Man and sin are, as it were, two distinct things. What savors of man, God made; what savors of the sinner, man made himself. Destroy what man has made so that God may save what He has made.
The above quote recurs in my mind as I consider several stories, from The Revenant to Werewolf Cop to Akame ga Kiru to, most recently, Cat’s Eye. Cat’s Eye happens to be a rather random choice of an anime for Crunchyroll to have added to their site. Before seeing it on that site, I had never heard of this 80’s anime. A visiting friend of mine picked it out for us to watch precisely for its 80’s-ness, and I found it good enough to continue watching afterwards. The animation portrays the proportions of the human body with that attention to detail rarely found outside of that decade, the songs have a pleasantly upbeat quality, and the episodes are plain fun. Our tale features three sisters who run a cafe by day and steal precious artwork by night, doing both activities under the name Cat’s Eye. They claim to steal in order to take back their father’s legacy and have no qualms about gleaning information from the middle sister’s, Hitomi’s, boyfriend, who works as the chief detective in charge of apprehending Cat’s Eye. They claim to have good reasons for resorting to theft, but this hardly excuses them, unless the anime explains more fully how they are under necessity and without a legal resource.
Why do people enjoy shows about thieves, like Cat’s Eye, Lupin III and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne, so much? Do we delight in theft and crime as such? Looking at Cat’s Eye, we see three sisters against the world who must use all their cunning, mechanical know-how, and athletic ability to take back what they consider their own. Few underdogs are so outmatched as those up against a nation’s law enforcement. Few endeavors take as much cunning and even athletic skill as crime. We admire the virtues and become absorbed in the struggles of the thieves, while the theft itself stands irrelevant compared to the struggles in obtaining the wanted object. In essence, we delight in the works of God, the talents and gifts of the thieves, but not in the work of man, theft.
Someone may now be wondering whether God does wrong in giving thieves talents, gifts, and virtues which he knows beforehand they shall use for crime. St. Thomas Aquinas remarks somewhere in his Summa Theologica that creation would be less perfect if God declined to give people perfections and gifts which may be misused. To prevent theft in a fallen world, God would need to deprive people of cleverness, prudence, resourcefulness, athleticism, strength, stealthiness, perceptiveness, patience, courage, prudence, estimation, quickness, speed, strength, and other things besides. Could you imagine living in such a dull world?
The important thing is to separate a man’s sins from the man himself. At the end of the day, however, only the man himself can turn away from his sins through the grace of God. We can easily lose patience with our fellows, especially the most sinful, and start wishing them ill. It is one thing if the perpetrator is like Hitomi: young, beautiful, amusing, and possibly on the side of the angels. What about praying for the salvation of the hardened in crime, ugly, dull fellow who perhaps conscientiously serves the devil? People can become so wicked as to obscure the fact that they were created in the image and likeness of God. Fyodor Dostoyevsky dubbed one of his most famous novels, predicting the evils of Communism, Demons. What more fitting name can one apply, for example, to the character who drags a wounded man back home into his cellar and then spends days listening to the sufferer’s pleas for help and groans of pain with pleasure? Until that person expires of his wounds? When we consider such a villain, we may be inclined to imitate a warrior-priest in Bernard Cornwell’s 1356: upon dispatching three longbowmen who were raping, pillaging, and torturing with glee, he thinks about saying a prayer for their souls; but, he changes his mind, thinking to himself, “I don’t want to share heaven with those animals!”
Still, we are called to forgive even the most evil men—not always in the sense of letting them off the hook, but always in ceasing to bear them any ill-will, which is cultivated by praying for them. (Punishment is a good for the guilty, hence why Christians voluntarily take up penance.) This is easier for those of us who have been very evil or have a keen sense of the depravity of our own sins and need for God’s mercy. After all, how can we justly wish ill to another soul when we ourselves can only escape damnation through the mercy of God? Still, it is hard, and the longer someone persists in grave sin, the more inclined we are do doubt the value of praying for their salvation. Yet, God created each and every human soul for Himself as a unique, unreplicable work. This work of God will be lost if a man continues in sin, but Christ died upon the Cross so that we would never despair of the salvation of anyone.