An interesting discussion has been going on in the blogosphere about the comments of Catholic Cardinal Martino, who spoke of Saddam Hussein:
“I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures . . . Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him.”
In response to this statement, Professor Bainbridge wrote that the Cardinal “comes off looking like an idiot.” Mark Kleiman then took Bainbridge to task and suggested that the Cardinal was filling his Christian duty to love Saddam Hussein. Then, Stuart Buck adapted C.S. Lewis to suggest that loving one’s neighbor may mean “a desire that someone gets exactly what he deserves [whether good or bad].” Finally, Kleiman critiqued both Lewis and Buck, writing:
Lewis was a brilliant prose stylist, an awfully clever fellow, and a skilled proselytizer. But in my view Lewis’s gloss on “love your neighbor as yourself” amounts to deciding that since living by the text would be too much trouble, we’d better figure out that the text doesn’t mean what it says.
Reading this debate has caused me to reflect on the question. Do church members have a duty to love Saddam Hussein? And, if they do, what does that duty entail?
The answer to the first question is clear. We are commanded to love all men. That means we have a duty to love even despicable tyrants.
But what does love mean?
Is this consistent with Stuart Buck’s reading of C.S. Lewis, that love can mean a desire to see someone justly punished? I’m not sure it is. Similarly, I am unconvinced by the arguments (raised by Bainbridge’s readers) that the Cardinal’s statements were wrong because loving one’s neighbor requires removal of Saddam Hussein from power. That may be true, however, the statements in question were discussing post-removal-from-power treatment of Hussein. If removal of Hussein is required by the commandment (a reasonable conclusion), isn’t it still possible to treat him well in captivity, also in accordance with the commandment? Jesus threw out the moneychangers, but once they were removed, He did not take steps to further publicly humiliate them.
Of course, there may be a valid empirical question as to exactly how much humiliation Hussein suffered, and whether it was intentional. But the Cardinal’s comments seem to be a perfectly valid concern for the well-being of another human being — exactly what the commandment anticipates.