If there’s anything I’ve been thinking about during Holy Week fairly consistently, it’s charity. Partly I’ve been doing so because of my irritation at others and partly because of my irritation at myself. I’ve been disturbed to see how often people seem to fall into the habit of assuming the worst of others and how *gleeful* they are at the thought that somebody they oppose might be not just wrong, but bad. Below I griped about those who can’t just disagree with the Pope about the war, but who feel the need to speak of him as wicked, stupid, or both. I’ve noticed the pattern in the past. Does he promulgate new mysteries for the Rosary? It’s not because he thinks them helpful to the Church: it’s because he’s egomaniac like Bill Clinton, burnishing his “legacy.” Or below, on the thread about the lack of success in finding WMDs in Iraq so far: Is that because Iraq is the size of California and we’ve barely started looking? No, it’s because Bush is a lying war criminal. Iraqi bishops sucked up to Saddam and heaped praise on the regime. Might that be because they had guns to the heads of their flock from a police state? No, it’s because they were scum hankering for power, etc. In all these cases, there are lots of ways of approaching the data we have, but there is something in many people that seems to *want* to assume the absolute worst first and is really rather reluctant to give that up. There is something in us that delights in evil and in thinking the worst of another.
That same thing is in me, of course. There are people I find that I *hope* will be as rotten as I think they are so that I can loathe them and not feel bad about it. I can console myself that I’m being “discerning”. “Being discerning” is the term Christians employ when they want to pass judgement but cast it in Christianese and look really spiritual. It’s like when Christians want to cut loose and mete out vengeance on people they despise. They let fly and then without fail whip out the big Gustave Dore illustrations of Jesus and the moneychangers, along with a torrent of bullshit about “tough love.”
So what am I getting at? Dunno really. It’s not like I’ve licked this problem in my own life. But it helps to talk about it and hold it up to the light for examination. It’s mostly that I’m displeased with the *posture*, for want of a better word, that I take and that I see many others take toward people they find “inconvenient.” I’m beginning to think that the first thing we should check is this posture, this attitude (before the other person has ever opened his mouth or done anything) which determines the *way* in which see whatever data they will feed us. Charity demands that we presume the best of another unless they’ve given us really good reason to doubt them. Yes, we must be wise as serpents. Yes, it would be stupid to trust Bill Clinton, Saddam or some other proven liar. But in cases where really don’t know the facts, charity demands that we give the benefit of the doubt to decent people, not instantly declare them egoists, sycophants of tyrants, or war criminals. Such charity is demanded closer to home too. Very few of us will have to decide the fate of the Pope or the President. But depending on whether we cultivate or reject charity, we may find that we decide the fate of our families and friends and destine ourselves and others to live in domestic tranquillity or in suburban hellholes of quiet desperation.