Tenderness leads to the gas chamber

I got this via e-mail, though there’s a web version, too (as with much e-mail today). I’m convinced that it’s true, and that the truth of it is important as we guard ourselves against becoming, in common terms, “monsters” – that is, nice guys who do horrible things with a more or less clear conscience, and probably with the approbation of their social set at that place and time.

An introductory paragraph has been omitted:

Throughout history, we have met ISIS before, in various guises. ISIS members believe they are doing good. So did the Nazis. The Bolsheviks.

A good friend of mine shared a quote from Robert Reilly:

Anyone who chooses an evil act must present it to himself as good; otherwise as Aristotle taught, he would be incapable of choosing it. When we rationalize we convince ourselves that heretofore forbidden desires are permissible. As Hilaire Belloc wrote, in this case, “Every evil is its own good.” In our minds we replace the reality of the moral order to which the desire should be subordinated with something more compatible with the activity we are excusing.

He reminded me of a comment by Dr. William Hurlbut that we both heard earlier this year at a talk in Chicago:

Hurlbut made the point that all the Nobel laureates he works with who are developing human cloning are all “really nice guys.” They are all about saving lives and relieving suffering in people’s lives. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the truly dangerous man must, almost by necessity, be someone who is largely loved and admired. Whittaker Chambers wanted nothing to do with turning in the names of communists trying to overthrow our government until it was forced upon him. These were kind people, friends of his, who only wanted what was best.

This in turn reminded my friend of a Flannery O’Connor quote: “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness, and tenderness leads to the gas chamber.”

He concluded: “That is what guides those really nice guys that Dr. Hurlbutt talked about. They are guided by a faithless tenderness of heart.”

Both the nice men and the ISIS jihadists think they are improving the world. Any man may imagine a moral order of his own or he may subject himself to someone else’s moral order–that of the street gang, the Gestapo, a political party, or the jihadists of ISIS. They all espouse a view of good and evil. Someone took pride in the design of the gas ovens of Auschwitz. Someone took satisfaction in the efficiency of those ovens. Someone in ISIS was proud to post a video of a beheading.

The calls to commit such acts–abortion, jihad, what have you–may come through passionate shouts or seductive whispers, all pointing to some perceived or imagined good. Because of this, the world is always a dangerous place in both war and peace, on the battlefield and in the classroom. But neither the brutal men nor the nice men will inherit the earth. Jesus Christ embodies the only moral order that will endure. He was not nice and tame, but he is good.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

JMK sig blue

James M. Kushiner

Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.