Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cowardice: A Midweek Rumination

Old friend Pascal recently wrote with some thoughts:

Does cowardice fall in any way in the province of one of the 7 mortal sins? Does courage fall within the purview of one of the 4 cardinal virtues?

Look. We clearly have Prog shock troop leaders in the WH. They are mounting further provocations daily. The scope and enormity of their campaign may slowly dawn on its victims. They are seeking confrontations, and then what?

But as to cowardice in the past, when something might have been done with less dread, that's my thoughts now and worrying about its consequences.

IMHO, it came to this due in great part to a lack of courage of members of society to fight the other ever more prominent fostering and displays of sins that you discuss all the time.

Orchestrated PC was certainly involved in castrating a great number. Could it have been fought better if cowardice was well-tied to the mortal sins? I don't know. But now that I think of it, it greatly troubles me.

If there’s a better topic for deep in the Advent season, I can’t imagine what it might be.

Is cowardice a sin? As it’s as contentious a matter as “torture,” I would venture to say: not always. I can easily think of instances where deliberately fleeing from combat or confrontation is the wisest available course. Yet there’s at least one case in which cowardice constitutes a moral default – a sin of omission.

To deny one’s faith out of fear for one’s temporal life is a sin, perhaps the only sin that’s on a par with suicide. There are other cases of seeming cowardice that appear to me to be sinful, but in some of those, the judgment of the individual involved is likely to be the deciding factor. God allows us to follow our own consciences without penalty, if we do so out of sincere conviction.

Moral courage – the willingness to act upon one’s own sincere convictions about right and wrong, without soliciting or requiring the approval of others – is exceedingly rare in our time, for reasons I hardly need to tell any intelligent Gentle Reader about. (I don’t have any other kind, do I?) Inversely, moral cowardice – the tendency to say and do nothing even when in the actual presence of evil – is quite common. That strikes me as entirely consistent with the common tendency to pooh-pooh the concept of moral courage: obliteration by derision.

The clearest example of moral cowardice publicly visible today holds regular sessions on Capitol Hill. I daresay I needn’t be more specific than that.

Hearken once more to the great Clive Staples Lewis:

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”

Courage comes in several varieties. If I may quote one of my own works of fiction:

    It was an ordinary July evening in Onteora: hot, damp, the air too still, the black gnats too numerous. Most of the city's residents had retreated behind closed doors and powered up their air conditioners, then turned their television sets up high to mask the compressor noise. On an unlit street in the abandoned part of the city, Joseph Follett and Lafayette Buskey were enjoying a special pleasure, raping a teenage girl who had wandered onto their turf.

    They had cut away her jeans and panties, stuffed the scraps of the panties into her mouth, and bound them there with a double winding of packing tape. Buskey knelt on her arms and held a knife to her throat while Follett violated her at his leisure. They had changed places once already. Perhaps they would do so again before the fun was over. Neither had bothered to conceal or disguise his face.

    They had been at it perhaps ten minutes when a quiet patter of footsteps from the far end of the street alerted the merrymakers that they were not alone. Both looked up to see the onrush of a short, slight figure, bearing down upon them.

    Buskey had turned toward the sound but had not yet risen when the runner braked and planted. His right foot lashed out in a powerful placekicker's arc, catching Buskey squarely beneath the jaw. The snap of Buskey's spine resounded the length of the street. He flipped backwards and lay on the sidewalk, twitching spasmodically.

    Follett had pulled away from the girl, drawing his own knife. The runner turned to face him.

    "Keep back, motherfucker."

    The runner made no reply. He advanced.

    Follett dropped into a knife-fighter's crouch. He kept both hands well out in front of him, daring the man to come within slashing distance. The runner halted and watched him, apparently relaxed.

    "So this is your idea of a high old time, eh, asshole?" The runner's voice was soft. The darkness concealed his face. "Wait till some defenseless girl wanders by, take her down, rape her a few times, then gut her like a deer? Not much to take home from it, though. Not like a Grand Avenue mugging or a good B and E."

    The young tough snarled. "What do you know about B and E?"

    The runner's eyebrows rose. "Isn't that how you make your living?" He gestured at Follett's crotch. "I mean, that thing dangling from your fly isn't big enough for you to make it as a gigolo."

    Upon being reminded that his dick was still hanging out of his jeans, Follett looked down at his crotch.

    The runner whirled and kicked again. His toe caught the elbow of Follett's knife arm. The elbow cracked and bent the wrong way, and the knife flew from the hand that held it. The young thug spun and dropped to the pavement with a piercing shriek, clawing at the rough asphalt.

    The runner stepped forward to stand over his victim. Stray rays from the headlights of a car passing on a connecting street revealed the runner's expression. It was that perfection of rage that resembles perfect calm.

    "Well, so much for the muggings and B and Es. Think you can make a living as a rapist? I mean, you're going to need a new helper and all. Maybe two or three. Big nut to carry."

    The runner straddled Follett's body and lowered himself to a squat, all but sitting on the thug's belly.

    "Who the fuck are you, man? You got no business here!" Follett's voice was an agonized hiss.

    The runner pursed his lips. "Business? No. I was just out for a walk, and it went on a little longer and farther than I intended. I don't get into the city much. It's not my favorite place. But here I am, and here you are, and thereby hangs a tale."

