The Ridiculous Woman: A Public Intellectual Parallels Dostoevsky’s “Ridiculous Man’s” Ability to Love

Capacities to Act and to Love

Recently, Marina Nemat gave participants at Acton University an account of her experiences as a political prisoner in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. After an idyllic upbringing in a generally free society, everything changed when Nemat was arrested by Islamists at age sixteen. These perpetrators captured, interrogated, and tortured her relentlessly – almost to the point of death. When men beat the soles of her feet with cables, she wanted to die and says that she would have sold her soul to the devil in order to escape the pain. This thought perpetuated her agony because she was a Catholic who sensed in this moment that she was not fit to be a martyr. Arguing firmly that the purpose of torture is not to gain information nor punish, she insists the true purpose of torture is the destruction of the soul.  Eventually, Nemat was forced to “marry” one of her torturers. She went to his mother’s house and was warmly welcomed by his mother who showed her great hospitality.  Nemat wondered to herself: how can this woman be the mother of a torturer? Soon, this mother told her that her son had been the victim of even more severe torture. This marked a turning point at which Nemat says, “I realized then that he had been tortured – just like me. And I didn’t like that part because it made me recognize that he was a human being.” Briefly she considered revenge, perplexed by the possibility that someone can be the torturer today and the tortured tomorrow. But ultimately she conquered both this appetite for revenge and her desire to be placed in solitary confinement. Instead, Nemat chose to discover how to reaffirm her dignity in spite of the circumstances that made this seem impossible.
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Dying with Dignity?

Below is an excerpt from my parents’ Letter from the Editors in the May 2012 issue of The Carillon, the newsletter of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary:

Last month our daughter, Amanda, attended the Dying with Dignity seminar in Calgary. She wanted to, as St. Augustine urges, “hear the other side” of the euthanasia debate. Amanda said that she felt she was observing a contradiction. The seniors were visiting, laughing, discussing and snacking and everything they did seemed to affirm life. Yet, all the while, they were trying to advance the “right to die.” Proponents of euthanasia and assisted suicide seem to think that suffering is the greatest evil. Amanda has been reflecting on Socrates’ argument that it is better to suffer evil than to commit it. As Catholics, we unite our suffering with Christ’s sacrifice so that it can be transformed by God’s redemptive power. We agree with Amanda when she says that we ought to ground our public policies in a life-affirming philosophy rather than case-by-case verdicts on questions of convenience. She says that the answer to elder abuse is to eliminate the abuse, not the elder. It is the sanctity of human life, not our utility, that gives ultimate purpose to our lives. Let us recognize the face of Christ in the elderly and celebrate God’s gifts as they enrich our lives and we enrich theirs.

– Monique and Myron Achtman