Our time is rife with wrongful mercy. It has probably been, more than any other feature of our modern world, the absolutely astounding success we have had in mastering material change and harnessing cause and effect in the material realm that has made easy the wrongful mercy found in our world. Humans love ease. Rest is the social animals’ end. Increase in efficiency of production, more than anything else, has incentivized (not determined) our laxness in the area of wrongful mercy.
Wrongful mercy amounts to excusing wrongdoing where its source is not repentant (acknowledging inadequacy and willingly submitted to change). In addition to the laxness made easy by our efficient productivity, there is the mistaken assumption that some innocent of wrong must pay for the wrong of others. Condemnation of individuals who are causally linked by blood with past wrongdoers, and excusing of individuals that do wrong now because they are linked by blood with past victims is the insanity that is present in our day. I do not deny that the choices of past individuals has altered the options available to those presently choosing. What I deny is that the options can be easily and simplistically explained by the choices of the past individuals.
Wrongful mercy excuses wrong which is a way of promoting it or at least making it easier. It only increases the probability of more wrong. Of the mercy that is objectively wrong, there is that which is accident and that which is intentional. The latter is far the worse, and the former only approaches the latter from negligence.
The former, innocent wrongful mercy, stems from ignorance. Maybe there is nothing harder to know than the heart of a man especially when pain and suffering is close by. An examination of character, repentance and rightful turning is always less than certain but it is enhanced by familiarity. The more familiar the individual extending mercy is with the one to whom mercy is extended the more likely he will be able to judge the quality of the renewed aim to do good. But because time is short, energy is limited, and where familiarity is not automatic and necessary research competes with other demands, it is possible that mercy can be extended wrongfully. Where research is possible, but it is neglected out of sloth, the wrongful mercy is no longer innocent.
Finally, and this is going to sound harsh, mercy should not be extended in the legal realm but only in voluntary relations. Where the rule of law is good, mercy as a suspension of that law is bad. Where judgment is bad, or due process is not followed, or new information comes to light the suspension of punishment is not properly speaking mercy but justice. Where there is no crime there should be no punishment. Part of the reason for this judgment comes from the possibility of misuse. But, I think the argument for suspension of punishment in the legal system should be made on justice and not on mercy. Where wrongful mercy becomes the norm one should find an increase in wrongdoing.
Another area of wrongful mercy is in charity which is often thought of as extending something undeserved (but in the Christian tradition this is better charity is better thought of as crace). One could look at government policies from the Hoover and later Roosevelt’s response to what they helped preserve–the Great Depression, or the later extension in Johnson’s War on Poverty for massive failures of something like wrongful mercy thought of as charity. Not only do such moments involve precisely aggression against some who have done no wrong to benefit others who have done no wrong, but they involve an increase in the probability of the creation of dependency in those who are being benefited immediately, and they attract the power hungry and greedy who love for nefarious reasons to join in acts of aggression. All and all, acts of charity, often thought of as acts of mercy, should be left to voluntary relationships.
Finally, and because it is so contemporary, we could look at the failures of money-printing by our own Federal Reserve, often motivated by a “duty” to help, as simply another reason to leave helping, aiding, acting “mercifully” in the hands of private citizens. I won’t belabor the long term effects of unrestrained money printing, but enough to say they are both motivated by something in the neighborhood of what is commonly thought of as mercy, and full of trouble for those who must live when the consequences come due.