What baffles me is why conservatives would give us so much power over them. By proclaiming the public expression of compassion a partisan weapon, conservatives are practically admitting that their own positions are morally flawed.
Which is not to say that say that taking a moral stand on an issue can ever be politically neutral. Shepard Fairey’s wonderful “We the People” posters, for example, while not explicitly partisan, are decidedly political statements in favor of inclusion and the embrace of diversity. But the administrators at a Maryland high school decided they were partisan anti-Trump statements, and made teachers remove them from their classrooms. And I wonder why people who want to be seen as good would loudly claim that expressions of diversity and inclusion are acts of aggression aimed at them. They are doing the weaponizing for us; they are like the mortally wounded eagle in the Aesop fable that, looking at the arrow that has pierced its chest, sees one of its own feathers. What a lot to give away.
So now that we know that compassion is a weapon, what do we do? Well, here are two things not to do:
- Objectify those to whom we show compassion. If we make people into a means to an end, we become oppressors and exploiters ourselves. Even if, at some level, we help the objects of our spurious charity, we do not see them—do not apprehend their uniqueness and intrinsic worth. We make tools of them, and do violence to our own souls.
- Use compassionate acts as a weapon against other people. “For we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. (Eph 6:12)
Marianne Williamson described the devil as our human tendency to think without love. Pema Chödrön lays human ugliness at the doorstep of our need to defend the vulnerable “soft spot” at the core of our being. Traditional Christianity attributes “this present darkness” to “spiritual forces of evil.” But however we conceive of the source of wickedness, it must be against that source that our acts of love are weaponized.
When Jesus gave His life in sacrificial love, he wasn’t aiming that act as a weapon at His tormenters; rather, He prayed for their forgiveness. But Jesus’ supreme act of compassion was indeed a mighty weapon, as St. John Chrysostom tells us in his venerable Paschal Homily:
Let none fear death;
for the death of the Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.
He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he cried:
Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;
filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;
filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;
filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;
filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.
Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.
Every act of love and compassion, undertaken for its own sake, strikes at the heart of Hell. The weapons of kindness are forged for use, not against those whom we think unkind, but against the cosmic forces of darkness—the Thing in all of our heads and hearts that makes us hate.
Once more unto the breach.