Sunday, December 18, 2011

Love and Evil

Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.
-- Vaclav Havel

A few years ago, this blog sparked the interest of several self-styled Catholic-internet heresy-hunters. In this it was hardly special or unique, but I wasn't prepared for their attacks. My blog didn't seem like the usual target for this type, since I generally don't address controversial issues, or at least not -- or so I'd like to believe -- from a polarizing position. Nonetheless, I got vitriolic hate mail in the comboxes. Women (at least they claimed to be women) who assured me that they themselves could never, ever have fallen into the serious sin that I had, nonetheless informed me that my blog was a destructive example to other post-abortive women, since it wasn't the cheeriest thing out there. Another apparently-female armchair theologian emailed my real-life close friend Dawn Eden to advise her to drop my blog from her own blogroll, because of her (the reader's) interpretation of an emoticon I'd used in a combox response. I was rattled by this, and no less so when a guy I had dated, a fairly prominent Catholic journalist, piled on in private, emailing me to let me know that I had "more in common with the Gadarene horde" than with the Magdalene (oh, I forgot to mention that one comboxer -- if I'm recalling correctly, I think it was the one who contacted Dawn Eden -- accused me of styling myself a "new Magdalene" based on my email address, which was a reference to a novel by that title which I used in my doctoral research . . . you see how Talmudic things were getting), criticizing me for my artistic "unsuccess," and attacking virtually every member of my family. (This fellow had once asked me to marry him, though he may have been drunk at the time. I was so very glad that I had at least had the foresight to say no.)

I have always had very detailed dreams, and those dreams, as dreams invariably are, have often been extremely fantastical. Except in very rare circumstances, I don't believe that dreams are prophetic, or that they're often even in any way a reflection of reality. Occasionally, though, an image from a dream will stay with me throughout the following day, and, when I turn it over and over in my mind, it will start to seem like a comment on something that exists in waking life. I had a dream like this last night. Without going into all the arcane and byzantine details, the main image in this dream showed something that I believe is true in reality: that evil is seductive, that it cloaks itself in the trappings of the beautiful and the good. Hardly a new idea there, but one that we all need to remember, particularly those among us who believe that we could never, ever be in commission of serious sin.

If you yourself have never, ever been in commission of such a sin -- oh, how fortunate you are! How grateful you must be to God for keeping you free from evil and participation in it -- because you must know that it is only His grace that has kept you free from these things, and not your own merits. And remember that, as He told Saint Faustina, the most egregious sinners have the most right to His mercy. And that He did not condemn the woman caught in adultery. And that tax collectors and prostitutes enter the kingdom of heaven before the self-styled righteous.  And that He had a huge party for the repentant one, and that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine virtuous men. And so on.

I have no right to admonish anyone, clearly. But who does? Probably not the proudly orthodox Catholics who troll the internet looking for other believers to mock, blame, and criticize, nor the Catholic "apologists" who skate on the outer edges of preaching righteous hatred against those whom we are commanded to love -- including their co-religionists! -- or those virtuous ones who recoil at the sinner, even where he is repentant, and conveniently forget that, as Christians, we are required to aid in the reform and rehabilitation of even those sinners who are most personally repugnant to us.

I've been thinking about these things since getting a call from Sister M. of the Sisters of Life about a poor young mother in desperate need of help, and also since reading a coincident combox discussion at Vox Nova, in which several of the loudest voices appeared to assert that it's justified to criticize pro-lifers, because pro-lifers tend not to regard post-abortive women (men are never mentioned in these discussions) in quite as blameworthy a light as logic dictates (um, I can assure you that these "anti-pro-lifers" are, in many cases, wrong to assume a lack of blame). The prevailing criticism against the pro-life movement is that many of its adherents also (and illogically) support policies that are punitive to poor single mothers who choose life; in other words, that once the baby is born, tough luck. Sadly, there is some truth to this. A., the young mother for whom Sister M. is trying to enlist help, is one of the most forgotten and despised among us, a poor, young, uneducated single mother of color living in an urban shelter. There is no good excuse for any of us, pro-life or not, to allow women and children to be as ignored and forgotten as she is, and those of us who are pro-life have a responsibility, whatever our political beliefs, to help her and the hundreds of thousands of others like her.

On the other hand, the tortured casuistry with which the Vox Nova commenters strove to make their point is just an exercise in intellectual pride, an excuse for a lack of action, a lack of charity, and a lack of true love. One commenter used Guttmacher Institute statistics to demonstrate that women don't choose abortion out of desperation, but he defined desperation as economic adversity, rather than, more accurately, as the kind of abysmal loneliness, the profound sense of failure, rejection, and unloveableness, out of which so much evil is born into the world, and which is the real reason for most abortions, and also the reason for most unwanted pregnancy in the first place.

