"the problem of contemporary life is that morality is based on so-called tenderness, not on justice or a sound idea of the human person or the dignity due the least of us."

"In the absence of faith, 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."
--Flannery O'Connor

I just find this idea so fascinating. Usually it seems the other way around--that those in search of truth or those who hold up right and wrong are the ones who end up inflicting pain on people. The story goes that the monster comes out of fanaticism. This is true, but it is not the only truth.

I watched an interesting movie tonight. It was called Youth Without Youth--the new movie from Francis Ford Coppola. I can't say that I really understood it, but one of the themes was what to do with power. If the ends can really justify the means, and if one will choose to use their power for good or for evil. It seems like most stories lead their character to the breaking point, and it is tenderness, the goodness in their heart that pulls them back from the brink. This movie was no exception.

Is this true to life though? Is a warmth of the heart going to pull us through the darkest despair? Is it going to lead us to do the right thing when great temptation is before us? when fear looms large? Maybe we can find it for the beautiful innocent person, but what about those different from us? That's where it seems to fail. We have no tenderness for our enemies. Why should we? So in fear we persecute our enemies, and all those associated with them.

On a smaller scale, I think I tend to make a lot of decisions based on the judge of "tenderness," or what we might call "the most loving option." The law of love as a guide to morality is only as good as our understanding of love. Our love is tenderness, and I think it lacks the sense of justice and righteousness that is in love--and probably lots of other things too. How do I really know what the most loving option is? Well I have to do my best to try to find that, but too often we avoid difficulty or tension because it is not the tender thing to do--though it might be the most loving.

Do we have the courage to love like it should be done? Can we love terrorists? Can we love each other without being so afraid to step on toes? These are the questions I'm asking tonight.


  1. how complicated is a thing as seemingly simple as love? i think about it as an objective outsider (which doesn't really work), i get so confused and so worn down that something as wonderful as love has to be some complex... but then i find descriptions of Christ and God as love (i'm finally reading the last narnia book), and i find so much comfort in that love... that love i don't understand.

    but it's sooo hardd...

  2. i dig this post man (it got starred!), especially your clear articulation of how we oftentimes avoid certain aspects of love (tension, jealousy, passion, etc) because they don't fit in with other aspects of love (tenderness, peace, and so on). that's a brilliant point and extremely well articulated.

    i'm struck by the notion that movement ought to trump understanding. this isn't to say that understanding isn't important, but that once we gain a degree of understanding it should quickly translate into practical action. too often we hold off on living something before we fully understand. but i think what you're saying is true... we often don't know what the most loving option is, and yet i have a hunch that discovery comes from attempting to love and then evaluating. in that way, we press on towards love, actual practical in your face love, rather than merely growing in understanding of what love ought to be.

    (posting this comment is highlighting my desperate need to learn how to italicize things while commenting. so many places i would used that emphasis. ignorance is always my downfall!)