One of the virtues I lean on heavily is Charity; especially in the context of loving ones neighbor. This can be a good thing or a bad thing at times; some might say I give too much leeway to bad people, others might say I don’t give them enough. Context and proportionality is everything, which is the grand struggle. But second only to loving God is loving our neighbor as ourselves, so it is important that we try, in any case.
Just How Narrow Is The Path?
I was thinking about this recently for multiple reasons. In response to a blog post by someone I admire, and in response to some goings-on in my personal life. The premise is essentially this: I refuse to condemn anyone. I believe scripture will support me on this, without my looking right now. Figuring out who goes to Heaven and who goes to hell is a task reserved for God alone, and that is not a responsibility I could even conceive of usurping.
Charity is hoping for Gods mercy, but praying just in case. Charity is fearing hell, and trying to save yourself and others. It is not charitable to spend time trying to identify who will populate that infernal place.
But do not mistake my meaning: there IS a hell and people DO go there. “Narrow is the path and Straight the gate that leads to Life, and few there are that find it!” That is not a very optimistic teaching, if you look at the whole of human existence. But there is optimism in that there is a path! And we have been told how to find it! But fearing that wide path is an important part of charity, in a kind of counter-intuitive way. We want to find the path for ourselves, first. Then we are OBLIGED, since hell is a real place and we are all at risk of ending up there, to find as many people as possible and help them get on the right path.
So I pray for Gods mercy and righteous judgement, always. But to rely on his mercy alone is the sin of presumption. God opened the gate, we need to walk the path.
The Game of Life
As we play the great game of life, Charity plays another important role. Loving thy neighbor includes this radical but important concept of loving thy enemy. This accomplishes the tricky and unique feat–I might even dare to call it a Miraculous feat–of ending a cycle of radicalization and violence inherent in human nature. In ideological pursuits, there is this tendency to compete unto violence. Loving our enemies ends that because our sole pursuit is to love God and join him in perfect unity in Heaven. When our aims are spiritual, no temporal ideology can or should trouble us. Let their anger break on us like waves on the shore! Loving our enemy means we want them to get to Heaven too, even if they don’t want it or realize it right now.
In a sense, that makes loving our neighbor the hardest of those two important commandments, because it isn’t abstract. We can’t think our way into loving our neighbor. We have to do it. Every day, every time, all the time.
Practical Context in Two Examples
I was thinking about putting this in a separate post but, heck, lets dig in, shall we?
There are a lot of strong opinions about Barnhardt. She has a way of speaking her mind that is uncomfortable to a lot of people who, like me, don’t really like to think about the practical reality that there are people who will go to hell.
Barnhardt could afford to be more charitable, and critics could afford to be more charitable to her. I have two examples.
Islam Delenda Est
Barnhardt ends her essays and emails with the permanent inscription: Furthermore I believe that Islam should be destroyed. This is derived from the Roman senator who ended his speeches to the senate with ‘Furthermore I believe that Carthage should be destroyed’, Carthago Delenda Est. At the time, they were (or were about to be) at war with Carthage, and wage a total war such that the nation would be extinguished from the Earth.
I temper my opinion of Islam somewhat. The religion should be destroyed, sure. The people should be converted. And after 15 years (more than that, to be sure) of America faffing about in the middle east, that charitable concept gets lost. The people should not be destroyed. Their misguided faith, and their ideology should. Think of that as you will, whether it be likely or not. But converting their people should be foremost in our minds, not destroying them. We want to maximize getting people to Heaven, and they can’t do it through Islam unless, in God’s righteous judgement, he shows mercy on those who are infallibly ignorant or otherwise worthy of his mercy. This is where Barnhardt could afford to be a little more charitable.
St. Athanasius, Pray for us
The other item is regarding the ever controversial status of Pope Francis. Barnhardt recently wrote an essay which underscores the importance of figuring out what is going on with Pope Francis. Similarly to her position on Islam, she draws a firm line in the sand, which I think she could afford to soften with charity. But she makes a valid point, that the Pope is the head of the Church on Earth. Critics (both traditionalists opposed to Francis and modernists who support him) should be more charitable to Barnhardt. Our biases prevent us from reacting to the argument, and cause us to react to the person. The Church is not in our hands, individually. It is in the hands of God. There is something we all can learn from Pope Francis, even if it is to learn what we value in our Faith and how to fight for it. At the same time, we need to evaluate the ideas and not the person: in my opinion, the ideas are jarring but valid. I don’t draw the same conclusions, and that is my prerogative to do so.
My conclusion is to do the same thing we’ve always done when the Church was under apparent siege: Hunker down, hold the line, stand firm in my faith. Like St. Athanasius before us, when all the world seemed against him, by the grace of God he won. The Church was saved by the singular persistence and steadfastness of Athanasius in his faith. The church will be saved by us doing the same. To accomplish this will require a whole lot of loving our enemies.
 Sometimes I just need to get ideas out of my head.
See her sentiments echoed in a more refined way here.