Ethics love

Is it possible to lovingly punch sin in the face?

9:11:00 AMAnnie Foster




Where is the happy and healthy medium between jovially dismissing a person's morally wrong actions and punching sinners in the face? When we are told not to scoff at the pitiful fallen state of the drunk guy at the bar or the prostitute on the corner the question arises; how should we respond? We wish not to be the self-righteous Pharisee who publicly rebukes his neighbors, but then again we know that we can not silently condone evil actions. We are well aware that "judging" is a characteristic of the self-righteous but then how must we respond towards our neighbor's sins?



Dietrich von Hildebrand's Morality and Situation Ethics addresses this question by first reassuring us that although we should never judge the sinner for we do not know the degree of his culpability, guilt, intentions, and circumstances, there are instances where evil must be recognized for what it is and condemned accordingly. "Whenever wrong and evil principles are at stake, a clear-cut repudiation is a moral duty." (pg.115) However, sufficient understanding of the object under moral scrutiny must take place before the judgment of the principle, theory, or action. Likewise, there are no instances where it is acceptable for someone to take delight in the judgment of something as evil.



Our moral standards impose upon us the duty of rejecting morally wrong principles. (pg. 116) Our moral standards are the definitive standards of good and evil which naturally exist within our minds by which we judge principles which come into moral question. We would naturally recognize the act of a fire fighter saving a child from a burning building to be good and likewise, the act of kidnapping a child to be evil. More often good and evil situations are not always this black and white to the whole of society. Gray circumstances can make it more difficult for the Christian to reject what is morally wrong. Take for an example the Catholic who decides not to attend his cousin's wedding because he is not marrying within the church. The cousin agrees to marry his wife in a synagogue so as to appease her and her family. The issue the Catholic has with the marriage is not that the Catholic groom's bride is Jewish but that his wedding is taking place outside the church without a dispensation from his bishop. The Catholic church would view such a marriage as invalid.
The rest of the Catholic’s family disapproves of the groom's decision but still attends the wedding so as to support their relative. The opinion of the family and the majority of society, is that the Catholic's decision seems unnecessarily harsh. The Catholic himself, was not unaware of the uncomfortable effects of making such a controversial decision and wished that he could take the easy way out and simply accept the invitation. He loves his cousin and his cousin's future wife and wished to encourage the couple's new life together. If he attends the wedding everyone would be happy and no one would be annoyed with him. Ultimately, the Catholic decided that to attend the wedding would be to apostatize to the bride and her family who are living their faith while the groom and his family are compromising theirs so as to be sociable. The groom's family is setting a bad example, compromising their faith and validating the faith of the bride's family. The bride's family does nothing wrong because they give the example of a family who lives their faith where as the Catholic family did not. By not attending the wedding the Catholic is responding to the disvalue of a morally wrong principle. As Christian's we are obliged to always reject principles which are contrary to our beliefs.



Even despite our own immoral behavior and sinfulness, evil deserves our repudiation. As Hildebrand puts it, "Whether we live up to what we know to be morally right or not, whether we are without sin or not, morally wrong principles must in any case be rejected.”



How can we apply this rejection of morally wrong principles to our day to day lives and our encounters with our neighbors? Also, how can we do so while keeping in mind St. Augustine's words, "destroy the error; love the one erring"?

 
The Christian rejection of what is wrong or evil is a necessary consequence of the love of God and love of neighbor and therefore is not tainted by self-righteous motives. This type of judgement is focused on the object, supported by truth, motivated by the love of God, and has no reference to our own ego. (pg.116)
 
"The Christian will never judge before knowing the motives, the inner attitude that the sinner himself has toward his sin, and before knowing all the circumstances. He will always give the sinner the benefit of the most favorable interpretation of his fall, so long as he is not forced to accept the unfavorable one."(pg.116)


This passage from Morality and Situation Ethics, expresses the loving Christian mindset towards his fellow sinners. The Christian should not assume or form in his mind notions of his neighbor’s specific moral quality or character. In the words of our Lord, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone."
When we are confronted with the fall of another we are confronted not just with their weakness but with our own. We are reminded that we share in their frailty, their shortcomings, their blemishes. However this humility, this awareness of our own sin, does not restrain a Christian from rejecting sin. On the contrary, a serious and true rejection of sin is rooted in love of God and neighbor. This rejection is an act "formed by charity and imbued with humility" and is even obligatory. When our Lord commands us, "Do not judge, that you may not be judged," he is not referring to the rejection of evil mentalities but of the immoral "judging" in the sense of a final sentence, which the self-righteous pronounce. (pg.126)


Keeping in mind the circumstances where evil must be recognized and rejected, we can again address the proper and loving response of the Christian towards her neighbor. Hildebrand describes the sorrowful response of a Christian as such,
"Fully aware of our own weakness and misery, of the constant danger of falling, we should seeing another fall, deplore it, but beat our own breast and pray for him."(pg.126)
We do not close our eyes to the moral evil of sin but are deeply shaken by the offense against God. We do not identify the sinner with his sin.  The sinner has dignity in the fact that he is a complex human being who can not be defined by his failings but by his potential to better himself. Lastly, the Christian reminds himself that perhaps if he would have set a better example his neighbor might not have fallen.


The overall Christian attitude towards sinners is humble and charitable but also serious and grave. "Instead of being blunted before the drama of good and evil, the Christian sees this drama in its full grandeur and seriousness."


In contrast the self-righteous is merely shocked by the sinner's nonconformity to convention.(pg.128) Hildebrand appropriately chose to conclude with the befitting words of Saint Augustine, who expressed perfectly the true Christian attitude towards sinners:


...not to hate the man for his vice, nor to love the vice for the man, but hate the vice and love the man; for the vice being cured, he shall find no object of his hate, but all for his love."1


1 The City of God, XIV, 6 (Healey, op. cit., p.32).
Image 1: source
Image 2: source
Quotes: Pages 115,116,126, and 128. Morality and Situation Ethics, Dietrich von Hildebrand (Chicago, Franciscan Herald Press, 1966)


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