February 26, 2008

Thought for 02.26.08

It is a terrible thing to "call evil good and good evil," but it is only the latter that represents a sin against the Holy Spirit. So, if we are to err (as err we do), let us adopt the prudent practice of risking letting the guilty go free rather than making the innocent suffer.

Tobias Haller BSG


Grandmère Mimi said...

Amen! Tobias, I find nothing to pick apart in this thought for the day. It's fine just as it is.

PseudoPiskie said...

Tobias - who decides what is evil and what is good? As you know all too well, there is one specific aspect of life which some people consider to be so evil they are willing destroy several religious institutions in their zeal to get rid of it. Yet the practice they so hate or fear brings great joy and stability without affecting anyone else.

Another situation which your thought brought to mind is abortion. Who can say that bringing an unwanted child into this world will do less harm than terminating the pregnancy at an early stage?

Everything we do usually affects someone else. Perhaps our problems today stem from too many people taking on responsibility which is not theirs to assume, namely identifying a sin?

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks GM; I'm always happy to pass the "Mimi" standard!

Pseudopiskie, I think you nail the problem -- it's the old failure of assuming one is qualified as a judge when one is actually a fellow defendant.

Jon said...

Pseudopiskie, it seems to me that the problem is identifying other people's sins rather than merely identifying sins. Evil is evil whether we say so or not, so I figure we might as well identify it as such, as long as we realize that this goes along with a call to penitance. The importance of Repenting highlights the problem of identifying other people's sins. We can't repent for them, nor can genuine penitence be coerced, so recognizing their sin is only of limited use. Identyfying our own sins and the evils which we support or in which we participate coupled with penitence seems crucial for our spiritual growth.


klady said...

I liked the thought for 2.23.08, without qualification -- so much so that it left me speechless. ;)

This one I take is directed at those who seek to identify sins in others. However, the lawyer in me has difficulty not reading it literally in terms of the criminal justice system in general and in particular a series of recent essays by Nina at Dancing Through Doorways, concerning survivors of sexual abuse, beginning with Used (which also took me back to your series on sexuality -- but that's another matter).

With regard to risking letting the the guilty go "free" [free from whom or what???], I generally side, even in matters of criminal justice, with error on the side of protecting the innocent. Nina's essay points out, however, that sometimes that results in ongoing crimes -- complicity with a code of silence and degradation of victims. On the other hand, extensions or exceptions to statutes of limitations can make it nearly impossible for the innocent to garner evidence on their behalf.

In short, it seems we do harm to err either way -- though this may be limited to horrific crimes that require identification of the wrongdoer in the hopes of preventing further crimes -- which may not be what you are addressing at all. And somehow tied into assessments of guilt, correct or not, is the need for forgiveness (something I've contemplated lately recalling Fr. Jenco), but with that I am, no doubt, drifting far afield.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks klady.
The genesis of this thought was in reaction to a certain poster at the HoBD list for whom "woe to those who call evil good" is a slogan -- and conveniently for his purposes omits the second part of the quote from Isaiah; which, as I am trying to note here, is a far more serious matter.

The legal issue was a "second thought" actually; and I do take your point about the guilty going free, particularly when it is based on some troubling defect in our legal system ("a technicality" as the press puts it -- but of course, isn't all law technical?). But I am more concerned when I hear the news of the distressingly high number of death row cases overturned by DNA testing. How many people down the years were killed unjustly (while the real guilty went free to boot!)?

Of course, my thought wasn't really about the justice system, though I used that imagery -- it's really about the church using its capacity to discern with some sense of humility and charity.

Anonymous said...

If there is something to pick apart here I think it is the conflation of discerning right from wrong with the discerning of whether a particular individual has committed a wrong. They are two very different kinds of discernment, and rightly have different standards.

To not know right from wrong can be identified with either calling good evil or evil good. The expression is typical Hebrew parallel styling--or perhaps not so typical, since the expressions are practically synonymous, mirror images of the same thought. If one is truly a sin against the Holy Ghost, I am at a loss to see how the other is not.

On the application of standards when it becomes necessary to judge, I am glad that the presumption of innocence still has some purchase, but it is sorely under fire. I probably need not go into the sins of the present administration, seeking to suspend habeas corpus, justify torture, and detain suspects indefinitely. I am shocked that we have so easily accepted such things as debatable, but perhaps I shouldn't. We change our ethics so frequently these days, and the old faith in natural law and natural right seems going the way of the dodo.

I am even more concerned when I hear those from the left advocating relaxing standards for their "pet" crimes. Here I think I echo klady's comments. And I speak from a little experience. I once defended a young man on a charge of sexual molestation of a minor. The accuser was credible, the son of prominent member of the community. The charge itself was already in the process of ruining the reputation and career of the accused. Very fortuitously, however, we identified phone records which conclusively proved that the accused could not have been anywhere near the scene of the accusation. Those were only available because the alleged molestation had occured fairly recently, and the participants in the phone conversations identifiable and able to recall the what and the when and the why. It is a case I always think of when I hear proposals to abolish the "technical" defense of limitations.

--rick allen

Tobias Haller said...

Tahnk you RIck. Good points. My only caveat concerns, as you might suspect, your view of natural law. I would suggest that the term is too vague unless otherwise expanded and clarified: for instance, the "teleological" wing of natural law (by which same-sexuality is judged "objectively disordered" because it does not conform to the surmised "end" of sexuality) is also at work in the abuses you describe: torture is justified because of its "end" in the utilitarian equation of the greatest good for the greatest number -- an ethic I reject, but which can arguably called "rational" and "natural." (As I've noted elsewhere, I take my stand on the Golden Rule as ethical standard, although I do believe that this principle has to some extent a "natural" base, it is in fact supplemented by a "supernatural" basis that puts it beyond merely natural law.)

I hope to reflect more broadly on natural law at another time -- and lest you despair there are many aspects of it which I find persuasive and helpful; but I fear that its application is often fallible in many cases, and certainly in addressing the presenting issue.