A Reader Sez Something Profound

“The devil does not care about killing the children as much as he wants to make murderers out of people.”

One of the things that has increasingly troubled me, not only about the abortion struggle, but the religious liberty struggle, has been the tendency of Christians to talk as though the first death is the worst thing there is. It generally tends to get expressed in term something like “How can you sit there in your ivory tower fretting about theological abstractions like consequentialism when we are talking about persecution and even death!”

The New Testament seems to me to turn this all on its head in a rather striking way: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). For Jesus and the early Church, the issue is not the bodily death of innocents, it is the death of souls that is the big danger. The main tragedy of abortion or the persecution of believers, by this calculus, is not that innocents die, but that the guilty go to hell if they do not repent.

We don’t think that way. Indeed, most people laugh to scorn Newman’s remark that “The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” I wonder what would happen if we did think that way.

It was, after all, what we would today call a venial sin (pinching an apple) that destroyed our race’s relationship with God.

Of course, this is the sort of thing that is toxic for the scrupulous to think about and I would urge any reader inclined toward scrupulosity to hear these words: “This is not directed to you. You are not the problem. Don’t take up yet another burden that is not yours to carry. Give it back to God.” But for the rest of us, may I suggest that a recovery of the sense, not of guilt, but of what our real priorities are supposed to be would go a long way. The point is not “feel guilty about every stupid little thing”. It is that avoidance of sin really is more important than saving of skin. The biggest tragedy in a murder is not that an innocent dies, but that a man is made worthy of the everlasting fires of hell. The victim was going to die sooner or later, no matter what. But no human being *needs* to go to hell. If they do, it is a eternal loss and the ultimate tragedy.

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