I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is one even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule, 'Thou shaft love thy neighbour as thyself.' Because in Christian morals 'thy neighbour' includes 'thy enemy,' and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies.Forgiveness is certainly not just a Christian virture, nor is the direction to love your enemy - many religions and spiritual disciplines share it. Indeed, I am confident that modern psychology would agree that folks who harbor unforgiveness and/or anger towards another harm themeselves far worse than object of that emotion.
Certainly Lewis's address came at an interesting time - it was given in England over the radio sometime in 1943. This was when Hitler and Fascism were a very real power and not just the subject of Godwin's Law. Lewis:
Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. 'That sort of talk makes them sick,' they say. And half of you already want to ask me, I wonder how you'd feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?'Indeed, today in the US there are folks who would have the exact same reaction toward forgiving Republicans, or Democrats, or . . . well, you fill in your blank here. As we come out of the epidemic of Bush Derangement Syndromes, and see increasing instances - both on the right and the left - of Obama Derangement Syndrome; it might be time to look at forgiving our enemies, what that means, and why we should do it. Certainly, for a follower of Christ the need was made clear - there are so many Gospel messages (Matt, Mark, Luke, John) about forgiving not just your friends but your enemies that I will not even bother listing them here (unusual for me).
Lewis really looks at the process for loving our enemies - connecting it to loving others as ourselves.
Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently 'Love your neighbour' does not mean 'feel fond of him' or 'find him attractive'. I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my, enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.Again, this may be the way to love our enemies - but the title of this post is based on the result that Lewis saw if we do not.
For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life - namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad ass it was made out. Is one's first feeling, `Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything - God and our friends and ourselves included - as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred. . .Again, I do not think modern secular psychology would disagree - hatred and anger eat up the person feeling without real harm to the one it is felt about. To paraphrase Michael Hargrove, a success trainer,
. . . what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature . . . In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible . . . we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.
if you feel anger toward someone for over a day - it is you that have the problem and not the person you are angry at. You are locked into "the problem" rather than seeking "the solution"