Saturday, September 8, 2007


People who operate under the force of compulsion are to be pitied. It is cause for compassion. But it's not a free pass for shoddy conduct. Those who are compelled to eat in a way that damaged their health don't do it on purpose. They know what they're doing and they do it anyway, because something hurts in them and they want to make it feel better. Alcohol is the same -- the addictive properties are more obvious, and the harm clearer, but if the craving were taken away there'd still be that sick part of the soul that hurts and wants relief. If not booze, something else. Addiction is a behavior, but the behavior has a cause.

So, Larry Craig. Is it a character flaw? Certainly. But it's easy for us, who are strong, to mock the weak and the infirm. And we can be smug, if we choose to be, since our secret vices are safe. No one knows of our equivalent behavior -- it's not skulking in toilets hoping to catch an eye with a cough that we might relieve our tensions in a few furtive hasty moments crowded into a stall. No. Our vices are still secret, so we can go ahead and judge.

Some of these compulsions are illegal, and some are merely harmful to ourselves. We need not concern ourselves with what is legal and what has been criminalized. My point here is compassion. I always think of Jesus, when compassion is the subject. He sat outside the walls of Jerusalem, weeping for the lost sheep. And he did something about the problem, as a Shepherd. But Hell still expands its borders. We pity those who are in pain, while they suffer. Some people will find relief. Some will always have pain. It isn't for us to discern. Pain is what compassion is for. JC didn't feel compassion for some of the people, but for all of them. His compassion outstripped his power, though. He could save only some of them. That's how strong compulsion is.

Justice is never cruel. It's just taking care of business. Some of us might remember young Mr. Cho (here, here, here, here). Now there's a compulsion. We criminalize murderous behavior, and we judge it and punish it. Of course. We do not let compassion interfere with business. Cho should have been gunned down like a dog. Because mad dogs must be stopped, and they cannot be saved. But those of us who are not harmed by such monstrous acts might still feel compassion for the wretched desperate evil man who does such things. We do not let our tears blind us. Because pity, too, can be a compulsion.

It is a complex thing, to live a considered life. The self-satisfied little cliche has it that love conquers all. As to that I cannot say. In fact, I think it's not true. If it were, there would be no futility. What is it then that does conquer all? Given hell, it cannot be mercy, or grace, or compassion or love. It must be justice. And given that hell is a choice, it must be that chaos and torment are sought out by some souls, which go to their appointed place because that is what they were made for. For all this mechanistic inevitability, though, we cannot wash our hands of the humane part of our humanity. Those who are blind and stumbling after their own destruction -- we would save them from themselves, if it were possible.

It's not. God has made a universe of exquisite ambiguity, and one founded on uncertainty. Paradox is resolved by changing one's perspective. But we are not infinitely agile in our outlook. We're a liquid, not a gas. We can fill only the space we can reach. Given this, given our limits and our overall helplessness, such character traits as humility and an urge to kindness commend themselves.

We can depend on hardly anything. Justice is slow and love is easy to doubt. We must be patient, then. Perhaps things will work out for the best.

I have someone in mind, as I write this. I couldn't say why.


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