On pity

I happened to come across this story via a link from Bruce Charlton’s blog. It is about a Norwegian Christian evangelist who was robbed and beaten.

I had only just read the story and then came across blog pieces by both Bruce Charlton and Francis Berger. The commentary by both is worth reading and pondering and it was very relevant to the story of what happened to the evangelist.

“They wanted to take me to a friend who they said had injured his foot and was now waiting to be picked up to be taken to the emergency room. I trusted them and joined them. They took me to a backyard. They were very nice and I couldn’t believe they would deceive me,” says Fløttum.

He says that when they entered the backyard, they pushed him down a cellar staircase before hitting and kicking him in the face. He tried to protect himself, but did not strike them.”

The young evangelist displayed the usual naivete about the people who assaulted him, as they pretended they needed help of some sort, but then proceeded to beat and rob him. It seems many Christians behave this way and then wonder why they were maltreated. Most Christians seem to believe that Christianity is mostly about being ‘nice’, and as with this young man, talks of praying with and for those who brutalized him.

Maybe it’s the influence of pop psychology and the felt need to announce either forgiveness for the assailants, or prayer for them, but it seems victims of this kind of crime always imply they ”pity” those who hurt them.

It may be cynical of me, but it always seems to me as a kind of virtue signaling, to talk of pity for someone who has committed a crime against us or someone we love. Maybe — probably — the person who says he pities his enemy, and likely he means it. I have no doubt that this evangelist, Fløttum, is sincere in trying to witness to his assailants, but at some point reality has to intrude; people who do violence to an innocent person are ‘enemies’ and should be kept at arms’ length.

Today’s Christians seem to have forgotten that they are told to be ”wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,” . Being ‘wise as serpents’ surely implies being appropriately wary.

From Francis Berger’s blog piece:

Evil relishes using the virtue of compassion against us. Evil often asks us to open our hearts, to become more lenient, generous, understanding, and accommodating. It offers a display of suffering, misfortune, or injustice and asks us sympathize and commiserate with it. This is an emotionally manipulative appeal to our sense of goodness and benevolence. At the very least, evil demands we be kind and understanding toward it; evil wants use to be nice. But niceness, like pity, is not a virtue. Nonetheless, evil brands as cruel those who refuse to partake in this coerced emotional outpouring.

And this, of course, is a factor in the troubling news headlines, and it’s a big part of why Western populations seem to be so passive and so unwilling to acknowledge the fact that the whole world is not our ‘friend’.

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