Do we have to love Saddam?

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?

Love means laying down one’s life. It means caring for and assisting people. It means showing mercy.

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.

13 comments for “Do we have to love Saddam?

  1. ronin
    January 5, 2004 at 7:19 pm

    well, if one were to accept your argument, we’d never be able to punish those amongts us who choose to commit the most heinous of crims against their fellow human beings. I think the commandment does not tell us that we ought to overlook the sins a given individual has committed. Love thy neighbor here, i think means that we do what is necessary to help our fellow Iraqi brothers and sisters in removing a man as evil as Saddam, and make sure that he and his willing underlings recieve thepunishment they deserve. Otherwise, a literal reading of the commandment would mean that we would never be able to bring wrongdoers to justice. We would be too busy loving them, and overlooking the harm caused by the criminal in question, plus the harm caused to society by not punishing him. Which is why the Cardinal’s remarks were met with hoots of derision, because the Cardinal seemed to be suggesting that the US Govt was deliberately misbehaving in the way Saddam was treated. And given the general leftist , anti-American line that the Vatican and its representatives spout, it is not surprising that the Cardinal’s words were interpreted the way they were. I too, believe, that the Cardinal was only too willing to see Saddam as a “victim” of the imperialist Americans, while overlooking all the atrocities, and all the evils Saddam had visited upon his country and its people.
    Just my 2 cents.

  2. January 5, 2004 at 7:43 pm

    I recognize this may not be the regular view, but to me this illustrates exactly what I was trying to communicate in the consecration thread (STQ). Love doesn’t always mean ignoring or treating the same. I don’t think Sadaam ought to be mistreated, but I find some religious comments to be somewhat baffling.

    At the same time the opposite is also true. My business partner listens to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity fairly regularly. On the latter (carried by KSL) they have the soundbite of him saying we shouldn’t forgive Sadaam and that God forgives who he will be we don’t have to. What a horrible understanding of his own religion (Catholicism).

  3. greg
    January 5, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    From what I can see, the Cardinal only objected to broadcasting the medical examination of Saddam. One can think both that Saddam should be held strictly accountable for his actions and that he should not be purposefully humiliated by his captors. I have heard others, including “medical ethics experts” and virulently anti-Saddam Iraqis, say the same thing as the Cardinal: that the images broadcast to the world were inappropriate and do not help the US win the support of the “Arab street.”

  4. January 5, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    I can see the debate about whether showing him was wise. But I don’t quite see the “are you loving him” bit. As I see it love must entail both mercy and justice.

  5. Kristine
    January 5, 2004 at 9:45 pm

    Well, we could at least treat him with the decency required by the Geneva Conventions (!)

  6. January 5, 2004 at 10:05 pm

    I wrote about this a little on my own site. I think it’s a shame that so many people who claim to be religious used the Cardinal’s call for compassion as a rallying cry against what they saw as a liberal viewpoint. Having compassion for someone doesn’t mean we blindly let them walk all over us, but it does mean we treat them with more decency than they have shown to us. I’m not saying Hussein’s image shouldn’t have been broadcast throughout Iraq (it may have been a necessary component of defeating insurgents), but the reaction against the cardinal did not demonstrate an understanding of Christ’s teachings. I think the cardinal believes he is a man of God who is doing what God would have him do.

  7. January 5, 2004 at 10:08 pm

    I largely agree with you Kristine, however I’d simply point out that the Geneva Convention arose not out of love but out of expediency from how the European powers fought wars in the 19th through mid 20th centuries. To treat them as some “fixed in stone” kind of ethics seems inappropriate. Indeed I find many of their agreements to be very inapplicable to the new kind of 21st century warfare.

    However I largely agree that where the US has deviated too far it is wrong. I just think it is wrong because it is inexpedient, not because of some claim of loving ones neighbor.

  8. cooper
    January 6, 2004 at 1:18 am

    Are we overthinking the “love thy neighbor” commandment?

    The whole purpose of the commandment is to make sure your neighbor has equal access to the Atonement. By relieving Saddam of his “offenses to makind” and stopping the reign of terror, he can then begin to participate in the Atonement. (I’m not saying he will…)

    It is alarming to see how well the media ignores the Iraqis on the street that are glad this person has been removed. The Cardinal speaks for the Vatican. The Vatican is a powerful political entity. There is really little to do with religion in the efforts they are putting forth with regard to this war. Satan has had his day with them. The Gospel will roll forth, Iraq will have it soon. This war has opened a new land and the Lord is preparing the people.

  9. ronin
    January 6, 2004 at 11:02 am

    The Vatican is a political entity, and has a history of opposing the USA politically. They seem to be more interested in defending the status quo too – for example they (using another Cardinal in Rome as a mouthpiece), issued some rather critical commentary about the USa and American society last year, when all the ills of the Catholic Church were exposed in the priest child molestation scandals!!! in fact, isnt it ironic that the cardinals of the Vatican seem to show more love and compassion for Saddam than they did to the thousands of children molested by rogue priests, some who the Catholic Church still havent defrocked despite their convictions in criminal courts!!!!!! Hypocrisy at its finest, I’d say!!! Imagine this – compassion and love for a monster like Saddam, but the good Cardinal feel none for all the devout Catholics, especially the children hurt by child-molesting priests!!!!

  10. January 7, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    How does this square with the treatment of scriptural tyrants, like King Noah? He was treated rather harshly after being removed from power, but who is open to more criticism, King Noah, or his killers?
    Fact is, you cannot show the conventional view of love to Saddam AND to the people he ruled simultaneously. You have to choose between the two. I truly believe that the people of Iraq are far more deserving of my love and compassion than Saddam and his cohorts are.
    But I do agree with Cooper that we weren’t doing Saddam any favors (in the eternal scheme of things) by allowing him to continue in sin. The man damned himself by his own actions, and was bringing plenty of others along with him (like King Noah?).

  11. January 7, 2004 at 3:43 pm

    Mercy cannot be allowed to rob justice. In loving Saddam by letting him off easy as the Vatican and the UN suggest, we are depriving the Iraqi people of justice for the crimes he committed against them. He should have a fair trial, but receive a just punishment, whether that be execution or life in prison as decided by the Iraqi court.

    People that say would should love Saddam just like anybody else remind me of the LDS people in my neighborhood growing up that “loved” their kids so much that they didn’t discipline them at all when they stole, vandalized, and assaulted other kids. That is not love, that is indulgence and does the kids a disservice. So I guess, in a way, I do agree with C.S. Lewis. Christ certainly wasn’t above chastizing unrepentant sinner i.e. the Pharisees and he does allow his people to be punished according to the natural consequences of their behavior.

    Personally, I don’t think I should forgive Saddam. He hasn’t done anything to me personally, so I have nothing to forgive him for. It’s up to the people that he has hurt directly or indirectly to forgive him.

  12. Kaimi
    January 7, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    Geoff asks:

    Who is open to more criticism, King Noah, or his killers?

    However, I’m not talking about who is subject to more criticism. Did King Noah obey the commandment to love his neighbor? No, he did not. Did his killers obey it? They probably did not do so either.

  13. The wondering fool
    January 12, 2004 at 1:18 pm

    Years ago I had to face the fact that I was going to Veit Nam. One of the things I had to face was the possiblity of Killing someone. Knowing that we are comanded to Love One another, Could I Love and Kill. After a lot of prayer I decited that if I must I could and would Kill. But I would not Hate. Time and again in the Book Of Mormon, we see good men having to fight and kill, yet once the killing was over they did not hate. In fact they were known to help those who they had been forced to fight. I do not hate Saddam. In fact I feel sorry for him, He had the power to do good, but chose not to.

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