Loving Humanity


Herman Melville writes in Moby Dick of the lack of courage one of his characters (First Mate Starbuck) may display later on in the novel. Read the following excerpt slowly and enjoy the writing:

"But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complete abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might I have the heart to write it; for it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meager faces; but, man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting starts. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The center and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our divine equality.

"If, then, to meanest mariners and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at times life himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman's arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!"--Herman Melville, Moby Dick

***

People don't write like this anymore. Though I am uncertain if Herman Melville was a Christian (he claims to have been a devout Presbyterian), I have no doubt that what he writes here in a passage of his famous novel Moby Dick is a most Christian truth. He writes positively of humanity! He writes of his love for the beauty of mankind, and his unwillingness to shine the light on its failures and defects. He further goes on to ask for the reader to bear with him if he "ascribes higher qualities" to the "renegades and castaways". He desires patience if he touches the "workman's arm with some ethereal light." Melville is a lover of humanity over whom the "Spirit of Equality hath spread a royal mantle", and he cannot stand to glory long in its faults.

And while the Christian worldview prompts us to view our fellow man in more of a pessimistic, critical light due to the fall and permanent marring we possess as a result of our original parent's sin, there is no doubt still present in all mankind: inherit, precious value. It is that value which I believe Melville is recognizing in the above passage. Each of us, by nature of our humanity, are stamped with the image of God. Unlike the rest of creation, we are embedded with distinct dignity for the highest purpose of knowing and glorifying God. It is because of this universal image of God on man that we all now possess--from the worst of us to the greatest, from the poorest to the richest—"democratic dignity". Equal value.

This does not mean that mankind is inherently good. Nor does it mean that out of such a "tolerant" view of one another we need to simply coexist and speak nothing of Truth, salvation, or sin. Quite the contrary! It just means that because of the value God has given every human, we should genuinely love, we should genuinely care for humans. All of them. Even those most detestable in our eyes.

For it is because of this heavenly value that mankind is worth cherishing. Mankind is worth valuing. His faults should bring us to tears and draw us to hide our faces. Our inner man should indeed "bleed with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor ruined man." His successes should give us joy. His sin should cause us to cry. His eternal salvation should cause us deepest delight.

Confession: Rather than this devout love for mankind Melville displays in the opening excerpt, I have seen in myself a sort of indifference towards my fellow man. I confess that in my callous impatience, I look at those who turn away from the Lord, or live for self, or continue in willful patterns of self-destruction--and I couldn't care less about them. I catch myself inwardly washing my hands of these lost people: "Have it your own way," I say. "Follow your own path and enjoy your consequences." "I don't care."

But we must all of us eradicate this attitude in ourselves, for it is most un-Christ like. For Christ did not spurn the worst of sinners (who had sinned against Him, mind you), but he ate with them. He loved them, prostitutes and tax-collectors alike. It is Jesus who spoke these words of the city that would soon crucify him: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." (Matthew 23:37) You can just picture Jesus as his heart breaks over his wayward children: "Oh I wish you were willing to come to me for refuge and peace! Oh I wish I could shelter you under my wings!"

We need to return to the basics of Christianity. The essentials of Christ's teachings. We need to love the least of these brothers of mine, the poor and the sick, the prodigal sons. We need to love our neighbors as ourselves, not because they deserve it, but because they are humans made in the image of God and Christ has commanded us to do so. Instead of looking down on the base sinners, instead of insulating ourselves from their waywardness--may we love them. May we care for them, cry for them, pray for them.

And may we not love them with the pseudo-tolerance that masquerades as love today. Such love cares only for the immediate feelings of the person. It says, "be happy now and live how you please; we will accept you!" While such speech tickles our ears and panders to our fancies, it cares absolutely nothing about long term joy of the person involved, let alone their eternal home. Like a mother at the store who gives in to her screaming child’s demands for candy—tolerance in the guise of love will sacrifice future well-being for immediate "happiness".

Our love cannot deteriorate to that form. It must care for the temporal wellbeing of our fellow men, but above all, it must care for their greatest need: their souls. For how can love ignore someone’s greatest need? This means that in our communication of love the truth must be ever present. Our kindness and generosity are necessary, but must be followed up with the eternal hope we possess in Christ. True love will not hide the truth under a bushel. As Jesus says:

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." – Matthew 5:14-16

Comments

  1. Lewis commented on the importance of loving God by loving our fellow man in his classic radio set "The Weight of Glory" here are a few provocative quotes
    “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. ... Next to the blessed sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

    — "The Weight of Glory" C. S. Lewis
    “If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love - You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.

    The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.”
    ― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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  2. Ahab, like our great old enemy, feigns love for these men to bring them along on his path to destruction. They only matter if they are following him headlong in his unholy lashing out (he even curses the fish that leave off following his ship to follow the Gooney). He is not securing good things for them.
    But that does not diminish the heroic character of the Men...it just makes their loss more tragic. They are Nobel figures misled by an enemy and their lost is tragic...so much so that Ishael is spared to tell the tale.

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    Replies
    1. Very true. Ahab's demise is an example of how the affects of sin are far more pervasive than we originally think. Sin in whatever form (ambition, pleasure, revenge) always touches and hurts those close to us.

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