I was perusing Victor Reppert’s blog in order to catch a feeling of what apologists around are saying. Something that Reppert was talking about over on his blog dangerous idea the other day struck me as slightly nonsensical. Reppert was dealing with Keith Parsons talking about the commandment to love thy enemies, and how far this should be taken. Parsons gives examples of really terrible actions of certain people and Reppert counters that loving these people is “above his pay grade”:

Parsons: A further issue I have always had with Christianity is the one you express as follows:

"Christians are enjoined by their faith to love others, and I take it that means that regardless of how badly a person has gone wrong, we think that, by the grace of God, that they could someday be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance."

Taken literally, this means that Christians are enjoined to love, say, people who throw acid into the faces of little girls to keep them from going to school. Indeed, Christians are enjoined to love tyrants, serial killers, traffickers in sexual slavery, drug cartel thugs, terrorists, fanatics, con men who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, etc.

This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you love someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad? SHOULD you even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

I submit that a person with any sense of decency who is well informed about the actions of Assad--shelling towns, sending death squads to massacre unarmed civilians, etc.--cannot love such an individual, not even "by the grace of God." If such a person claims to do so, I think that he is fooling himself or attempting to fool the rest of us.

Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt.

VR: Sometimes this issue gets cast when Christians ask whether they ought to love Satan. For non-universalists, Satan is a spiritual hopeless case; there is no good for Satan that anyone can possibly hope for. Again, with some persons who do great evil, you it's hard to find anything in that person that could give you a basis for a movement back toward good.

For me, loving people like that is, as Obama would say, "above my pay grade." It's tough enough for me to maintain an appropriate loving attitude toward people who behave rudely on Dangerous Idea (of all persuasions). So, your question is better addressed to sa better candidate for canonization than yours truly. And to pretend that you have actually succeeded in loving people when you really haven't is worse than just hating their guts. Falwell makes a fool of himself, of course, when he pretends that he loves gay people.

There are remarkable transformations of evildoers, and it is a major theme in Christianity and literature. John Newton, the slave ship owner who wrote Amazing Grace comes to mind, and even from Star Wars there is the (fictional) transformation of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi. I wonder if Bonhoeffer ever addressed this sort of thing. Did he think it was possible to love Hitler, and what could he mean by that given his involvement in efforts to kill him.
However, this seems to be effectively saying “I will love someone as much as I am capable of loving someone so that the more evil they do, the less I will love someone”. Eventually the balance gets tipped into the arbitrary “above my pay grade” or “You’re having a laugh if I’m loving that person”.

Essentially, then, if Reppert is appealing to the idea that we are all imperfect, and the perfect goal of loving your enemies is simply out of reach, then he has the problem of a perfect God setting unrealistic and meaningless targets for us. Or, on the other hand, he seems to be saying that the notion is simply incorrect; incoherent even. If so (for both of these reasons), then why have it as a doctrine? Why have it in the Bible?

At the end of the day, it seems rather tautologous and pointless – humans are only capable of loving who we can realistically get round to loving. In other words, not our enemies. And the worse the enemy, the less we can love them.

In sum, the notion is entirely impotent on a practical, daily and pragmatic basis.

How do the commenters on the post get round this? The classic philoosopher’s approach – redefine your way out of a corner:

Love means you will the good for someone. Loving a bad person means you will that person to turn from evil to good and you love the good that is in them since it's impossible for them to be 100% evil.

Of course that doesn't mean you are required to like them or forbidden to dislike them.

It all seems a little trite for me. How do I love Hitler? I wish he could be better than he is; that he wouldn’t do that; that he would turn to Jesus. Wow, love comes easy to the Christian. A really valuable commodity. They love… the entire world.

An appeal to CS Lewis doesn’t really clear things up:
Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment – even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace. (Mere Christianity, p 118)

And then:
While Hitler lived you would be morally obligated to pray he come to his senses and repent. But "Love" doesn't mean a Police officer can't lawfully use deadly force to protect a victim from a criminal.

And on and on. It appears that Christians are very good at pointing out that loving thy enemies still permits you to kill them. They also point out what love isn’t. However, no one seems to really have any positive idea of what love actually is.

Let us look at the original Bible quote:
“ You have heard that it was said, ‘ You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;

As another poster on the blog (Ben Yachov) states:
Again Keith shows no understanding of what it means to "love" someone in the Christian Sense or Divine Sense.

I really am as a Catholic Christian under no moral or Divine obligation to like, feel all warm and fuzzy and or feel really affection for Assad.

I can even dislike him. I can feel anger towards him. But I am morally obligated to "love" him in so far as I must will myself to hope & pray he comes to his senses and repents so he may be forgiven.

But if I am a soldier in a just Revolutionary war & I get Assad in my sights. Him being a combatant I may morally "take the shot" & hope while he is dying God gives him some extra-ordinary grace to repent.

So love is hoping and praying. But above, the Bible states that you must love AND pray (with ‘and’ used in an additive sense). Love is surely not just willing and praying that they become better people. That is pretty obviously what everyone wishes, religious or not. Though we might not pray to an imaginary friend about it.

There appears to be a strange disconnect between loving someone and disliking them and wanting to kill them. I’m not really sure it makes much sense.