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Kindness Trumps Condemnation

Condemnation by category is the lowest form of hatred, for it is cold-hearted and abstract, lacking the heat and even the courage of a personal hatred. Categorical condemnation is the hatred of the mob, which makes cowards brave. And there is nothing more fearful than a religious mob overflowing with righteousness, as there was at the crucifixion and has been before and since. This mob violence can happen only after we have made a categorical refusal of kindness to heretics, foreigners, enemies, or any other group different from ourselves.

Kindness is not a word much at home in current political and religious speech, but it is a rich word and a necessary one. There is good reason to think that we cannot live without it. Kind is obviously related to kin, but also to race and to nature. In the Middle Ages kind and nature were synonyms. Equal, in the famous phrase of the Declaration of Independence, could be well translated by these terms: All men are created kin, or of a kind, or of the same race or nature.

Jesus saves the life of the woman taken in adultery by removing her from the category in which her accusers (another mob) have placed her and placing her within kindness, his own kindness first and then that of her accusers: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (KJV).

The accusers take this kindness as a defeat, as we all are too likely to do, and they depart without another word. The brief dialogue that follows is wonderfully animated by Jesus’ sense of humor:

“Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?”

“No man, Lord.”

“Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

(John 8:7, 10–11 [KJV])

Good advice—but can we suppose he could have given it without smiling, knowing as he did the vast repertory of sins and the endless human susceptibility?

- Wendell Berry, "Caught in the middle: On abortion and homosexuality," The Christian Century, March 20, 2013.