He paused and sighed. "I knew you were going to kill that girl when you were done with her. If I hadn't been sure of that, maybe I would have handled it another way. Or maybe not. Not that it matters now. May God have mercy on your worthless soul."

    Follett's pain had not displaced all his fear and hatred. He surged in a last attempt to throw his assailant off him as he scrabbled for his knife.

    The runner's right hand arrowed at Follett's face. The heel of that hand crashed into the bridge of Follett's nose, driving the bone into his forebrain with the impact of a well-thrown spear. The rapist's body spasmed once and was still.

    The runner waited for perhaps a minute, peering into the slack face for any indication that the body might still house life. When he was satisfied, he pulled the jeans off Follett's corpse and brought them to the girl, who had remained where she'd been held. She seemed about sixteen, not especially pretty, and frightened beyond all ability to respond. Carefully, he pulled the makeshift gag from her mouth.

    "Where do you live?"

    "Eighty-two Devlin Boulevard," the girl whispered.

    He bent to help her stand, then offered her the jeans. "I'll take you home. Sorry I have nothing else to cover you with."

    She clung to him and began to keen. He coaxed her to step into the jeans, closed the fly and buttoned them at her waist, rolled up the legs so that she could walk, and escorted her down the street, one arm around her shoulders.

    The body of Joe Follett lay still in the middle of the street. On the sidewalk, the body of Lafe Buskey twitched at lengthening intervals as the life finished seeping out of it.


    Louis was beyond astonishment.

    "You were watching."

    Loughlin nodded. "And for a few days after, until I was certain you were the genuine article. Even then you knew to kick, not punch."

    "I never saw you."

    "You weren't supposed to. I've practiced invisibility until I can almost make you forget my presence while you're staring at me. It's a useful talent for moving through cities and such."

    "But why, Malcolm? Why do you do it at all?"

    "You're not going to like the answer."

    Louis stared hard into his friend's eyes.

    "I need to know."

    Loughlin told him.


    Louis sat very still. Afternoon had given way to evening, and the trailer had grown dark. Loughlin watched him steadily.

    "Unless this is how you show hysteria, you're taking it a lot more calmly than I expected."

    "I'm all right." Louis tried to shake off his gathering fatigue. He'd had enough shocks that day to stop an army in its tracks, and rest was far away. "I know better than to doubt you. I should probably get home pretty soon, though, or Christine will panic. So that's the why of it?"

    "Moral courage is the key. Physical courage is fairly commonplace, at least in moderation. Bravery in the face of real danger is rarer, but still common enough that you'll find a few dozen cases of it on any battlefield. But moral courage is rarer than any other human trait."

    "Moral courage?"

    "Courage enough to stand by your convictions and trust in your own judgment. That's what you showed that night. You took it upon yourself to save that girl and to execute the bastards who were abusing her. You didn't wait for some committee of designated bystanders to ratify your decision. You have no idea how rare that is."

Do you find Louis Redmond’s execution of the two rapists admirable or despicable? Do you agree that his decision to do so constituted an exercise of moral courage? Indeed, can a man exhibit any sort of courage if he's a moral coward?

A final, tangential thought: If our consciences are truly intended to be our guides, and if I’m correct in my belief that even the most poorly reared individual of normal mental capacity has enough of a conscience to recognize evil, then it’s quite possible that all sins fall into one of the following categories:

  • Blasphemies (denial or derision of the supremacy or majesty of God);
  • Abuses of others (e.g., murder, assault, fraud, theft, false witness);
  • Instances of moral cowardice: to stay one’s voice or hand when confronted by evildoing.

May God bless and keep you all.


Weetabix said...

I like your categories of sin. There may be a few others, but there may not, either.

And I think you're right that moral cowardice is a sin as opposed to straight cowardice. There could certainly be instances of cowardice that have nothing to do with morals.

And, I've always found Louis admirable.

Pascal Fervor said...

Thanks for all this. I'd not seen the C.S. Lewis quote, and it definitely had not come up in a general google search. Your reviving my recollection of this passage from Chosen One was a bonus. It's an example of moral behavior that would not get good press today. And that is condemnatory verdict of this postmodern era all by itself.

Anonymous said...

Moral courage seems to be no big deal when compared with physical courage. Facing and confronting a moral dilemma head-on, with words, what's difficult about that? It's where the confronting turns to physical, that's where the real problem lies. And not particularly for fear of being hurt, but for fear of what comes next. What happens in our society to a guy who catches two rapists in action and promptly executes them? MORALLY, I'd say "way to go". But legally? You're probably going to jail, you're probably going to spend all your money avoiding it, and heaven forbid the rapists are black, your whole town is probably going to be burned down in the ensuing riots. THIS is the sad state of our country. What's moral is illegal, and what's immoral is celebrated.

Reg T said...

Louis' moral courage is admirable only in light of the fact that it is so rare today. Were it the norm - as it should be - it would be unremarkable. Like keeping your word, or doing the best job you are capable of doing.

Of course, there are additional reasons to admire Louis, even beyond his moral courage, although most of them _are_ rooted in his morality, and his moral behavior.