Let us remember, as Advent draws to a close, that our enemy is our intellectual better. He knows how to use our tendencies and proclivities to induce us to acts of pettiness, vanity, selfishness, and unkindness, which only serve to snowball into more and more serious sin. He knows how to make what is ugly appear to be beautiful, and how to make what is evil appear to be the highest good, and thereby to tempt even the righteous to it. The only remedy for evil, and for the misery of sin, is true love.


maria horvath said...

Dear Pentimento,

Unfortunately, it is much too easy to be holier-than-thou. And now, with the internet and all those comment-boxes, one can even do it anonymously, making cowardly pronouncements on the state of the souls of others.

I like the charitable advice that C. S. Lewis would give such people: “May God’s grace give you the necessary humility. Try not to think — much less, speak — of their sins. One’s own are a much more profitable theme! And if on consideration, one can find no faults on one’s own side, then cry for mercy: for this must be a most dangerous delusion.”

Lewis would also agree most heartedly with the words of Vaclav Havel (may he rest in peace) you quote at the beginning of this post: “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred.”


P.S. How lucky you are to count Dawn Eden among your friends. I have long admired her for her clear understanding of human nature and her skill at writing.

Pentimento said...

Thank you for the Lewis quote, Maria.

Dawn is a great writer and a great friend. She's my first son's godmother.

Sally Thomas said...

Bleah. I mean, not what you've written, which as usual is eloquent and spot-on, but the general state of affairs that you've written about. Even though I haven't been attacked in the way that you have, just knowing that that stuff is out there has turned me off the internet, or at least off blogging and blog-commenting, to a great extent. I'm at least as afraid of what I might say to someone else in a fit of I-don't-know-what as of what someone else might say to me.

Thinking of you, though, and keeping you and your adoption, particularly, in my daily prayers.

Pentimento said...

Sally, it's good to hear from you. I've been wondering where you've been and hoping your low-lying-ness was for positive, not negative, reasons.

Yes, the internet. I met my spouse and my soon-to-be second son under its auspices, and I'm sure God uses it for good; and yet others must be led into error because of it, including many who are seeking truth.

Thank you so much for your prayers, and mine are coming back atcha.

Pentimento said...

Although "back atcha" is probably not entirely theologically sound . . .

maria horvath said...

Dear Pentimento,

You wrote that “Dawn [Eden] is a great writer and a great friend.”

Those words bring to mind one of my very favorite quotations, by the great E. B. White in his book Charlotte’s Web:

Wilbur the pig never forgot Charlotte the spider. “She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”


Sally Thomas said...

Oh, you know I don't think the internet is inherently evil -- just another human realm, with all the potential for good and evil which being human, and free, entails. And even though I often feel kind of poisoned by combox conversations, at the same time there are all kinds of wonderful people I would never have known about were it not for the net, and I have to be grateful for that. The good thing about blogs and the like is their potential for the development of old-style epistolary friendships, and I do miss that when I'm not doing it.

The low-lyingness is for mostly positive reasons having to do with family demands. Somehow one child out of the house doesn't equal that much more discretionary time and energy. On the other hand, I'm in a Twitter phase, so it's not like I'm off the internet. Maybe the real story is that blogging seems too overwhelming and one-liners are my thing right now. I've also been writing fairly epigrammatic poems, so I do have kind of a "brevity" motif going.

Sally Thomas said...

And I don't see anything wrong with "back atcha" as a descriptive theological term . . .

Pentimento said...

Good to know "back atcha" may have escaped the heresy-hunters this time . . .

I will subscribe to your Twitter feed. I only signed up for Twitter to read Ruth Reichl's tweets, which make me want to scream, but in a sort-of good way.

That is a very apt quote, Maria.

Calah said...

Oh man, Pentimento, I'm just reading this. I have to say that it made me squirm. Guiltily. I try really, really hard not to fall into the "holier-than-thou" trapping and fail more often than I succeed. I don't want to be like that, especially since I've been in such wretched sin in my own past. Thank you for this post, and for reminding me not to be horrible. We need more bloggers like you. The Catholic world can be so cut-throat and vicious sometimes. There's a disconnect between what the Church is and how it plays out among the people. You're one of the people that's trying to bridge it, so thank you.

Pentimento said...

We all need to be reminded, Calah, myself included. What I've learned since becoming a "Catholic blogger" is that we are NOT all one, as Our Lord prayed we would be. I think the tendency towards a kind of neo-gnosticism, in the sense of believing that we and we alone know the true form of worship, is part of human nature. And so is the outrage of the Prodigal Son's older brother, who did everything right his whole life and sees his reprobate brother get not only forgiven, but also a party.

Nonetheless, as a commenter wrote in a comment I chose not to publish (NOT because it was evil! Far from it! I communicated privately with the sender about it): "Like Ezekiel, we are called to 'sit with the captives even if we are not captives' . . . and to follow Him out of the camp."

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

In each and every case, our thought should be: what can we do to obtain for this person that which is to their greatest, authentic good? And what is to my own?

Pentimento said...

Arkanabar, I agree with you. Sometimes I need to be reminded of how world-shakingly radical the Christian proposition was in the ancient world. And we only think it's no longer radical.