems to be trending in this direction with his thoughts - is inane. But it's also a (modern?) mistake made with regards to love. The idea that, "If you love me, you'll (do this thing I want you to do)!"

BenYachov said...

Love means you will the good for someone. Loving a bad person means you will that person to turn from evil to good and you love the good that is in them since it's impossible for them to be 100% evil.

Of course that doesn't mean you are required to like them or forbidden to dislike them.

Mr Veale said...

Gee, I dunno, that's as ridiculous as Jesus loving the people that were crucufying him! And that would want to go on to crucify his followers!
And, like, God pleading with people to repent, so that he wouldn't have to judge them.


Because everyone who judges must do so just like Clint Eastwood having his day made! They can't, like, you know, judge with a heavy heart.
Is it me, or is the objection just a teensy bit, um, American?

Mr Veale said...

Anyone who has worked with a young person with, let us say, a very dark side; or who has had to Pastorally care for someone who has committed the worst of crimes; will recognise that you can desire the best for that person, and also desire justice.
The tension is resolved by the cross. The cost of wrongdoing will be paid, either by that person or by Christ.

Mr Veale said...

It's also worth noting the cultural context. Jesus was opposing the "sons of light v sons of darkness", "lets get God to stamp out the goyim" type of rhetoric we hear at Qumran (which is why he warns people not to hate their enemies).
Jesus defines love as "praying" for your enemies, so that you might be like God who sends the Sun and the rain on the righteous and unrighteous.
Jesus is asking us not to hate those who hate us, and to do our best to help them, as best as we are able.
He is not suggesting that we take them into our homes and give them a warm snuggle.

Some relevant resources below(but the short summary is that it takes a very specific faith to love ones enemies)

https://edisk.fandm.edu/michael.murray/forgiveness.pdf

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/writings/moralato.htm

TheWedge said...

Hate can be a never ending pit. So we should hate Bashar al-Assad. Should we likewise hate Obama for murdering children with drones all over the world? Surely killing children and innocents is worthy of the contempt Parsons enjoins right? After all, the US has directly supported a number of these horrible Middle Eastern dictatorships, even as they repress the democratic movements in their countries (think Bahrain). Should we then hate those who actually carry out the acts? The military chain of command all the way to the drone operators? The cabinet that advises the president? The congress that stands by and does nothing? The citizenry who will vote for Obama in the coming election, despite the fact that the fact that he is murdering innocents all over the globe? Surely, supporting such reprehensible actions cannot be condoned. Of course, Romney would likely not do things differently, and certainly the previous administration directly ordered torture and murder and unjust war (perhaps a redundancy there), so we must hate them too, and all those who would support or aid them in these acts.

What about those who steal? Should we hate them? Stealing is certainly wrong, and while it may be less wrong than murder or torture, it isn't something that should be responded to with love on Parsons account, correct? Which of us has never stolen, or cheated, or lied? Yes, let us all hate, or at least look at with contempt and disdain, those who have transgressed from the good, but I fear we may find precious few left to love.

B. Prokop said...

I remember years ago reading a book on the Battle of Wake Island in the early days of the Pacific War, and marveling at the account of a Marine antiaircraft gunner who prayed for the souls of Japanese pilots, even as he shot them down. Now that's loving your enemies.

Jesus didn't tell us to not have enemies - He told us to love them. Paul (in Romans 12) wrote: "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all." Note that he didn't just say "live peaceably" but qualified the admonition with "so far as it depends on you".

rank sophist said...

Parsons, as usual, is only acquainted with vulgar caricatures of religion.

For a long time I used to think this 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 in it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.

And,

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. I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it?

C.S. Lewis. I'm surprised Victor himself didn't haul out these quotes.

AmirF said...

BenYachov: "Love means you will the good for someone."

RS (quoting Lewis): "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."

