“In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness.
It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is
wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness,
its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced labor camps and in the fumes
of the gas chamber.”
When Flannery O’Connor
penned these words in 1957, they must’ve encountered some very puzzled readers.
Memories of the German gas chambers were still very fresh. And nobody believed
that it was tenderness that brought them about. It was crazy Adolf Hitler and
his heartless SS goons. If they had “tried a little tenderness,” perhaps the
whole mess could’ve been avoided.
Tenderness is the
solution, not the problem. Isn’t it?
Well, here we are
nearly 60 years later, and we are nothing if not a tender society. We
are full of concern for the outcast, the poor, the downtrodden, the suffering
and the discriminated-against. Which is of course, in many ways, to our credit,
as our care for these least among us constitutes the very heart of the Gospel
And yet somehow, our
tenderness is going terribly, terribly awry.
I see it everywhere.
Concern for the feelings of various subgroups subjected to “micro-agressions”
has led to unprecedented restrictions on free speech on college campuses and
elsewhere. Efforts to help “transgendered” persons feel comfortable in the
restroom are placing young girls at risk of facing non-transgendered sexual predators
in those same restrooms. And, of course,
our legitimate compassion for women facing difficult pregnancies has somehow
been derailed, and led to the extermination of nearly 60 million young human
lives in the U.S. alone since 1973. 60
million. Didn’t Stalin kill 60 million?
The latest group to
be subjected to our tenderness are the dying. We used to care for them by
accompanying them in their last days and weeks on earth. We would work to
relieve their pain. We would provide them hospice care and spiritual support as
they prepared to meet their Maker.
Now, apparently, we
find it easier to just kill them outright.
I know it’s
all supposed to be about giving patients the “option” to end their lives. But
it’s amazing how quickly the “right to die” can become the “duty to die.”
Already, in states
where physician assisted suicide is legal, insurance companies are denying
payment for life-extending treatment, while happily offering to cover the
minimal cost involved in “compassionately” poisoning the patient to
death. Groups advocating for the rights of the disabled are virtually united in
their opposition to “right to die” legislation, fearing that efforts to end
their members’ suffering will rapidly lead to efforts to end their members’
Life on this earth,
by necessity, involves suffering. The word “compassion” means “to suffer
with.” But over time, we seem to have lost the ability to suffer with the
afflicted. It seems easier — and
certainly more comfortable for us — to simply make their suffering go away.
But we can’t
completely eliminate suffering in this life. Hence the temptation to eliminate
a person’s suffering by eliminating the suffering person. Or by eliminating the
sufferings of one group of people by oppressing another group of people.
Christ leads to the gas chamber.
How does Christ
release us from this false tenderness?
Through what Walker Percy called the “scandal” of the Christian notion
of the immense value of every human life. Christ took on our humanity — not as someone
rich and powerful, but as a baby, a poor man in a forgotten land. He reminded
us that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every person
possesses dignity. Every life is worthy of protection.
Without Christ and
the Christian “scandal,” tenderness toward one group leads to the
victimization of another group — or perhaps even that same group. Most likely,
it is the strong who prey on the weak. Often, those “pulling the strings”
aren’t motivated by compassion at all, but are simply exploiting the tender
sensibilities of their constituents to achieve their own goals. I don’t believe
that “advocates” for the transgendered are nearly as interested in helping that
tiny, often suffering demographic as they are in securing a bludgeon to use
against the church — and the very notion of man’s creation as male and female.
Likewise, Obamacare wasn’t about insuring the poor — that could have been accomplished
easily with simple block grants. Rather sympathy for the uninsured was used to
allow an unprecedented takeover of the U.S. healthcare system. And you don’t
have to scratch too hard at “compassion for the dying” to find “reduced health
care expenses” and “get rid of inconvenient sick people.”
If we believe that we
have a God who loves us, then our lives have value. All lives have
value. The unborn child with Down syndrome. The woman dying of cancer. Of
course we are called, wherever possible, to relieve suffering. But that must
always be done within the context of a deep love and respect for the value of
human life — every human life.
Be compassionate. Be tenderhearted. But please make sure that
your tenderness is steeped in Christ.
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the
author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.