I wish I had more time to pontificate on the following quote, but since my thesis is due in two days and I have to plan a class to teach, I don’t. But I found this quote, and I love it. It’s from an article called “What We Are,” by C. Terry Warner, published in BYU Studies. I believe what he says 100%:
Part of the intellectual fashion of our era is to think it charitable to excuse people for their behavior on the grounds that it can be completely explained by reference to their biological make-up or their early life experiences. ‘To understand all is to forgive all.’ …
But contrary [to this], there is no charity in this idea, only indulgence. People who believe it can extend no hope to those of us who are emotionally troubled; in their view we are stuck with our emotional deficiencies and will simply have to cope as best we can. … Not only that, people who believe this doctrine will tend … to collude with disturbed individuals in their pity for themselves. A collusive indulgence is just as condemnatory and, if accepted, just as debilitating as a collusive accusation.
On the other hand, treating people as responsible for their emotional lives is not condemnatory: it is a form of believing in them. It holds out hope.
In this quote, Warner is talking specifically about emotionally troubled, abusive, or anger-prone individuals. However, I believe that the same principle applies much more broadly. Holding people morally accountable for their moral conduct and for the way they treat others is not condemnatory—rather, it is the only position that holds out hope for them. To say that others “just can’t help themselves” is to resign ourselves to the fact that we are all simply products of forces beyond our control. That’s not a liberating philosophy—that feels to me quite constrained, and consigns others (in our view) to a position of helplessness against the vicissitudes of life.
Are there exceptions? Sure. I try not to make sweeping, universal, categorical generalizations. I’m speaking only of trends in society that try to exonerate individuals by claiming that they are helpless to control their thoughts, emotions, and behavior towards others. It feels like freedom, because the individuals are now free (so they think) of moral culpability. It feels like charity, since there is no moral condemnation. But truthfully, it is neither freedom nor charity. It’s captivity, because it keeps people from believing they can behave differently than they do. And it’s not love, because true love is willing to chasten, willing to correct, when correction is needed.
I’d say more, but that’s all I have time for now.