This notion, that malice need not be assigned as an explanation, when stupidity could serve as well, is so Christian as to be almost attractive. I say “almost” illegitimately. There is much pagan left in all of us, or perhaps I should say so much in me, that I resist certain Christian attractions. I’d rather hang the malefactors than teach them. But there you go. It takes charity to recognize stupidity in another; intelligence to spot it in oneself.
Self-love does not come into this, incidentally. Except that, implicitly, it does.
It doesn’t come into much in the outward Christian analysis, so far as I can see. That is to say, Christ had little and perhaps nothing to say on this topic, as he had little or nothing to say on politics. A few points can be taken as implied, but Our Lord never appears for the cameras in the lab coat of a scientist or the smileyface of a politician. That is to say, He does not offer the heavenly service as an interpreter of nature. He lets nature speak for herself.
We are born with self-love. It comes pre-installed, so well that it cannot be removed without destroying the whole creature. That is to say, you can tell when a person has succeeded in removing his self-love, because he is dead, from suicide.
Now, perhaps I have put too many Christian ideas on the table at the same time. But they are all to a single purpose, I swear. That I might possibly gum up the works, should always be considered. (I assume people read other writers, too.) For it is not always easy to see what one is doing when trying to make “Christian connexions,” in an environment neither Christian nor aspiring to be.
But here is where I should like to go: self-love is not stupid. For if it were, we should have to question the celestial mechanics of our own being, along with that pertaining to all other creatures. My little finches, on the balconata, breakfasting again, are as full of self-love as I am, or perhaps a bit less since I am bigger and arguably more sophisticated. This self-love is discernible in their desire to preserve their little lives, from buzzards and so forth. Their occasional cries of alarm would indicate a certain fellow-feeling, too: a kind of love for one another. For self-love is not incompatible with love for others.
Indeed, it may be the analogical basis for it. In love, we might say that it is actually possible for a person to love another more than he loves himself. It happens, even in Canada. And, “greater love hath no man,” &c. This is not a suicidal disposition, as the pop psychologists might suspect. One loves oneself a lot, and loves another even more. If one hardly loved oneself at all, loving another more wouldn’t be so remarkable.
Humility comes into this, but only to make what I am saying clear. It is not the opposite of self-love. This is becoming a hard point to make only because we have generally been lapsing into a state of abject stupidity. The two qualities — humility and self-love — go together like justice and mercy. They are not “alternatives” to each other, as the liberals vainly preach, who believe there is such a thing as “altruism”; that it is Darwinian or something like that. But no, each pair is more like the cross hairs in a gun sight. The just act will also be merciful; the merciful act will also be just. And humility is implicitly self-loving. It is not a choice between shooting high, or shooting wide. It is a question of finding the target where the hairs meet.
Self-love is not shallow, or does not need to enshallow itself, any more than mercy should be steering for the shoals. It is the guardian of a self-interest, that should run very deep. When fools suggest that Christians are selfish, for wanting to get themselves into Heaven — for adjusting their behaviour to that imagined “self-serving” end — I am at a loss. (But of course, they don’t know any better.) We want to be saved. We want others to be saved, also. We cannot help them if we are lost ourselves. This is pretty much the opposite of selfish.
It is not shallow, to have some regard to one’s ultimate, personal fate; it is as deep as any absolute. Therefore it may be mysterious. Or rather, it is mysterious, for it is at the heart of the mystery of our being — at what the meaning of “is” is, and how we are not, so to say, “not.”
I think of a woman, married several times and with a child by her latest soi-disant “husband.” Lapsed beyond laughing from her Catholic upbringing, she suddenly decided that her son must be baptized. This presented a problem to her mind, because she had not darkened the portal of a church for a very long time. She asked advice on this, from me of all people. Could I suggest a priest who would baptize her child without asking her any questions?
Out of the blue sky she said to me, “David, I know that I am going to Hell. But I don’t want my” — insert name of child, here — “to go there.”
“Now look, lady” — in real life she has a name, too — “I think you might be fooling yourself. Are you absolutely sure you want to go to Hell? Because, from what you’ve just told me, it would seem that you hadn’t entirely made up your mind yet.”
We’ve probably gone far enough into this case. Even priests who don’t know Latin often know what baptism is about, and that there are times to just shut up and not ask questions. And that each case is special.
My point here is to make an exhibition of a strange little fact — that to love another more than oneself may be, unknowingly, the highest form of self-love. Even into the well-hole of human error, light may suddenly shine down. And the interesting question comes back up: who is saving whom? Christ alone saves, but in proximate causation, I would score that lady’s little boy, first. For he seems to be the means for saving his mother.
And she has never been especially evil, except in rather conventional ways. Turn on any television and one will soon see that. On the contrary she is one giant step above her fellows. She has some intellection that she has done wrong, that the course of her life has not been altogether excusable. Perhaps it is a signal from her own distant past, her own experience of childhood, when she once dressed up in white, for church; and the Catholic teaching went in one ear, without quite all of it coming out the other. It is something, to be raised even a little above the condition of “invincible ignorance.” Though of course it makes life more complicated.
(Great news: only one of those previous marriages could possibly be valid. So she will need, at most, only one annulment. )
It could be said, in a sense, that the ladder of stupidity reaches up to Heaven. That is to say, from its grounding in that invincible ignorance, the rungs go higher. They must be climbed, however.
Am I making any sense? That we, too, are enabled to climb the rungs of Bethel — the ladder seen by the Patriarch Jacob — and that it is in our self-loving self-interest (though the opposite of self-serving) to help each other up. For that is the message of Love, beaming angelically downward; and as it were, the angels coming down the stairs themselves to help us. And it is when we look up, that the light finally catches our sunless hidden faces.
Properly understood, I would say that self-love is quite the opposite of stupidity, and so far as it is the real natural thing, cannot involve malice at all. It might be described as our countenance itself. And, even better than to be condemned in darkness, is to be shown upward, towards that Light.