Wednesday, February 12, 2003

On a Catholic terror-related note

Riding the subway home from my consulting gig this afternoon, I glanced up from my book. My eyes happened to come to rest on a discarded newspaper, with a picture of Osama on the open page. "Evil motherf---er," I thought to myself, and started back to my book. But duty called itself to mind, and I paused to consider what exactly it means, as a Christian, to hope for my enemy's good--as it were, to love my enemy.

It obviously starts with ritual pronunciations about hoping he'll see the light, etc., etc., but it can't end there. And I know I'm not doing a very good job, because I positively relish the probability that the evil psychotic is going to roast in hell for all eternity, along with the cruel, heartless men who do his bidding.

It’s fine to want him to be punished. If he sees Christ’s light, he ought to want that for himself. Indeed, handing himself over for punishment would be one of the only ways he could demonstrate to his temporal judges that he had in fact truly seen the light. But relishing the punishment, rather than seeing it as necessary corrective, is plainly out of bounds. It’s no good, either, saying he’s the devil, or a servant of the devil. For, so far as I understand these things, we’re supposed to hope for *his* eventual conversion, too.

A danger I encounter in dealing with somewhat more ordinary malefactors—the people I silently or verbally curse when I’m driving (which is an occupational hazard of driving in the Boston area)—is then to make excuses for them as I forgive them for irritating me by their selfishness. I’m not sure it’s good practice to justify the sins of others before forgiving them. But even if it is when we are talking about the guy who almost causes an accident, it absolutely has to be proscribed when we are talking about mass murderers. Perhaps there are excuses for speeding and changing lanes in a dangerous manner; there can be none for objective evil. Empathy with a mass murderer is a dangerous thing to seek, in any case. So no route to hoping for his good lies on this path.

There’s a remark in some CS Lewis book—possibly Letters to Malcolm?—that has always disturbed me. Lewis recounts talking to a priest of some kind who had met Hitler before the war. Someone asked him what he thought of Hitler, how he found him to be. “Like any other man,” came the reply. “That is, like Christ.” I rebelled at this for months after I first saw it, finding it vapid, foolish, fatuous, if not in fact directly evil. But with time I have come to find it Holy.

My mind and my heart both rebel at finding anything of Christ in Osama, or anything of Osama in Christ. But the instinct to do so is there. I am obviously far less holy than the priest who saw Christ in Hitler, but I am trying.

So, Osama, I’m sorry I thought to call you an evil motherf---er. And however improbable it seems, I hope you realize that what you are doing is as evil as evil gets. It won’t be too late, until the last Daisy Cutter falls, for you to turn it around. Fortunately for you and for me, God is great, and he can forgive all, if we but ask sincerely.


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