Friday, September 27, 2002

ON COMPASSION
As Christians, our first response to someone's suffereing must be compassion. But what does that mean? It seems a lot of people think that compassion must lead to policy conclusions. For example, if I have compassion for X, I must favor policy Y, designed to favor X. The converse is also sometimes adavanced. If party Z is causing X's suffering, and policy A is designed to punsh party Z, then if I don't favor policy A, then I must lack compassion for X.

I reject both premises.

  • One can have compassion for victims of crime without favoring the death penalty.
  • One can have compassion for prisoners, and still think that prison is the right place for them.
  • One can have compassion for the poor, and not support the expansion of government welfare.
  • One can have compassion for Iraqi civilians hurt by the sanctions, and still believe the sanctions are neccesary.
  • One can have compassion for pregnant teenagers, and not favor abortion on demand.
  • One can have compassion for victims of priestly sexual abuse, and not favor Zero Tolerance policies.
  • One can have compassion for priests who are having their names dragged through the mud, and still think that publicizing those names is neccesary.
  • One can have compassion for gay Catholics, and not favor same sex marriage in the Church.

Some of these cases are harder than others. For example, it is difficult for me to imagin how one could have compassion for the unborn and favor abortion on demand. Or have compassion for condemned prisoners and still favor the death penalty. It seems like there's a bright line where it's hard to have compassion for people and be in favor of policies that kill them (actually, my Iraqi example may fit that bill -- I'm still discerning).

In any case, it seems like our rhetoric these days is filled with accusations of lack of compassion. Either, that, or expressions of compassion are taken to mean that one favors one policy or another.

Neither need be the case. Compassion is simply "suffering with" those who are suffering. Sometimes through this suffering with, we realize that some policies are unfair and need to change, but not always.

But our first response can just be that simple compassion. The cries for polcy changes can come from that, but not before.
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