Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is it better to suffer evil than to commit evil? {Part II of II}

In {Part I}, I argued that the apparently permanent nature of some sufferings could be answered by the religious ideas of resurrection or reincarnation. I also said that I thought that an answer could be given without relying on religious doctrine.

To do so, however, I need to approach the question from the other side.

What does committing evil do to us?

It is important to recall that the human person is most him- or herself when loving or receiving love. Again, this is not merely romantic love - though romantic love is a true and noble expression of love. Every form of love calls on the whole of a person, body and intellect and emotion and appetite, to seek the fulfillment of the whole of another person. This is even true of proper love of oneself, because the fulfillment of oneself involves loving others.

Now, an evil act is an act that is contrary to another's fulfillment. It may be directed at an individual or a group. It could do direct damage, or it might just present an obstacle. But what makes it evil is that it opposes someone's fulfillment.

This is an active opposition. People make mistakes, which end up hurting others, but these are not moral evils because they are actually contrary to our intentions. Also, no one person can bring total and perfect fulfillment to anyone - not even to oneself. So there is no absolute obligation to do every good that is possible for every person one encounters.

However, there are some cases where a deliberate witholding of a necessary good thing, like witholding first aid from an injured person when there is no one else to help, does constitute an evil act: a sin of omission, in traditional language.

So, in order to commit an evil act, a person has to act contrary to love; that is, he or she has to act contrary to his or her own fulfillment, as well as contrary to the fulfillment of another. (This, by the way, is why the Catechism says that "Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart.") Every evil act damages or even destroys both one's relationship with another and one's ability to relate to other people. It damages one's ability to love.

Why committing evil is worse than suffering it

So, it seems that both the worst kind of suffering and the worst kind of committing evil lead to the same result: a person is incapable of loving, and therefore is incapable of living a fully human life.

But the inability to love that results from suffering evil comes from the obstacles placed in one's way. A person is denied the opportunity or the practical ability to love.

A person who commits evil strikes at the root of love itself: he or she "hardens his or her heart" and twists his or own faculties of loving. So, even when the opportunities arise and the person has the practical ability, he or she does not have the moral ability to love.

Moreover, this is not only the result of the worst acts of evil. It results from the smallest injustices and the slightest sins of omission. These extend, like cracks in a windshield, through the whole depth of one's life, weakening one's moral resolve, and - if left unchecked - will eventually lead to a complete break-down of one's moral life.

Even in this life, even if there is no resurrection, I submit that this is a worse fate than suffering evil, including suffering death.

"Then who can be saved?"

Now, I am not suggesting that any of us are morally perfect. We all have "dings" in our moral "windshields". We all have the responsibility to keep the cracks at bay as much as possible. For Catholics, at least, this includes recourse to the mercy of God through the Sacraments, prayer, and penance.

But this also means that, Catholic or not, we have to be aware of and guard against anything that might add a new kind of moral damage. It seems to me that the issue of torture - disgused, as all temptation is, by a great good: national self-defense - is exactly a way to attack our moral integrity where it is as yet undamaged.

Those who rightly stand up for the dignity and the rights of the defenseless, especially the unborn in the womb, allow their very ability to love the basic dignity and rights of every human person to be smashed by allowing torture into their moral lives.

Of course, it is far worse actually to torture someone than merely to defend the State's torture of someone. But creating such justifications in one's mind still chips away at the basis of love which is the core of human happiness and good. It is a small evil, but a dangerous one nonetheless.

If left unchecked, it will destroy everything that we love, and our very ability to love. Nothing can justify that loss.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. @love the girls-

    Indeed, only God is capable of bringing good out of evil.

    It's a good point that this is beyond our power.