Friday, February 17, 2006

Mere Christianity Book III Chapter 7

Mere Christianity
Book III, Ch. 7
In a previous chapter Lewis had said that chastity was the most unpopular Christian virtue.
But he is not sure he was right. The rule he wants to talk about today, forgiving our neighbors, is even more unpopular.
We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that means our enemies.
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive, as we had during the war.”( Remember, Lewis is writing from England, which suffered through bombings against its civilian population. The broadcasts were done during the war, the book was put together later, which is why he is talking about the war is if it were past.)
How would you like it if you were a Pole of a Jew suffering at the hands of the Nazis?
The closest thing that we Americans can come to something comparable is al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks.
Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgiveness is offered to us in no other grounds.
Two things make it easier.
1) Start with the people nearest us—your husband, your wife, etc.
2) Understand exactly what loving and forgiving our neighbor is.
It is not feeling fond of people who do wrong.
Do I think of myself as a nice chap?
Well, sometimes I do, but those are my worst moments. Yet even when I realize that I am not good I still love myself. So loving my enemies does not mean thinking them nice either.
Christian teaches say you must hate a bad man’s sin but love the sinner.
I used to think that this was a silly, straw-splitting distinction.
But then he realized he had been doing this all his life to himself. He hated his own sin but loved the sinner, himself.
We are not to reduce by one atom the hatred that we feel toward, say, treachery.
The test is this. Suppose we hear that our enemy has done a lot of terrible things. Then we get the news that it might not be so bad. Do we hope that our enemy is really as bad as we thought they were, and are disappointed that there it really wasn’t so bad.
If you are a Christian and guilty of a capital crime you must turn yourself in and be hanged.
It is perfectly just for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death and perfectly just for a Christian soldier to kill the enemy.
(Unlike Lewis, I have real problems with the death penalty. We had someone released from prison in Arizona who had been convicted of murder because DNA evidence showed that he wasn’t guilty. If he had been executed, what could the state have done, put flowers on the grave?)
But, in any event, a Christian judge can be justified in giving a severe sentence to a guilty person.
Lewis (a WWI veteran) also defends Christians fighting in war. He says that the John the Baptist and Jesus did not tell soldiers to leave the military, and mentions the Christian knight, who fights for good causes.
(Again, I am a good deal less sanguine about war than is Lewis. I believe in the just war theory, but what Lewis doesn’t tell you is that before Constantine Christians did not believe that that combat service was not something that a Christian was obligated to render unto Caesar. He also does not mention (although he does mention it in other places) the blood shed by Christians in the name of God, most notably the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion. On the other hand, Lewis did think that Christians should refuse to bomb civilian populations as members of the military).
But the main point is that loving one’s neighbor does not exclude very severe action against other persons, up to and including killing.
He even thinks that Christian soldiers should engage in combat with joyousness. (Though I don’t see how this harmonizes with what he says later about not enjoying punishing others).
If I act against my enemy, how can I still love him? Christians believe that the human creature lives forever, and that it is gradually becoming either a heavenly creature or a hellish creature. “We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We must punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. The feeling of resentment…must simply be killed.”
You must love those who are not lovable. But then you love yourself, and you’re not lovable.

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