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Many Have Reduced Love to Kindness, and Kindness to Mere Affirmation – A Further Reflection on the Moral Troubles of our Time

January 21, 2015

012115In yesterday’s post, there was a critique of a flawed moral perspective that sets up a false dichotomy between mercy  and moral teaching, and between love and the law. As noted yesterday, well-ordered love and mercy must be rooted in truth. The greatest mercy is to keep people out of Hell and to save them from all the suffering that comes from sin.

Jesus exhibits this in His person, for He who is love insists on moral uprightness, faith, and acceptance of His truth without compromise. No one loves us more than Jesus does and yet no one warned of Hell and judgment more than Jesus did. Love and law are linked; God, who loves us, says, “This far, but no farther.” He does this not because He is mean or wants to take away our fun. He does this because He loves us and does not want sin to destroy us and Satan to drag us to Hell.

Yet many today think that calling sin what it is, is unkind, unmerciful, unloving, mean-spirited, and so forth. Never mind that mercy cannot exist unless sin and wrongdoing exist. To deny these is to deny the need for mercy.

In today’s post, following up on yesterday’s, we do well to ponder that being loving is not the same as being kind. In other words, love should not be reduced to mere kindness. But we live in a reductionist culture that has tended to reduce love to kindness. As we shall see, the results are often quite problematic. To reflect on this problem, I want to use some insights from an article by Peter Kreeft, written some years ago.

Kindness is a very good thing and has an important place in our relationships. Kindness is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, by pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others. According to Aristotle, kindness is an emotion manifesting itself in the desire to help someone in need without expecting anything in return.

Peter Kreeft defines kindness as “sympathy, with the desire to relieve another’s suffering” [Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20].

However, as Kreeft himself notes, it is a very great mistake to equate kindness with love. Kindness is an aspect of love, but it is necessarily distinct from love. For it sometimes happens that love, which wills what is best for the other, may deem it best not to remove all suffering. For example, a father may impose punishment on his child out of love.

Kindness generally seeks to alleviate suffering and negativity. But love understands that suffering often has a salvific role. My parents disciplined me out of love. Had they been merely kind to me, I would likely have been spoiled, undisciplined, and ill-prepared for life.

Paradoxically, the more we love, the more we see mere kindness diminish. Consider how kind we can be to strangers. We may sometimes give money to strangers with few questions asked. But if our children ask for money we may want to know why. And then even if we give it to them, we may lecture them about being more responsible with their money. The interaction may be less kind, but it may be more loving, for it seeks to end the problem rather than merely relieve the symptom.

The good eclipses the best. And herein lies the danger in reducing love to kindness. In simply seeking to alleviate the suffering of the moment or to give people what they want, many deeper issues go unresolved and can even worsen.

Welfare has created a slavish dependence for many in our culture. And it is not just the poor in our cities. There is corporate welfare and many other subsidies and entitlements that too many feel they can’t do without.

Rather than addressing the root causes of poverty, dependence, or poor economic conditions and bad business models, kindness interrupts love’s deeper role and treats only the suffering of the moment. In this sense, the merely good (kindness) replaces the truly best (love). True love gives what is best, not merely what is immediately desired. Kindess too often looks merely to relieve whereas true love looks to heal, something that often involves some painful choices.

Further, many false expectations are centered on the exaltation of kindness over love. In our culture, this is manifested in the fact that suffering of any kind is seen as obnoxious, and even the reason for legal action. It has also led to our demands for comfort getting out of control. Demand for euthanasia flows from this sort of thinking as well.

A final and very terrible effect often flows from mistaking mere kindness for love: it disposes many towards atheism. Here I will simply quote Peter Kreeft directly, because he says it so well:

It is painfully obvious that God is not mere kindness, for He does not remove all suffering, though He has the power to do so. Indeed, this very fact — that the God who is omnipotent and can, at any instant, miraculously erase all suffering from the world, deliberately chooses not to do so — is the commonest argument that unbelievers use against him. The number one argument for atheism stems from the confusion between love and kindness [Peter Kreeft, Envoy Magazine, Vol 9.3, p. 20].

Kindness is a very good attribute and it surely has its place. But we must carefully distinguish it from love. Exalting kindness over love amounts to a denial of the wisdom of the Cross. Kindness focuses on comfort and alleviating suffering, and this is a very good thing. But love is a greater thing, for it focuses on healing and it wills what is best, not merely what is desired. But, sadly, many prefer relief to healing.

Kindness is an important and necessary virtue, but it is not an absolute one and it must be governed by love and right reason.

In the divorce/remarriage debate and in many other issues such as same-sex unions, euthanasia, and so forth, we must insist on what is right, and do so in love. But, sadly, some will never see what we do as loving, for many have reduced love to kindness, and kindness to mere affirmation. Sometimes the most loving, the most merciful answer is “no” to those who demand that we affirm what is wrong. Sometimes the most loving, the most merciful thing to do is to point to the Cross, for by it we are saved, and apart from it we are more miserable and lost.

Do not allow others to “shame” you by calling you unmerciful or unloving. Tell them, “I love you too much to lie to you.” And do not allow others to simplify Jesus, either, by reducing Him to merely being kind. There is a place for kindness, but love must sometimes overrule it. And Jesus is love. He, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, surely loves us too much to lie to us.

This video tells a beautiful story of how kindness is tied to sacrificial love and seeks to bring healing (even at great cost) rather than mere relief.