I'm interested in exploring this "wishing for and/or willing another person's good" conception of love, specifically in whether or not it entails certain duties. Does it imply that, in all cases, we can simply wish that a person attains his highest good, while sitting back and doing nothing to help him realize that good? Surely not, since we would be multiply appalled if, say, a mother was negligent towards her son, had the gall to say that she loved him simply by "wishing for his good" from afar, and then - by this view of love - became content in her negligence. If this is not so, what sort of duties are entailed by willing and/or wishing another person's good?

rank sophist said...

Amir,

I balk at the idea of using the word "duty" to describe anything. It brings to mind Kant's deontological ethics, rather than the traditional Christian virtue ethics that Lewis, consciously or not, promoted.

In any case, loving is not enough to determine what one should do in any given situation. This is because we must always wish for the good of everyone. To decide how one should approach specific cases, additional ethical systems--such as virtue ethics--are needed. A negligent mother is doing wrong even if she wishes for the good of her son.

cl said...

"I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt."

Interesting. IOW, we should become more like Assad.

Needless to say, I disagree.

AmirF said...

RS,

Sorry about the association with Kant. To me, "duty" is just a synonym for "obligation" or "responsibility." (e.g. "We Christians have a duty to love God and love each other.")

"In any case, loving is not enough to determine what one should do in any given situation."

I was not referring to specific duties tailored to specific situations, but rather to duties very general in character, like (since you brought him up) Kant's categorical imperative, or, in the case of this "willing/wishing" conception of love, something like "We should assist a person in the attainment of his highest good if we can do so and if doing so does not end up hindering the attainment of his good." Really rough, but I hope the idea is clear.


"A negligent mother is doing wrong even if she wishes for the good of her son."

Right, but I would feel queasy saying that she loves him at all. Love, I think, encompasses much more than wishing, even though wishing for the good is indeed an integral part of it.

Joe Puckett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rank sophist said...

Sorry about the association with Kant. To me, "duty" is just a synonym for "obligation" or "responsibility." (e.g. "We Christians have a duty to love God and love each other.")

Ha, no problem. I was just making sure.

I was not referring to specific duties tailored to specific situations, but rather to duties very general in character, like (since you brought him up) Kant's categorical imperative, or, in the case of this "willing/wishing" conception of love, something like "We should assist a person in the attainment of his highest good if we can do so and if doing so does not end up hindering the attainment of his good." Really rough, but I hope the idea is clear.

Ah, I see. From my understanding, there are no physical "duties" entailed by wishing someone their good. A few paragraphs from Lewis should clear this up. First, a better section (which I was trying to find before) on loving your enemies:

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 I 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 look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.

Here is a relevant passage on punishment:

Now a step further. 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 you 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. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace.

He writes further,

I imagine somebody will say, ‘Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?’ All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed.

As you can see, loving someone does not entail any certain kind of action. It is a state of being. Action-entailing morality is a secondary structure.

Right, but I would feel queasy saying that she loves him at all. Love, I think, encompasses much more than wishing, even though wishing for the good is indeed an integral part of it.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I'm with Lewis.

joelj said...

I'm not a strict pacifist, but I'm not a fan of Lewis's position on war. Of course, the radio lectures on which that was based were delivered while London was being bombed by the Nazis, so you can't be too hard on him for it - we're all products of our time. And he did admit elsewhere that it's a difficult issue.

"For me, loving people like that is, as Obama would say, "above my pay grade." It's tough enough for me to maintain an appropriate loving attitude toward people who behave rudely on Dangerous Idea (of all persuasions). So, your question is better addressed to sa better candidate for canonization than yours truly."

Actually, I'm impressed by your civility and charity with difficult people. Sometimes I actually feel like it would be better if you were a little tougher with moderation - but it's understandable that you would rather be light-handed and not band people.

BenYachov said...

Love isn't just an emotional sentiment. If it was that and only that then God couldn't "love" us since He has no emotions(or potency of any kind in His Nature).

Love is as much an act of the will to will the good and when possible lead the wicked toward the good.

While Hitler lived you would be morally obligated to pray he come to his senses and repent.

