Loving as Jesus loves
Now Jesus, as a person, is God; but he is also really a human being; and consequently, he has both a divine and a human love. So, since we are his body, we do not love solely with God's love, but also in a human way; and part of our task as Christians is to reconcile these two types of love.
It would, in fact, be immoral in some circumstances for us to love purely in a divine way, in which anything that happens simply is, and is not either good or bad. God can look with complacency on a child dying of starvation, and consider this as a special limited kind of life; and in God's case doing nothing about the child's starvation is not immoral, because the child is the total creature of God and has no rights against God.
But if I had food and a way to keep the child from starving to death, and I "refused to look on things in terms of badness," and watched the child starve to death, I would be contradicting myself as a human being, because I would be violating the right the child has against me to the food he needs to live. That is, my refusal to feed him would be tantamount to killing him; and it is inconsistent with a human being (who has the right to life) to kill another, as the fifth Commandment says.
Evil, remember, is not a false way of considering things; it is merely a relative way of looking at things; but it can be true. When it's cold, it's not false to say that it's cold, even though there's no positive quality called "coldness," and coldness is relative to our discomfort from too little heat. But the small amount of head does in fact cause us discomfort; and so even though coldness is relative, it's there.
So evil does exist from the human point of view. The starving child cannot be "allowed to die" if we can legitimately prevent it, or we have violated our own natures and damned ourselves. If we do this, and the child dies, then this does not bother God; and if in the process we damn ourselves, this does not bother God either. But this does not mean that it isn't bad to let the child die or to sin and damn ourselves. It isn't "absolutely" or "objectively" bad; but it's bad, relative to being a human being.
Hence, we cannot abandon the human point of view and simply adopt God's; a Christian is not a Buddhist, whose love does not involve himself in this world with actions and purposes--because we are, as Christians, the human expression of God's love in the world.
Therefore, Christians will be humanists. Our love will include goodness and badness; we will try not to connive in badness, and we will try to improve things.
But as Christians, we will recognize that these badnesses we don't cooperate with are not something absolute; and if we can't in practice do anything about them, we won't worry about them. Twenty million innocent children have been pulled apart limb from limb at the order of their own mothers in our country in the last ten years or so. This is a horror surpassing that of Hitler many times over.
The Christian will certainly not cooperate with such a thing--either by having an abortion, or advising anyone to have an abortion, or by not speaking out against abortions when occasion offers; but if people still choose abortions, and more and more babies get killed so brutally, he will not be devastated by this. God is running the universe; he expects us to do what we can. Objectively, this is not an evil which must at all costs not exist.
The Christian attitude, then, does not ignore the evils in the world, or think them away because they are not objective or absolute; this would be to adopt a purely divine point of view, and would make us Buddhists, not Christians. But by the same token, the Christian does not take the purely human point of view, and get so wrapped up in "causes" and "fighting injustice" and "righting wrongs" and so on that he acts as if these evils were something objective and absolute, and considers anyone who is not totally committed to their eradication as guilty of the sin of omission.
The Christian cannot consistently be a fanatic, in other words. There are right-to-lifers who consider that if you don't devote enormous amounts of time and energy to the fight against abortion, you "don't care" about the dismemberment of these children, and you are on the "other side," at least in sympathy, the way we used to consider as a "Pinko" anyone who had any concern for social justice. This fanaticism is a legitimate human point of view; in fact, secular humanism, when it recognizes evil, cannot not adopt such a view if it is to be consistent with itself. If there is evil, and if it is great evil, like that of Hitler, then not to fight it is to cooperate with it. How can you sit back and let people be tortured to death?
But the Christian has the divine as well as the human point of view; as long as he is not actively cooperating with evil, then he is not guilty of it; and his omissions are not always tantamount to active cooperation. A person who denounces abortions need not also picket abortion clinics. Not that it is not good to do so; but not doing so is not immoral.
But the Christian recognizes that the evil in abortion lies, not in the fact that children die this soon and in this way, but in the fact that people choose to kill them; and even this choice, insofar as it is an ignorant choice, is not evil. Many abortions are done by doctors who think that this is the best thing to do and see nothing wrong with it, for women who think that not to have an abortion is positively evil. These are mistakes, not sins. It is a question of education, not "stopping the carnage," really.
And there are many right-to-lifers also who resort to propaganda, not education--who refuse to consider the issue and offer as "arguments" emotionally compelling but fallacious "reasons" that lead most effectively to their conclusion; because "the killing must be stopped," and the fact that they are cheating people by false arguments to accept the true conclusion is unimportant. The true arguments are less convincing than the sight of dismembered bodies; and the right-to-life fanatic will not use the true ones because of their lack of effectiveness. The goal is the overriding thing: the evil must be eradicated, and if we have to do "little evils" like stretching the truth in order to achieve the goal, so be it.
The Christian cannot be that goal-oriented; because, adopting also the divine point of view, he respects the reality he is dealing with. If you would change people's minds, then you change them by presenting the facts, even if there are more effective ways of doing this which are somewhat dishonest. If your means do not work, then it is not "objectively essential" for the goal to be achieved. You will fail; but you will fail because you love the world as God loves it.
Catholic institutions who pay their workers less than a living wage are also examples of the human point of view that "works for God," but has abandoned the divine way of looking at things. "Yes," they say," but if we pay a decent wage, we will have to close down the school, and how will the children be educated?" Must the children be educated? In the eternal scheme of things, it does not matter. If you can't educate the kids except at the expense of the educators, then you have to leave the goal in God's hands and close down. Even if the educators are willing to be exploited? Probably even then. The issue is not simple.
The point here is that the Christian has to study the reality and can't be simply goal-oriented or simply complacent; he can't ignore evil when ignoring in it is conniving with it; but he can't become so obsessed with it that he is willing to do evil "to prevent the greater evil." Between these extremes, there is often a great deal of leeway. What does the Christian do?
Taking the divine point of view, he recognizes that there is no "objectively best" course of action; but taking the human point of view, there are goals that can be achieved. So he studies himself and what he is dealing with and asks, "What are the potentials in myself and in this corner of the world?" and "What is the act that is most likely in practice to help things develop a bit toward their fulfillment--and the act that I as a person am most suited to do?"
It may be that the act the Christian sees as the one he can perform which brings about the greatest advance in his sphere of influence is an act that involves nothing positive in the fight against abortion. The Christian then leaves this to others. He will not cooperate with abortions, and will not speak in favor of them; but he does not "have to get involved" against them. He can be happy doing what he is doing, without guilt. "The Master loves a cheerful giver," says St. Paul. Not that we have to give and then grit our teeth and pretend to be cheerful; it is that our giving doesn't have to be what causes us pain.
Christianity has always been regarded as simple but hard: all you do is love, but loving causes agony. Actually, it is easy but complicated. Loving as Jesus loves means acting with, not against, your nature (because, as we will see, your nature naturally "takes you out of yourself"); but figuring out what act is the act that actually does some good, that actually helps the world and doesn't impose some abstract goal on it, is very complicated. It's much easier to have a goal, and simply ride roughshod over reality to achieve the goal; but this doesn't show any respect for reality, let alone an infinite one.Next