I was watching a local cable program the other day. An author was in town, reading from his new book. He was bright, funny, amiable — the sort of guy many might enjoy having over for a beer.
His works were all political in one way or another, he said, adding that what Americans fear is the cost of health care, not terrorists. “I mean, come on,” he said.
His entire argument consisted of that one ad hominem.
The next day the news broke about the FBI arresting a nest of bad guys in Florida, who appear to have been planning on blowing up the Sears Tower.
Coincidentally, the men in custody are poor, dark and disenfranchised — akin to their foreign counterparts, they appear to be buffoons in search of explosives.
That got me thinking. About how much I love Bruce Springsteen, George Clooney, PBS, the BBC and all my friends who oppose the war. And how much I don’t want them running the Pentagon. But how their hearts are ultimately in the right place.
Then I got to thinking about the differences in temper between those on the right and those on the left. And how those differences often seem to come down to the division between the hard-headed and the soft-hearted, as explicated by William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience, specifically Lectures XIV and XV, where he writes about the value of saintliness:
We must frankly confess, then, using our empirical common sense and ordinary practical prejudices, that in the world that actually is, the virtues of sympathy, charity, and non-resistance may be, and often have been, manifested in excess.
The powers of darkness have systematically taken advantage of them. The whole modern scientific organization of charity is a consequence of the failure of simply giving alms. The whole history of constitutional government is a commentary on the excellence of resisting evil, and when one cheek is smitten, of smiting back and not turning the other cheek also.
You will agree to this in general, for in spite of the Gospel, in spite of Quakerism, in spite of Tolstoi, you believe in fighting fire with fire, in shooting down usurpers, locking up thieves, and freezing out vagabonds and swindlers.
And yet you are sure, as I am sure, that were the world confined to these hard-headed, hard-hearted, and hard-fisted methods exclusively, were there no one prompt to help a brother first, and find out afterwards whether he were worthy; no one willing to drown his private wrongs in pity for the wronger’s person; no one ready to be duped many a time rather than live always on suspicion; no one glad to treat individuals passionately and impulsively rather than by general rules of prudence; the world would be an infinitely worse place than it is now to live in. The tender grace, not of a day that is dead, but of a day yet to be born somehow, with the golden rule grown natural, would be cut out from the perspective of our imaginations.
The saints, existing in this way, may, with their extravagances of human tenderness, be prophetic. Nay, innumerable times they have proved themselves prophetic. Treating those whom they met, in spite of the past, in spite of all appearances, as worthy, they have stimulated them to BE worthy, miraculously transformed them by their radiant example and by the challenge of their expectation.
World of light from which all brightness shines
You have that world’s illuminating eyes.
These sad eyes in which you always dance
These eyes are agitated eyes.
O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, harmony.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.