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And forgiveness

Pat Buchanan wrote to Jeff Jacoby and defended President Bush for asking God to forgive Yasser Arafat. Jacoby had criticized the president for doing so. He says of the incident:

[M]any readers defended Bush’s reaction. One of them was Pat Buchanan, who replied to my column in one of his own.

He began with a jab at the presumption of “columnists who know the mind of God.” Then he wrote: “In defense of President Bush, if that was his first reaction to Arafat’s death, it bespeaks a Christian heart. As a boy in World War II, I was taught by Catholic nuns that while permissible to pray for the death of Hitler or Tojo, it was impermissible to pray for their damnation. That was hatred, and hatred is a sin.”

Buchanan is undoubtedly voicing the Catholic response, which often scandalizes those not familiar with it. It is not unique to Catholics, however, most people who have at least some Christian scruples are familiar with it.

Jacoby, however, is Jewish, and he shares with us another point of view:

Jewish tradition holds, with Ecclesiastes, that there is a time to love and a time to hate. The Hebrew Bible enjoins us to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) and to love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19), but that love has its limits. We are not expected to love savage thugs or to ask God’s mercy on them. On the contrary, we loathe the unrepentantly cruel because we believe God loathes them too.

It defies reason and upends morality to claim that God loves both Saddam Hussein and the innocent Kurds he gassed to death — that He bestows His love on Osama bin Laden no less than on the 3,000 souls he butchered on 9/11. Of course we should pray that an evildoer will realize the awfulness of his ways and atone for his crimes. But to love him even if he doesn’t? To bless him when he dies? God forbid! To bless the Hitlers and the Arafats of this world is to betray their victims. That we must never do.

It will shock no one if I say that I find the actions of mass murderers abhorrent. But I disagree with Jacoby when he says we should not pray for such a person if they do not repent. It is impossible to know what is going on in another person’s mind. It is a mistake to assume they operate under the same constraints as the rest of us. They may be like child born with only nine fingers, except that their missing finger is all or part of the conscience. And it really is presumptuous to assume that we know what God thinks of the matter.

What about the victims though? Is Jacoby right to say that to forgive the killer is to betray the victim? This line of the thought is too obsessed with the here and now on earth, when the ultimate goal of our lives to union with God. The victims, united with God, will understand God’s reasons, and I doubt very much that they will have much if any concern for how we treat the aggressor. Lashing out at the killer is very much about us, here and now. Were we to follow Jacoby, we would be using the dead to justify our anger, and our need for revenge, whose source is Pride.

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Written by Curt

November 22, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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