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  1. Todd says:

    It’s my understanding there is a principle or axiom in metaphysics that things are received according to the mode of the receiver. The Truth necessarily offends those who are not well disposed to receive it. Should we then stop telling people the truth in love (patience, kindness, etc). I understand St. John Vianney said essentially; if a preacher were to climb into the pulpit certain he would be murdered after preaching – ALL THE MORE – is his obligation to preach the truth. Our intention is not to offend but the reality is some people will be offended by what we say. A Priest respect very much once told me ask yourself ‘What did Jesus do.’ Similar to the bracelet ‘What would Jesus do.’ What did he do? He preached the truth in love. Then people had to make a decision. Nothing has changed. In John 6 Jesus taught the truth about His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – the Holy Eucharist. Many went away. He didn’t change this Truth so they might return. He turned to those closest and asked them if they wanted to leave too. In John chapter 8 Jesus said Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… It seems to me there is risk involved in telling the people the truth – risk that they might be offended. Risk requires courage. There is also hope that perhaps they will wake up and turn again to the Lord. I understand kindness at its core as an authentic concern for others. Well what is there to be more concerned about than whether they live or they die?

    Two scriptures on love; John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments…” And I think this one is for both the Royal and Ministerial Priesthoods: John 21 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

    Thank you Father Charles Pope for leading the people the down the right Road.

  2. Richard Connell says:

    I told this woman, who is a Quaker, that St. Paul said, “Why, one of themselves, a spokesman of their own, has told us, The men of Crete were ever liars, venomous creatures, all hungry belly and nothing besides; 13 and that is a true account of them.” She told me he was a racist for saying that. Whether or not he was gentle and kind by saying that, he sure didn’t mince words.

  3. C Beltz says:

    Kindness is born out of love, it does not replace it. True kindness toward another seeks the ultimate good of that person, not the good of self. Much of what is currently defined as “kindness” is actually “niceness”.

    People these days are nice. They are just super super nice. And there in lies the problem. Nice is a lie. If I am nice to you it is because I want something for myself. I may want to show others how magnanimous I am. I may want that air of superiority I get when I do something I would consider “good”. I may just want you to like me. But doing anything for another where my ultimate focus is me, regardless of how good that thing is, well, it’s just plain nice, not kind and not true love.

    So why are we such nice nice people? Well, simple. We are broken. We are hurt. We are scared. We are alone. Bottom line, we do not possess that which we all want to possess (even if we don’t know it). We do not possess God.

    So we cheat. We are nice to others and we get a warm fuzzy and then we tell ourselves we are good people. But those words are hollow, we are hollow. So we do more nice, get more warm fuzzies. It’s an addiction in a way, as we chase away the fear that eats away at us, the pain that doesn’t stop hurting, the anger, the lonliness.

    But the lie, oh it’s a clever lie. Be nice, do good. Problem is, since we don’t possess that which is Good, we actually have little clue what doing good really means. We are using human standards of “good”, and as we all know, our human definitions warp over time. What was good in the 1800’s can appear barbaric today, and vice versa.

    True kindness, born out of love of God and neighbor, is good. Fake kindness born out of love of self and “humanity” is nice.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions…

    Call me nice and I am insulted. Call me kind and I am humbled.

  4. bill adams says:

    “Kindness is a very good attribute and it surely has its place. But…”

    It doesn’t give one license to be an asshole either.

  5. one anonymous says:

    Anyone with children knows, how kind it is to Lovingly discipline their children… and so God does for us, our Father Loves us. We need more kindness and yes “nice” because we are certainly NOT seeing more of it but far far less in a selfish no-compassionate vacuum of mass media where we are rewarded and encourage to be heartless, hateful and even find joy in the suffering and misery of others, yes, THAT is what is now considered “normal”. We need MORE civility towards others, not less. This is not a bad thing!! That being said, we don’t want to go to the extreme of never being Truthful and we don’t want to be accepting the evils of this world and the evil actions of others all for the sake of being “nice”… of course not! I am amazed that so many think, “you must not Love me if you don’t agree with me and are accepting of everything I do”, can they really believe that? I have heard that argument and from my children when they were young and they would often say, “If you Loved me you would Love me for who I am and my doing this _______ (fill in the blank) IS WHO I AM.” And I would respond, “I LOVE YOU, but I don’t Love ________ (fill in the blank) and certainly not EVERYTHING you might do!!!” Oh how confused we can get when there is nothing to guide us!! But that is the lie we are being told, if someone doesn’t accept everything you do they must not Love you. Of course satan does not want us helping one another out of the pit, or helping one another to Heaven, he would rather us NOT Love (be kind or nice) one another!

    • Iacomus says:

      Well said. I like to meditate often on these aspects of love, as the Apostle states: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13: 4-7)

  6. Brad says:

    Thank you Father for the reminder. I work with juveniles that are in placement. When I first meet them I tell them I care about them as they are, but I care about them too much to leave them that way (thank you Dr. Hahn for the quip). As I work with them, each time I have to redirect them or give them a consequence, I ask them why I did it. They will respond, having learned from repetition, “you’re doing it because you care and want me to go home”. At the same time they know I’m there when they really need someone to talk to about their past.

  7. John says:

    Wow. What a profound article. I’ve always wanted to know what truly love is, and now my prayers of a much Fuller understanding has been granted. Ave Maria! Thanks, Father!

  8. June says:

    Love can be cruel and kindness can be a fool. It’s all about the “Truth”.

    • Michelle says:

      Yes. I agree. It is so simple. Follow truth, be open to truth and then speak the truth and you will remain in God’s will. It doesn’t always seem kind or nice, though.

  9. Arthur says:

    If i don’t care much about my own soul, I CANNOT love another’s soul either, therefore all other acts of charity are useless, like two blind men falling into the ditch.

  10. Karen zorney says:

    I am very moved by the video. To this very day I frequently choose being kind over loving, out of fear of rejection, or fear of “rocking the boat”, or out of ignorance to the difference. This has helped. Thank you.