On loving our enemies: Preliminary notes

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Painting by Briton Rivière

Just some preliminary notes for an essay I am working on about what it might mean to love one’s enemies. If you have thoughts on the subject or would like to share a response to the C.S. Lewis quote below, please leave a comment.

If you are a Christian you want to make every possible effort to follow Christ’s teaching concerning loving your enemies, a teaching closely associated with forgiving those who offend or do you harm. It’s one of the harder teachings and no one denies that it requires serious effort to master it. But even most of those who do not identify as Christian still claim to be anti-hatred. I would assume this means that if you do not want to be hated by others you see the inherent fairness of trying not to hate anybody else. It seems almost too simple to state, and yet every time I look at the news I can’t help but suspect that an awful lot of people do not understand the logic or have forgotten it or maybe have never given it much thought.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, offers an interesting little self-test to see if we are even trying:

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

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