Hoping for the Worst

A reader writes:

I’ve been a little confused lately by some of my fellow Catholics. I think this a topic that must influence bloggers in some way or another as well. I have been informed that acknowledging any good about Obama basically belittles the great evils he has done regarding abortion and causes scandal (because people will hear, I suppose, and think I’m down with abortion if I say Obama has the right idea about waterboarding being torture.) We would never think to pay compliments to Hitler, but saying anything positive about Obama would morally be the same since he endorses the wholesale slaugher of innocents as well.

I will loudly condemn the evils being done and I do not pay trivial compliments, but I can admit when someone is right about something even if they’re dead wrong about other things, and admit to whatever good they do even if it is not proportionate to the evil. In cases of those who do support and commit great evil, is this morally wrong to do? Does it make light of abortion to acknowledge a correct view on any other subject by one of its biggest supporters?

Thanks for any ideas, if you can spare the time.

This really relates to my previous entry. It’s just as true that contempt can make pro-lifers stupid too. One aspect of contempt is the tendency to “hope for the worst”: to interpret any and every thought, word, or deed of the object of our contempt in the worst possible light, no matter what. So, for instance, yesterday I remarked that I thought Obama was playing it smart by not playing into the hand of the Iranian thugocracy with a bunch of bellicose rhetoric. Instead, he said (which is perfectly true) that the issue of the election was for the Iranians to work out and that violence was deplorable. He gave no grist for the Thugocrats to claim that the *real* enemy in the election was the US, the Jews controlling the US, blah blah. Smart move.

However, one of my readers chose to interpret it this way:

Mark! What if our president is holding is tongue out of appeasement? Seems likely, now that we’re a Muslim nation, despite the arrogance of our past. That seems to be the bearing wall of his foreign policy house. And what if these courageous Iranian protesters are emboldened by our efforts in neighboring Iraq and are counting on our support?

This is what I mean by “hoping for the worst”. There is not, so far as I can see, any “appeasement” happening here. Just sensible politics. Indeed, for that matter, the now-de rigeur claim that Obama called us a “Muslim nation” is another example of “hoping for the worst” (since he in fact made the much more mundane point that the US has a lot of Muslims living here, and the Islamosphere should take that into account when sizing up the world on the basis of where the Umma is and is not. It’s much like the point that the attack on the World Trade Center had, among other effects, the effect of murdering several hundred Muslims who worked there. His point (and we would get this easily if we weren’t hoping for the worst) is that Radical Muslims *are the enemies of Muslims*. That, again, is smart politics if you are trying to get the Islamic world to stop viewing Radical Muslims as heroic Jesse James outlaws and start seeing them as what they are: threats to the common good. But if you are just trying to heap contempt on Obama because he’s Obama and therefore worthy of nothing but contempt because the prolife issue is all that matters, then carry on. You will not advance the prolife cause by such tactics, but you may in time discover the truth of C.S. Lewis’ words:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Our mission as Christians is to seek redemption for the sinner, not to hope that the sinner is even worse than we supposed. Obama is horribly wrong about abortion. It does not follow that he is horribly wrong (and wicked) about everything. And it emphatically does not follow that we should hope that he is and fear to say he is not lest we offend against the tribal loyalties of political ideology. If St. Thomas could mine the thought of Muslims and pagans for what was true and good, we Catholics should do the same. Otherwise, we will make ourselves just as stupid and blind as anybody else who gives in to the sin of contempt.

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