It is sentimentalism to trivialise evil
SIR – It is disappointing to see Melanie McDonagh fall prey to the new theological sentimentalism in claiming (Charterhouse, May 19) that “The requirement to forgive sinners is not contingent on them being repentant.” The whole of Scripture, Old Testament and New, is against this view, and it is surely a perverse twisting of the Lord’s Prayer to suggest that in asking for God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who trespass against us” we can think of ourselves as not repentant. Similarly, it is no good her citing Our Lord’s prayer to his Father to forgive his executioners, since he says that “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) – that is, they acted as they did not out of conscious, deliberate wickedness but from the (mistaken) belief that they were doing God’s will. The same applies to the stoning of Stephen, which she also cites; surely Saul would have said (in repentant tears, later) that he thought he too was doing God’s will.
Now, arguably, some of the jihadists of ISIS believe likewise, and would deny that they execute their victims for the pleasure of it; but Ms McDonagh is mistaken to conflate Ian Brady with such people. The evil he did cries out for fit punishment, and she does a disservice to the true Christian sense of justice and the testimony of Our Lord’s teaching to suggest that “the Moors murderer has gone to God who made us all, and who hates nothing he has made”. Of course, it is not for us to know the limits of what the Scholastics called God’s potentia absoluta. But within his potentia ordinata, his revealed will, we know what the Commandments teach and what Our Lord says about the Last Judgment. It is vital not to trivialise evil by allowing emotions to prevail over reason.
In conclusion, I would strongly recommend that Melanie read Crime and Punishment to the end. She will discover that Dostoyevsky’s book is very far from being soft on evil, and has some interesting things to say on both justice and repentance.
Dr Carl Schmidt
Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford
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