Rush Limbaugh died on Ash Wednesday, an appropriate date for a man who had done so much evil to, hopefully, meet his Maker with some rudimentary contrition and begin, I pray, the long purgatorial road to salvation that he, like all of us, does not deserve.
That he is capable of rudimentary contrition is shown in the fact that he regretted one of his most despicable acts: mocking the death of AIDS victims.
According to The New York Times, it ended after a few weeks. Limbaugh would call the segment one of “most regretful things I’ve ever done” because it was “making fun of people who were dying long, painful and excruciating deaths.”
It is to be hoped that either at his death or in Purgatory, he has burned away from him the many other grave evils he committed for which I, at any rate, have no knowledge of his repentance. Not that this makes any difference to my duty to forgive him. Whereto serves mercy but to confront the visage of offense?
Forgiveness is for sin, nothing else. Excuses are for things that are not sinful. To excuse is precisely to say that the hurt was not given in sin but through some non-culpable cause. I stepped on your toe because the bus lurched, not because I wanted to hurt you, and you excuse me. Forgiveness is reserved exclusively for when the hurt was given either with malice aforethought or with the sort of culpable neglect that says, “I could not care less about you and so did nothing to prevent the evil I should have tried to protect you from.” Forgiveness, in word, is for the guilty sinner, not for the hapless schmuck.
“All well and good for you to say, Shea. None of these things and countless more were directed at you.”
No argument from me. I’m not telling you what to do. I’m telling you what I believe my duty before God to be. And yet I deny that I have nothing to forgive him, because he sinned against me too. How? He taught me to be his fan in the 90s and to form my thoughts–thoughts that have done immense damage to my country and my faith and my attempt to imitate Jesus. I have discussed here in a very inadequate way some of that sin in which I participated. And precisely because I really do believe Jesus when he warns me that if I do not forgive I shall not be forgiven–especially if I am hypocritical enough to judge Limbaugh when I have committed many of his sins–I forgive him the wrong he did me.
“But he never repented that you know of. You don’t have to forgive people who don’t repent!”
False. Jesus commands, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Not a word about whether they repent or not. Forgiveness is to be extended to anybody against whom we have anything. That is what Jesus himself did on the cross and we are to imitate that. And good thing too because forgiveness is for our sake as well as theirs. Otherwise, our bitterness holds us prisoner to the impenitent, sometimes years after they are dead. It is, like the man said, like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die.
Forgiveness is not the pretense that the impenitent sinner meant well. It is the frank confession that the mean son of a bitch or the negligent bastard sinned against us, but that we choose to not let them have the power over us to destroy our love and we hand them over to God, who knows what to do with them. That, at any rate, is how I have found it possible to do it, albeit with great struggle and failure and imperfection as one for whom anger is the besetting sin. Seeing that I am not alone but that Christ Crucified himself is with me, himself suffering wrongs for which no human being ever apologized to him, is a help too. If it helps you forgive, use it. If not, drop it and try something else. Forgiving is like quitting smoking: you do it thousands of times.
Precisely one of the challenges of forgiving people who do great public evil is that in addition to the difficulty of forgiving their sin, it is critical to remember their victims, who must not be made to feel forgotten by your forgiveness of their victimizer. Forgiveness presupposes the sins the sinner really did commit. And many times, those who love those sins and love the famous sinner (such as Dittoheads do) will continue to trample their idol’s victims will weaponize forgiveness against those victims. So, for instance, we must not allow the Right Wing Lie Machine to sanctify and sanitize Limbaugh’s evils under the pretense of “speak no evil of the dead”.
This strategy for perpetuating evil is an old ploy of the RWLM. So, for instance, they use variations of it whenever there is a gun massacre. First we are told it is “too soon” to talk about gun violence. Any talk of doing something about gun violence is treated as a gauche intrusion of politics in the Hushed Sanctuary. Then they immediately start shouting “We need more guns!” The same thing happened with Limbaugh. Those victims who recalled his many cruelties and lies were told to shut up by the RWLM while the people he taught to savor cruelty looked back fondly in their “retrospectives” and “tributes” on the many times he taught them to savor cruelty. How transgressive he was! How daring! He really made the lib snowflakes cry with those Homeless Updates! And remember when he called 12 year old Chelsea Clinton a dog! How edgy! And that mockery of Michael J. Fox’ Parkinsons disease? That was when we really learned how to make Hollywood liberals squirm! They called us “deplorables” and we laughed and laughed at their lib sensitivity!
And while the MAGA cult of sadistic cruelty looks back with fondness on the man who taught them to be cruel and from whom a straight line can be traced from this…
…to this mockery of a disabled reporter (“You gotta see this guy”):
…the MAGA cult (who enshrined their imitative cruelty in their very name for themselves–Dittoheads) end by blinding only themselves to the sin they have chosen. They became liars who lied about their love for punching down, even when the disabled community cried out in pain at the mockery. Instead of apologizing to those they hurt, they denied it ever happened by lying that Trump does this to everybody, so the disabled should shut up and take one for the team.
All this has deep roots in Limbaugh’s long career or dripping contempt for the very word “compassion”. I cannot recall a single time I ever heard him say the word without sneering sarcasm and loathing. So, for instance, when 200 women were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014, a hashtag campaign began to try to raise awareness and put pressure on Nigeria to save them. It was well-intended and did nobody any harm. Indeed, it eventually resulted in their rescue. But Limbaugh, out of pure culture war spite and his customary racism, mocked it.
And that is pretty much his legacy to the world. He, probably more than any figure till Donald Trump himself, was the driving engine in purifying conservatism from a movement that used to at least attempt virtue in the form of conserving the good both in creation and in human affairs and turning it into a shamelessly spiteful, proud, gloating, cruel and vice-signaling cult of malignancy that gloried in hurting those weaker and poorer than themselves.
And for a far longer time than I should have back in the 90s, I fell for all this and thought it edgy and transgressive and funny. That’s why I have to forgive him and ask for forgiveness myself. I was never one of his victims. I was something worse: one of his accomplices. There is, after all, no sin in being a victim. Some of the greatest people who ever lived, including Jesus Christ himself, have been victims. But there is hell itself in being a victimizer and I helped do that.
That is why Jesus warns Christians, not against persecution, but against seduction; not against suffering for the Faith, but against betraying it. I betrayed Him in buying Limbaugh’s swill, so I am bound to forgive Limbaugh since I am guilty too. And I have to do what I can to try to make it up to Limbaugh’s victims–and mine–in obedience to Christ who suffered in those victims, victims who still suffer today at the hands of a perverted antichrist MAGA religion parading around as Christianity, making war on Holy Faith, and causing God’s Name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.
May God have mercy on the soul of Rush Limbaugh, and on mine, and may he help me make reparation for my many sins through Christ our Lord.