But "Love" doesn't mean a Police officer can't lawfully use deadly force to protect a victim from a criminal.

Nor does it mean a soldier shouldn't take the shot if he sees Hitler in his line of sight
(He is of course a Combatant).

rank sophist said...

Exactly, Ben. It's funny that C.S. Lewis was so close to the Catholic (and possibly Orthodox) view on this despite being an Anglican. He didn't buy in to 20th century lovey-dovey Christianity.

rank sophist said...

Amir,

It is worth mentioning that Lewis says, "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did." What does this entail? It turns out, virtue ethics. So, for Lewis, there is only in principle a separation between loving and ethics: in real life, someone who loves must act appropriately. However, this still means, as Ben said, that a soldier should have shot Hitler if he had the chance. This would have been the virtue of justice.

Jason Pratt said...

Victor (originally, to which Keith is replying): "Christians are enjoined by their faith to love others, and I take it that means that regardless of how badly a person has gone wrong, we think that, by the grace of God, that they could someday be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance."

I think it's interesting that Keith barely touches on the bolded part of what Victor wrote. Or if he did, Victor didn't quote him on it--but if Keith had been intending to reply to what Victor actually wrote, I think he would have followed up with a somewhat different phrasing of his complaint:

How Keith didn't reply: "Taken literally, this means that Christians are enjoined to think and to hope that people who throw acid into the faces of little girls to keep them from going to school, tyrants, serial killers, traffickers in sexual slavery, drug cartel thugs, terrorists, fanatics, con men who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, etc., could someday, by the grace of God, be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance.

"This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you hope in God that someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, will be led by God someday to repent of his sins and be a righteous man instead? SHOULD you hope for his salvation from sin, even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is 'no'.

"I submit that a person with any sense of decency who is well informed about the actions of Assad--shelling towns, sending death squads to massacre unarmed civilians, etc.--cannot hope for the repentance of such an individual, not even "by the grace of God." If such a person claims to so hope, I think that he is fooling himself or attempting to fool the rest of us."

On the other hand, maybe Keith went back and read what Victor actually wrote, and felt like he ought to address that at least a little bit, too.

What Keith did write: "Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt."

But some Christians don't believe Assad's eventual repentance and righteousness is only an off-chance. (Although since many of us do consider his repentance an off-chance at best, I guess I can see why Keith would regard this context from Victor as only minimally worthy of reply. {wry g})

And even many of us who do very solidly hope in God for the repentance and salvation of Assad (sooner or later), can still be outraged and contemptuous about what and who he is now--so long as we recall that we ourselves have no intrinsic advantage over him in righteousness.

As 'The Wedge' well put it upthread, hatred can be a spiraling bottomless pit. Indeed, unless we have hope for the good of the ones we hate, I don't see how it could avoid being a spiraling bottomless pit.

But then, if God does not exist, or if God is not willing to persist in saving Assad from his sins, hoping for his salvation is worthless by proportion.

JRP

BenYachov said...

Again Keith shows no understanding of what it means to "love" someone in the Christian Sense or Divine Sense.

I really am as a Catholic Christian under no moral or Divine obligation to like, feel all warm and fuzzy and or feel really affection for Assad.

I can even dislike him. I can feel anger towards him. But I am morally obligated to "love" him in so far as I must will myself to hope & pray he comes to his senses and repents so he may be forgiven.

But if I am a soldier in a just Revolutionary war & I get Assad in my sights. Him being a combatant I may morally "take the shot" & hope while he is dying God gives him some extra-ordinary grace to repent.

DL said...

AmirF said: Right, but I would feel queasy saying that she loves him at all. Love, I think, encompasses much more than wishing, even though wishing for the good is indeed an integral part of it.


