I was having a discussion with a couple of people on the Facebook page of our local Unitarian Church — people that I’ve known for a couple of years. They’re of the opinion that one ought to “Love Everybody. No Exceptions.” I suggested that this was unrealistic and quite possibly dangerous. Also vague, because they weren’t saying what they meant by “love.” I asked them to please clarify what they meant by the term.
This is a serious question. If a guy wearing camo and carrying a semi-automatic rifle is coming down the street toward you, a guy who hasn’t shaved in a couple of weeks and has an angry expression on his face, how exactly will this “love” manifest itself? In the ’80s, pop psychologists were keen to point out that love isn’t an emotion, it’s an action, or possibly an ongoing series of actions. You don’t just feel love, you show it. You act in a loving manner. So how do you show love to someone who is dangerously insane?
Curiously, or perhaps not, the entire thread of the discussion has now been deleted from the Facebook page. It’s gone.
We can interpret this in several ways, none of them very flattering to my interlocutors. Possibly they realized I was right, and were embarrassed to have their shallow idealism exposed, but rather than admit they were wrong, they chose the coward’s way out. I think that not very likely. Possibly they found it impossible to exhibit their love toward me by being tolerant of my point of view. That leaves their hypocrisy naked, but it seems more likely, and anyway, nobody is going to know they’re hypocrites, because they deleted the post. Or possibly they felt that my ideas are dangerous, and because they were unable to refute them, deleting the thread was their only option.
But see, that’s the essence of the problem. Their own position requires them to accept my divergent views — and they can’t do it. They don’t know how.
I don’t feel love or compassion for a considerable number of our current national leaders, starting at the very top. I loathe them. They are dangerous. If my fellow Unitarians feel love and compassion toward those people, I would really like to know what they mean by love and compassion, and how they manage the mental gymnastics. I don’t know how do it, and I fail to see why I should try.
My own view is that if one has any sort of moral character, one is obliged to confront evil. To state, “This is evil, and it is not welcome here.” That’s the only way the world gets to be a better place. If you smile blandly when you see evil, the shit is only going to get worse. It’s going to get worse because the evil people are not going to smile blandly when they see you. They have money, and they have guns, and if nobody opposes them — starting with, at the very least, a loud denunciation not only of their acts but of their character — their vile views will carry the day.
Character is an interesting concept. I have the impression it’s not much discussed anymore. It’s not the case, I think, that we’re all alike under the skin, that any of us can be resurrected morally if we only learn to stop engaging in certain acts. There are people whose very nature is evil. The pus-bucket currently oozing around the White House is a prime example. It’s not just that he does bad things. His entire character is beyond redemption.
Do my Unitarian friends feel love toward him? My suspicion is that they would like to pretend they do — to pretend that even though his actions are alarming, in the end he’s as worthy of compassion as anybody else. But I don’t believe it. And even if it’s true in the deepest cosmic sense, the cosmic sense is not a useful guide to our daily conduct — not if we hope to make the world a better place. We need to be more proactive than that.
Samuel Johnson put it this way: “If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.”
I believe it is possible to pray for wrongdoers while at the same time working to make sure they are held accountable for their behaviour.
I’m not a prayin’ type of person, and I’m not sure that prayer counts as an expression of love or compassion. It can be, I’m sure. Many modern Christians pray in quite positive, life-affirming ways. But there’s a long tradition of prayer in the monotheistic tradition in which believers pray that their enemies will be afflicted with boils and locusts and such, or cast down into the pit of Hell, or whatever. The Old Testament is full of that stuff. So offhand I’d say that prayer or the absence of prayer is not relevant.