Monday, March 9, 2015

"I Hope They're in Hell"

"I hope they're in hell," sneered a good friend concerning two persons perceived to have done him great ill. The two individuals he eagerly hopes to be damned are Richard Nixon and Maggie Thatcher. Why? Their great sin: caving to China in foreign policy. Nixon's greatest mistake was not Watergate—an overblown, minor scandal—but recognizing the communist state and giving it trade preference over Formosa, now Taiwan. With no American political power behind lingering British interests, Margaret Thatcher had to let Hong Kong go. The "lease" the British held on Hong Kong was an elaborate, well considered way to save face by a formidable politician in the Iron Lady. 

Why do they deserve the eternal flames? My friend thinks these two sold out whatever remaining familial legacy he had in China. He is heir to a million dollar fortune which would have been a billion dollar fortune if not for the Communists. Yes, it was blood money made from cooperating with the Victorian Empire in the mining business, but it should be his blood money you see. This fellow, on the whole a moral and upright person, has suffered the indelible effects of a family destroyed: many died during the Maoist purges, others escaped with scares and no care for others, a lost legacy and fortune, and faded hopes of recovering it; then those survivors gave birth to my friend. Nixon and Thatcher may have injured my acquaintance in the most minute and indirect way possible, but would even open effrontery be worthy of damnation?

Modern society has lost any sense of justice and replaced it with emotions: my neighbor deserves to go to hell because he throws trash over the fence, but letting a mother vacuum her baby's crushed skull out of her womb is compassion. Punishment must accompany every crime and it must be condign to the crime. In the middle ages or Roman times public drunkenness was not punished with decapitation no matter how stupid the inebriated party was. The Church understood the death penalty as morally permissible until John Paul II, who somehow found it both orthodox and inapplicable. The reason follows the same logic as penance for sins: the guilty, even if sorry and contrite, must make a reasonable reparation for his crime. In the cases of murder and treason death was the most society could demand, hence Innocent III's teaching that such executions must be carried out with deliberation and not anger. Society gives, or gave, similarly reasonable punishments for lesser offences. It was given to Mankind the power to execute what the Scholastics called "Natural Law" and what I would call common sense. Mankind can also do this because Man cannot be infinitely offended. Only God can be. Consigning others to the pyrotechnic pit is not only "judgmental" in the pietistic interpretation of the words of Christ, but it also usurps God's authority to judge His people, as His laws are the ones transgressed and He is the one offended, not us.

Mankind cannot be infinitely offended, save the politically correct (God help you if you make a race joke in America or a class joke in England). Man can interpret God's law. The old Roman rite of episcopal consecration listed that as one of the bishop's duties. Similarly, the bishop had the power to declare a person excommunicated yet did not have the power to "excommunicate" in the Western understanding of the word. Strictly speaking, excommunication is the placing of someone outside the Sacraments. The Latin Church's understanding of the State of Grace presumes that one who cannot communicate is necessarily in mortal sin and hence on the hot path. An act of excommunication is made by the sinner then, not something imposed by the bishop. The Greek churches excommunicate(d) people as a punishment and as a medicine. The Latin Church did not excommunicate people per se, it merely nodded to an excommunication already in effect. The old Bell, Book, and Candle ceremony popularized by the movie Becket contained the phrase "we declare [Name] excommunicate and anathema" not "we excommunicate and anathematize [Name]." Similar language was attempted against Msgr. Lefebvre in 1988. 

God will judge the excommunicate and every other kind of sinner. We cannot damn anyone or even presume that a person is damned, although I think we can be forgiven for being pessimistic about some. To presume, or hope for, or declare the loss of a soul is to be infinitely offended and to jump into the seat of God Who gave the law to Moses and Who brought "grace and truth through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). People bother us in our lives. A simple Lenten challenge is to teach ourselves to be ourselves and to let God continue to be God. He is much more qualified for the job anyway.


  1. I think if I wanted to err on either side of mercy/damnation, I would far rather err on the side of mercy. I would much sooner stand with Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa than with Mister Leonard Feeney.

    I don't even wish Hell on Feeney. In fact, I hope he saw Heaven and all the martyred catechumens wherein greeted him with open arms and unconditional love.

    1. This is really more about mindset than "How many are saved" level discussion.

  2. On the subject of the death penalty, the simplest explanation for its abolition in most places is that modern, godless man values his life more than his eternal soul, in which it is doubtful that he believes, and so for a state to cut short a man's life is an abomination. It has nothing to do with mercy, although his "human rights" plays a part. If life on earth is the only thing we have then that also goes to explain many other abuses, excesses and sins to which we're all privy to-day. Vanity and lust are the two worst in my view.

    1. All true.

      What is more interesting is why so many Catholics have signed on - even conservative ones.

      A friend observes that for some Catholic conservatives, signing on to death penalty abolition is a way of inoculating oneself in culture war scrums, both within and without the Church. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

  3. Similar language was attempted against Msgr. Lefebvre in 1988.

    Well, if that isn't a #10 size worm can you just opened :)

  4. I think that if we reflect on Our Lord's words in Matthew 18, "if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector," we find the authentic meaning of 'anathema' and 'excommunication.' It is not damnation but being "given up." The Church is saying, "we're done with you...we hand you over to the mercy of God...and if you come back, we'll embrace you as a brother." For a pious Jew, the gentiles and the tax collectors (as agents of the Roman state) were unclean, untouchable. A Pharisee would condemn them as unclean, and today, the Feeneyite and those who wish hell upon others would no doubt receive the same condemnation that Christ laid upon the Pharisees two-thousand years ago. In a twist of divine irony, it was the publican who went home justified.

  5. I am reminded of one of the 'grooks' of the late Piet Hein:

    I see and I hear and I speak no evil.
    I harbor no malice within my breast.
    Yet quite without wishing a man to the Devil,
    One can be expected to hope for the best.


  6. As if Thatcher could have kept the PRC out of Hong Kong. As if there was any prospect whatsoever of the Kuomintang ever returning to power on the mainland. As if some president wasn't going to end up going to China, Nixon or not. But as you say, this doesn't seem to have been a reasoned or principled animus, though it certainly was one from interest. The PRC is a regime whose history is soaked in blood and brutality, but it has never been in our power to overthrow it - only to annihilate it.

    And you are very much on target when you say: "Modern society has lost any sense of justice and replaced it with emotions.'

  7. To hope for one's damnation is not to jump into the seat of God for God does not want the death of the sinner but rather his conversion. One who hopes for other's damnation has sinned against charity and is a slave of the devil.