Just to clarify the point made by some previous posters, "willing" is not wishing or wanting or hoping. It means exercising one's free will, it almost means DOING something — except that you can be prevented from doing something even though you still will it. If the mother in your example had been kidnapped and locked in a basement, then she cannot do what is right for her son, but she could still be willing to do so if she could. However, if nothing stands in her way and she does not DO what is right for her son, then she clearly is not willing to do so, and so she does not love him… regardless of what she thinks, or wishes, or feels. It is crucial to recognize that love is not a feeling (something that comes from outside you and happens to you) but is something that you do, that you will (something that comes from you). The fact that our society gets this exactly backwards explains a few things about modern society.

Ilíon said...

I think I know what you mean

Beautiful Feet said...

First, to love one's enemies, one must identify who that is. For Jesus, the closest relative to Satan were the religious hypocrites - clean cut, law abiding, serious, religiously devoted, charitable, prayerful, in good standing in their communities - what caused Him to identify them as such? It was the huge marginalized community surrounding them - the marginalized community of their making! These "lost children" were impotent and unforgiving - they would make unrealistic demands of their followers and complain and marginalize those who could not live up to their cruel expectations. They were keeping ppl away from God, so it was little wonder that Jesus came across so many vulnerable ppl caught up in violence and crime on the outskirts of the hypocritical community. The ppl whose sins were overt, only took a word or two from Christ to be set free - but the morally conceited religious killed Him.

I have no idea if Jerry Falwell was heartfelt or not in his attempt to assert a love for the gay community. It might have been more credible if he had confessed his lack of love for them followed with a prayer that he might begin to love them as much as God does. Jerry and the moral majority targeted the gay minority - that is bullying and I hope he did repent.

Loving the enemy means learning to first identify and confess hard feelings about the mistreatment one has received - not trying to appease or fellowship with the enemy. One can intervene and interrupt the trend of cruelty by confessing one's own infection of such.

As far as Jezebel is concerned, Jezebel is the name synonymous with one who suffers from sociopathic illness. Jesus spoke to her in terms that she might understand and turn - notice that even though she was issued a death threat to her children, she did not respond - you or I would have not extended that much grace and that is okay to confess the truth of our lack of it.

Ilíon said...

Playing Footsies with the truth: "I have no idea if Jerry Falwell was heartfelt or not in his attempt to assert a love for the gay community. It might have been more credible if he had confessed his lack of love for them followed with a prayer that he might begin to love them as much as God does. Jerry and the moral majority targeted the gay minority - that is bullying and I hope he did repent."


This quote shows that you are not serious ... neither about what Christ said, nor about Jerry Falwell.

Beautiful Feet said...

Ilion wrote, "This quote shows that you are not serious ... neither about what Christ said, nor about Jerry Falwell."

I have no idea what your rationale is for this statement. Let me assure you, I take grace very seriously. If God does not love those who are antagonistic towards His grace, then there is little hope for any of us. That is His strength and the division between what is supernaturally divine and what is manmade. Take care.....

Beautiful Feet said...

Victor wrote: "Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt."

I don't always love people as much as God does - obviously, but I respect that He does. that is the narrow path. We ought to, at the very least, respect that God loves sinners and strive to love sinners because we have been saved by grace and we know the agony of living apart from God and His grace. I have learned, though, that the truth cannot be bypassed our transformation does indeed begin with our heartfelt confession of contempt for those who have trained us to cooperate with contemptuous methods. Again, moral conceit in the law abiding religious, by God's standards, is the closest relative to evil and the main block between Him and humanity. Jesus indicated that it will go better for the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who reject a gracious God.

He also advised to be careful how we judge - do not judge unless we be judged and also, we are to judge everything. So, in our judgements we do not condemn or condone sin, but we ought to consider and judge carefully if we are equipped with the faith to respond to those who challenge and mistreat us. Take care!

Jason Pratt said...

Um, Keith Parsons (the atheist) wrote that, BF, not Victor. Victor was quoting and replying to Keith.

JRP

Beautiful Feet said...

Oh, hi Jason -- thanks for the awareness alert -- my apologies for assigning the wrong author to the comment

city said...

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