Sympathy for the devil

2013-04-21 03:04

A poster on tumblr recently expressed some unpopular views; to wit, the hope that Dzokhar Tsarnaev would escape and never be captured or killed. Lots of people have expressed the hope that he’d be captured alive, and some have hoped that he might one day be rehabilitated. Not so many have thought to show off their empathy by hoping a killer escapes to kill again.

There’s a lot to be said for trying to care about people whom everyone else does not care about. It is, in principle, a good idea. It can be the thing that provides a path to redemption in an otherwise horrible situation. However, that doesn’t mean that everything that looks like this is actually a good or healthy thing.

Occasionally, I see Christians who are starting to think a little more thoroughly about their beliefs come to wonder what the right response to the Devil is. One answer, which I personally quite like, is “to love him, and pray for his redemption.” After all, we were asked to love our enemies. Not just the easy ones. Not just the weak ones that aren’t a threat. And from that, you can get to a stage of thinking that it might be quite reasonable to love, and hope for the redemption of, just about anyone.

In Diane Duane’s “young wizards” books (So You Want To Be A Wizard and its sequels), the canonical greeting given to the Lone Power is “Greetings and defiance, fairest and fallen.” The key point I wish to call your attention to: “and defiance”. To love an evil person is not to love their evil, or to make excuses for it, or to paper over it. You have to accept and acknowledge the evil, and to react to it in the best way you can — with unceasing opposition.

The problem with the poster on tumblr isn’t the notion of wanting to empathize with and care about a very troubled young man. It’s that, finding the man unlovable, she’s decided to ignore him and instead make up a fictitious man who is lovable, but not actually evil. She’s making excuses for his choices, and denying the reality. This does no one any good. There is no redemptive power in finding out that people have invented someone very different from you because they wanted to love something, and you were beyond their ability.

It is a good and noble thing to try to love people who are hard to love. Not everyone can do it. Virtually no one can do it all the time. And the thing is, if you can’t do it… Don’t fake it. Don’t pretend to love someone, while actually loving an imaginary thing you constructed because the real person was too horrible. Recognize what you see, see it truly, and go from there. You may find that some people are beyond your ability to love. That happens. It’s okay; not everyone has to be a saint today. Keep being honest, keep plugging away, and you might get there. Give up on the honesty, and you won’t even be making progress anymore.

Peter Seebach

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