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“The Good Heart”:

A Romanticised Version of Charity

 

 

TFP Viewpoint, Vol. 21 no. 4, Sept/Oct 2014 (*)

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 St. Joan of Arc commands the victory of Patay (Franck Craig 1874-1918)

Is hatred a sin?  Yes or no? If someone took a poll about this amongst Christians, he would receive very surprising answers, revealing an impressive fundamentally illogical confusion of ideas.

For many still influenced by the Romanticism of the 19th century, hatred is not only a sin, but the sin par excellence.  The romantic definition of an evil man is one who carries hatred in his heart, while goodness is the virtue par excellence.  Sins are thus attenuated if committed by a person of “good heart”.  One often hears statements such as, “Poor X, he was weak and ‘remarried’, but he really is a good person; he has a heart of gold, or , “Poor Y, he allowed somebody to steal in his department, but it only happened because of his excessive goodness: He cannot say ‘no’ to anyone.”

What, then, is a “good heart”?  We are not speaking of the physical heart of a person, but rather his state of mind.  The person who strongly feels and suffers in himself what the other person suffers has a “good heart”.  This is the reason why he never wants to make anyone suffer.  It is because of a “good heart” that a person will systematically never punish the bad actions of his children, will allow anarchy to invade the classroom he teaches in or amongst the workers he oversees.  A reprimand causes suffering, and this is what the “good-hearted” person does not wish to do.  He suffers too much himself when he makes others suffer.

The “good heart” sacrifices everything to this essential objective of preventing suffering.  If he sees someone complaining about the rigour of the Ten Commandments, he immediately starts thinking about reforms and a more convenient interpretation.  If he sees somebody suffer jealousy because he is not of noble descent or a millionaire, he will think immediately of democratisation.  If he is a judge, his “goodness” will lead him to stretch the law to leave certain crimes unpunished.  If a policeman, he will close his eyes to events that it would be his duty to repress.  If a prison director, he will treat the convict as an innocent victim of the shortcomings of the era and the environment in which he lives.  Consequently, he would install a penal system that transforms the prison into a meeting point for all vices, where free communication amongst the convicts will expose them to be infected with all those viruses they did not yet have.  If a professor, he will lazily and carelessly give good grades to students who deserve lower marks.  If a legislator, he will systematically be inclined to reduce working hours and to support pay raises.  In international politics, he will favour all the improvident and immediate capitulations so as to maintain peace for a little while longer, such as with the Munich Agreement of 1983.

Underlying all these attitudes is the idea that there is only one evil in the world: physical or moral pain.  As a result, everything that avoids or suppresses suffering is good.  Everything that produces or aggravates suffering is bad.  The “good heart” has a particular sensitivity that makes him vulnerable to become emotional at the sight of any kind of suffering.  It defends every and any individual that is suffering as if this individual were a victim of some unjust aggression.  With this concept, the meaning of “love thy neighbour” is not wanting him to suffer.  Necessarily, to make your neighbour suffer means to hate him.

Thus, the man of “good heart” acquires a very peculiar psychology.  All those who are zealous in preserving order, hierarchy, integrity of principles, and who are in favour of the defence of good against the onslaughts of evil are heartless, because with their vigour they “produce suffering” for those “poor souls” who “were too weak” and fell into some temptation.  Even though the “good-hearted” man tolerates and defends all the sinners on earth, it is only natural that he hates the “evil-hearted” man who “makes others suffer”.

These are the broad lines with which a very frequent state of mind can be described, but this is only a theoretical case.  Thankfully, only a relatively small number of people is so extreme, but one can frequently meet people who think very much like this in specific cases, while there is yet a multitude of people who have traces of this state of mind.

To show how deep-seated this evil is in people’s psyche today, I will give a few everyday examples.  First, in order to understand what is wrong in the examples, as a Catholic, I will quickly summarise what the Catholic Church’s teaching is on this subject.

The Church considers that the greatest evil in the world is not suffering, but rather sin.  The greatest good does not consist of good health or more than enough to eat, a good night’s sleep, honours, or as much leisure time as possible, but rather doing the will of God.

Suffering is undoubtedly an evil.  In many cases, though, this evil can do a lot of good in terms of atonement, formation, and spiritual growth.  The Church is a mother, the most tender, solicitous, and affectionate of mothers.  She has always tried, and always will continue to try, to keep away any unnecessary suffering from her children and from all mankind.

She will, though, never stop to impose suffering where it is necessary for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.  From the martyrs she demanded to accept the most atrocious torments.  In our times the Church asks the missionaries to expose themselves to all sorts of dangers and fatigues in the most hostile and faraway corners of the world.  She also demands from all the faithful a ceaseless fight against the passions, a continuous inner effort to repress all that is evil.  This supposes suffering of such an amount, that the Church considers this impossible for the human being in his weakness.  She even teaches that, without God’s grace, no one can practice lastingly all the Commandments.

She imposes all this suffering with prudence and goodness, but without hesitation, remorse, or vacillation.  She does so, not because she is not a good mother, but precisely because she is one.  A mother who would feel remorse or hesitation in obliging her child to study, to accept just punishments, or to undergo painful but necessary medical treatments, would not be a good mother.

The Church also expects such behaviour from her children in relation to themselves and to their neighbours.  It is right to avoid useless and unnecessary pain.  We should be compassionate and merciful with our neighbours, sympathise with their sufferings, and should do everything to alleviate them.  At the same time, we should love mortification, we should discipline our body courageously and, above all, we should fight assiduously the defects of our soul with wisdom and thoroughness.  Since the love of our neighbour makes us desire the same good for him as for ourselves, we should also not hesitate to make him suffer when necessary for his sanctification. 

* * *

In light of the aforementioned principles, it is easy to point out various deviations of a romanticised notion of the “good heart”:  It is “good-hearted” to have a certain condescendence for veiled forms of divorce out of pity for the spouses; to be in favour of the abolition of religious vows and of celibacy for priests out of pity for those consecrated to God; to justify birth control out of pity for the mother, etc.

In other areas, to have a “good heart” means to be against polemics, even when it is fair and temperate; against the Index of Forbidden Books, the Inquisition (even without the abuses that happened in some places); against the Crusades, because all of this caused suffering.

In yet other areas, to be “good-hearted” means not to speak of the devil, of Hell, or purgatory; not to warn patients that death is at hand; not to speak to sinners about the seriousness of their moral state, and not to tell them about mortification or repentance and amendment of life, because also this causes suffering.

I heard of a Catholic school teacher who was against school awards, because it may cause suffering for those students who were less dedicated!  There also have been religious associations who tolerated dangerous members to the detriment of the whole institution, because their expulsion would make them suffer!

It is not “good-hearted” to speak against fashions and immoral dances, to advocate strict film censorship.  All this seems uncharitable because it “causes suffering”.  I even heard about someone who discouraged a campaign against immoral magazines, as this would hurt the feelings of the editors whose souls needed to be saved!

 

I made this long digression to better focus on the problem formulated at the beginning. For the “good heart”, all hatred is necessarily a sin.  The fruits of this philosophy can be seen in the chaos of our modern world.  For those interested, the great St. Thomas of Aquinas also has much to say in this regard (Suma Theologica, IIa. IIae., art. 6). 


(*) Published in Catolicismo, no. 34 (October 1953).

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