I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: Sure, yet another self-indulgent blog is just the thing the Internet needs.
I had intended to write something today about God's mercy and forgiveness as my first post. I was going to talk about my fondness for the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which reads, in the banal version of the ICEL, "Father, you show your almighty power in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom." The Latin really is much better, more sublime:
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
The events of this morning in London have given me a rather less self-indulgent theme, but one that still recalls the words of the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. As I listened to reports on the BBC, I was struck by something one "person-on-the-street" said about the event. Tony Blair had just given his statement about the attack, and this P on the S was complaining about the triumphalism of the statement. He was concerned that the G8 leaders were more concerned with looking strong and united than in looking for the possible motives behind the attacks, and he recommended less bombast and more soul-searching.
We heard similar sorts of worries in this country quite soon after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon: What on earth have we done to these people to make them hate us so? What can we do to make them hate us less? In short, some folks were saying that the attacks were, in some sense, our own fault, not the fault of those who attacked us, or at least not fully their fault.
This is moral banality of the first order. The difficulty lies in seeing these attackers as thoughtful people with reasonable motives and strategies, folks who have some end in mind and employ what appears to them to be the only means to obtaining that end. But this kind of prudential reasoning is not in their league--they are not thoughtful persons, but thugs. There's no point in trying to understand the world from their point of view, because their point of view is sociopathic, and it just doesn't make any sense to begin with, so there's no point in trying to make sense of it. The rational person does not say to such people, Why are you trying to kill me? I'm so sorry that I've driven you to this--he says, rather, Back off, Jack! and defends himself.
Sadly, the sort of moral thinking that prompts folks to say that we need to understand the world from the sociopath's point of view has become more or less the norm in some circles, and it leads to a kind of general moral relativism that has ramifications in many other contexts. David Wharton over at A Little Urbanity gives an excellent example here of how this kind of thinking can cause troubles, and what sort of analysis lays those troubles bare.
When I first heard the news I was, of course, shocked, but I was also angry. I thought to myself, Man, you just really want to slap these people upside the head. My wife's reaction was a little more to the point--she pointed out to me this morning that "It's pretty easy to hate". That, I think, is a danger for us in times like these. It's perfectly appropriate, I think, to be angry, not only at the attackers but at the morons who suggest that we've brought it on ourselves. But if we turn to hate, then we are not very different in kind from our own attackers, whose only justification for what they've done appears to be that they hate us. We don't want to become like them--we don't want to do something to them out of hate. We want to do something to them out of righteous anger: we want to bring them to justice. But who knows what we will desire to do to them if we allow hate to be our motivation.
That's why the Collect for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time is still an appropriate starting point for today's post. We are imagines Dei--we must strive to see the world NOT from the point of view of a sociopath, but from the point of view of God. He manifests his omnipotence most of all in his mercy and forgiveness: do we have the courage to be like him in this, too? We must do something to bring our attackers to justice--not out of hatred or for the sake of revenge or retribution, but because that is what they deserve, it is what is appropriate for them, it is what God requires of those who are like him.