Mortal Boundaries: The Limits of Our Compassion

 

I once had a math teacher in high school whose classroom was a refuge to kids like me. I was a kid preferred to spend my afternoons in the company of thoughtful peers and elders who shared a love of the intellect. We were talking about our frustrations with the preachings of mainstream religions.

“I can’t love and forgive everyone,” I said.

“That’s why Jesus is God and you’re not,” she laughed.

I thought that was brilliant at the time, as the affirmation of my human limits to “lovingkindness” were affirmed.

One of the things that bothers me the most about religions, including Neo-Paganism, is the exhortation to “perfect love and perfect trust,” which I think is bullshit, because nobody can do that and nor should they try. I do not believe in universal love, the acceptance of all and everyone, or the knee-jerk command to “love” one’s enemy or even one’s neighbor. Your neighbor may be a nightmare who wants to hurt you. Anyone who thinks they can or should ever live in “perfect love” or “perfect trust” is lying to themselves and others.

Love is a personal and individual experience of deep fondness for another person or place or group of people. Even falling-in-love romantically is a deeply personal phenomena that cannot be commanded as an ethic. I agree with E. M. Forster when he said,

 

“The idea that nations should love one another, or that business concerns or marketing boards should love one another, or that a man in Portugal should love a man in Peru of whom he has never heard –it is absurd, unreal, dangerous. The fact is we can only love what we know personally. And we cannot know much.”

I also definitely don’t ascribe to nonviolence on principle. I am a basically nonviolent person because I live in a civilized society where good policeman and the law stand willing to do lawful and moderated violence on my behalf. All of us would be far more violent if we lived in other societies, especially in other time periods, where the murder rate sometimes reached 20 in 1,000 people. Even if we weren’t ourselves killers, we’d know this for sure: violence can be very good and necessary, because violence or the threat of violence underlies the legitimacy of self-defense.

If someone comes to kill you and you do not use violence to stop them, then you are still allowing violence to take place. Only, now, you’re the victim and the offending perpetrator has been allowed to do their evil work. You’re not stopping violence from existing, and you’re not even lessening its presence in the world, by allowing violence to happen to you, a violence which could be greatly decreased or stopped if you fought back. Injecting exhortations to love an enemy into this kind of reality is an insult to nature, including moral human nature.

The pressure to be perfect in stupid love and unfounded trust is a counterpart to this untested proclamation of support for “nonviolence” in all the wrong places.

 

 

 

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

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