You’ve got to die for something. You may as well choose something worth dying for.
Many theologians, saying that the natural state of man is evil, go wrong. We need to ask ourselves: what is a man, that he should exist at all? He exists to glorify God by loving him- so he must be such a thing as is capable of love. That, at its most fundamental, is what a man is. That we have strayed from this purpose doesn’t change the fact that everything we find within ourselves should be there solely because it serves some necessary role in loving God. In fact what we are at its most basic shouldn’t have changed at all in fall- our relationship to God is what will have changed. A human being is something which is capable of receiving, having no light within itself- something which is capable of loving. It is the god shaped hole in man which prevents him from actualizing his capacity to receive and to love.
It has been said that, as different as they are, all human beings at their core desire to be loved. I agree with that assessment, but it occurs to me that this leads us to a dilemma. If what every man wants most is to be loved by others, and every man has the capacity to love others himself, then isn’t there a very simple intuitive solution? If every man loves his neighbors, then all will be satisfied- after all, it costs him nothing to love others if his motivations are as we have assumed. A very simple arrangement could be reached. Why then does our race have such difficulty? If our axioms are correct, then it will be because they have become convinced that to be loved themselves, they most refrain from loving certain others- that love is like a resource in scarcity. If it is shown to too many others, there will not be enough left for oneself. The mentality of the feud is a prototype of this: in order to be accepted as a Montague, you must despise any Capulet. If you do not despise them, then your own family will despise you. A still lonelier manifestation is evident in the ideology of domination- in order to have the respect and fealty of your people, you must deny them the same respect, and you must certainly deny them the subservience which you require of them. Furthermore, you must prevent others from rising to your position. Such a warped view of love finds it inherently one sided, and always the object of competition. Conformity presents another sad case- when we ourselves stand out, we are beaten down. Later, when others stand out, we must beat them down, or else stand out ourselves and inherit their punishment. And so by drawing many lines between people groups, and forming societies based on many inaccurate principles, we have allowed the central misconception that love is scarce to propagate- with the result that most are now not loved as they would have themselves be. Our entire way of life is based on the proposition: “I must do to others what I would not have done to me, or else I will not be done by as I would be.” The irony is that in actual fact, the widespread acceptance of this proposition is the only reason that we are not done by as we would be. But when one says “do as ye will be done by,” one cuts straight through the heart of our world’s original sin.
C.S. Lewis being one of my more significant influencers, it may be informative to explore where we diverge. The heart of it seems to be this: at some point in adolescence, all properly developing persons must confront the demands of objectivity, society, and the law. Realizing that his own subjective viewpoint is insufficient because his self serving biases will always make his own judgements inferior to those of others who think objectively, that he requires the assistance of others in order to meet his own goals, and that he cannot acquire this assistance without considering the perspectives of others, the adolescent becomes aware of the demand of objectivity. Around the same time, he becomes aware of the demands of law and justice, that those who violate regulations must be punished for the sake of order, and those who violate moral codes for the sake of justice. A person who never confronts his own inability to keep to the rules and obey the requirements of morality never faces adulthood. The adult must somehow resolve this basic dilemma: while forced by circumstances to apply the same rule to everyone, to discover that he himself cannot obey the rule. Lewis tends to favor the position that a man should suffer the punishment himself, so as to be able to subject others to it. I tend to favor the position that a man should somewhat selfishly give up his claim to punish others, in order to escape the punishment himself. I will briefly explain both positions.
The former position is based upon the principles of law and order. It is believed that the implementation of the rule is vital to the continued benefit of the general population, because man, being evil, must be compelled to do good. Payment is to be in kind for deeds where possible- subjecting one man to death and freeing another according to their merit, but it need not necessarily be fair, so long as it necessary or dutiful. There are no hard feelings for those killed, even those killed without cause. If two men are born in neighboring countries, both are drafted, and each kills the other, each has done his duty (and would have been wrong to do otherwise). The cause of the war is disconcertingly irrelevant: after all, there are no hard feelings. Sometimes men just have to die.
The latter position proceeds from rather different assumptions, the most significant being that the price demanded by justice is beyond our ability to pay. By any reasonable standard of justice, a person who knows that a heinous crime is being committed, and has the ability to stop it, but both fails to do so and actively collaborates in its implementation is culpable in the crime. But by that standard, the daily atrocities of the society in which we live, its countless nameless victims, and our own inaction condemn us all. Therefore any enforcement which punishes some, and not others, will always be arbitrary. One man is so placed as to commit a shooting and does, a thousand are so placed as to prevent it and do not. Only the one is punished. If everyone who was legally deserving of execution under a truly moral interpretation of international law were to be executed, we would have no society left to benefit from the resulting order- we would have no executioner. Christ alone could throw the first stone, and he has refused to do so. My entire position proceeds from the proposition that there will always be hard feelings about one’s own life, that we inherently care about our own lives, and that no two men can ever have the duty to destroy one another, not even to stop one another, unless there has been a horrible misunderstanding. It is the duty of the one man to stop the other- the duty of the other man to stop.
And so we find ourselves in a simple position: compelled as we are to apply the same standard to all men, we need forgive others; we cannot afford the price of failing to do so. Neither as individuals, nor as a society.