Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mark Shea on true and false courage

A terrific piece from Mark:

Similarly, many a radically selfish person has managed to convince himself he was a soul dedicated to the Good of Mankind or the Love of God even as he was about the business of doing some miserable piece of self-serving filth and telling himself throughout the whole affair that the gag reflex he felt was what truly courageous people must muscle down as they defy God and conscience for the Greater Good.

If that is so, then how do we make the distinction between a radically good and radically evil act? How do we tell that one is advocating radical evil and another is advocating radical Christian charity?

The answer is the cross. What marks out Jesus' radical act of courage is that He is brave in offering His own life, not some other innocent person. Conversely, if somebody is "courageously" willing to make some innocent person suffer or die, that's your first clue that they are not courageous for the things of God.

And so, for instance, Himmler is very brave with the lives of innocent people and singularly protective of his own. Likewise, Myers does not volunteer his own body to be reduced to a piece of meat for the sake of Science, much less for the sake of a baby. He demonstrates a congenital inability to distinguish brutality from courage and regards himself as brave for, among other things, being unmoved by the thought of stabbing a defenseless baby to death with scissors. The distinction between that act and interposing one's body between the baby and a fiend like himself is lost on a moral monster like Myers, as it is on Himmler. Like Jeffrey Dahmer, he is "unafraid" to reduce persons to meat. (And, oddly, nobody frets about his "incivility" or the effect he might have on some Jared Loughner in his class.)

In the same way, the Croatian guard is "brave" enough to slaughter innocents, but not enough to slaughter his nationalism on the cross of Christ.

Go read the whole thing here.

We've seen the "false courage" motif crop up in torture debates. The idea is that those who oppose torture are too cowardly to "man up" and do What Must Be Done to Defend Our Nation. The response to that is simple: a nation that can only be defended by having recourse to torture--or, indeed, any other intrinsic evil--is a nation no longer worthy of defending.


  1. A wonderful link and post! Thank-you for sharing!

    "A kind of courage can exist in a merciless and unmagnanimous soldier, at it can exist in a merciless and unmagnanimous wild pig; but it does not happen to be the kind of courage that our brethren have died to keep alive."

    -G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, June 5, 1915

  2. Mike, thank *you* for sharing that awesome Chesterton quote!

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