Book excerpt: We need to talk

Note: This is the first excerpt from my book in progress, which will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and discuss an appropriate Christian response.

Sometimes I want to stick my fingers in my ears and yell “SHUT UP!” over and over at the top of my lungs until the madness stops.

One cannot turn on the news, sign in to a social media account or go out in public without getting a daily dose of the name-calling, accusations, counter-accusations, demonizing of opponents and overall nastiness that characterize our society’s Culture Wars:

You know who’s causing all the problems in this country, don’t you? … It’s those racist, misogynistic Rethuglican deplorables who want to impose their narrow version of morality on the rest of us. …  Those whining Libtard crybabies and snowflakes who want safe spaces and free stuff. … Those naïve socialists who would destroy businesses and bankrupt the government with their outrageous demands. … Those greedy capitalists who stuff their pockets while robbing honest hard-working people of their retirement funds. … Those lazy welfare recipients with their infuriating sense of entitlement. … Those wealthy elites who have too much already and want more, more, more. … Those incompetent teachers who staff our lousy public schools. … Those illegal immigrants stealing our jobs. … Those SUV drivers contributing to global warming. … Those environmental wackos who want us to give up eating hamburgers. … Those obese gluttons who gorge on junk food and drive up health care costs. … Those fat-shamers who encourage eating disorders with their unattainable standards of attractiveness. … Those feminazis destroying the family. … Those cisgender, heterosexual white men who refuse to acknowledge their privilege. … Those people who own guns. … Those people who want to take away our guns. … Those fundamentalist Christians, those radical Muslims, those godless atheists, those New-Age navel gazers … Those self-centered Boomers running up the national debt with no regard for how their decisions will affect future generations. … Those teenagers who watch too much TV, play too many video games, listen to music with depraved lyrics, do drugs, drop out of school, get pregnant and join gangs. … Of course, none of this would be happening if it weren’t for those helicopter parents who fail to teach their hopelessly coddled trophy kids personal responsibility!!!

Whew! Have we left anyone out?

Here in the U.S., one could see news commentators practically salivating as they proclaimed the 2016 demolition derby of a presidential election to be the ugliest mudfest in history. The venom shows no signs of abating as we gear up for a 2020 campaign season that began with an impeachment trial. 

Even before 2016, we had come to regard name-calling and character assassination as normal for election campaigns. On the cable news networks, political pundits and other guests routinely talk over each other and shout each other down while debating the latest hot-button issues. “Flaming” and “trolling” have become popular sports in the anonymous comments sections that follow some news articles and blog posts. 

We have Climate Wars — those who believe climate change is caused by human behavior versus those who believe the former are perpetrating an elaborate hoax. We have Health Care Wars — those who wish to preserve the private insurance system versus those who want government-funded Medicare for All. We have Class Wars — the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. We have Education Wars — ferocious debates over issues such as high stakes testing, merit pay for teachers and private-school vouchers. We have Mommy Wars — mothers scrutinizing and judging other mothers’ decisions on everything from working outside the home to letting one’s toddler use a pacifier. 

This seething anger has seeped into the public square and manifests itself as an epidemic of rudeness. Many people I encounter in my everyday life seem more cranky and defensive than they used to be, and some seem to be spoiling for a fight. A car with a middle-aged driver sports a bumper sticker that tells us what we can eat if we don’t like the owner’s driving. We have Road Rage (shouting, cursing and flinging obscene gestures at other drivers), Airport Rage (yelling at ticket agents and flight attendants), Sidewalk Rage (reacting violently because people in front of us are walking too slowly), Parking Lot Rage (engaging in an angry standoff with another driver over a parking space) and Starbucks Rage (working oneself into a ballistic frenzy over the color and design of a coffee cup).

Sadly, those of us who identify as Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to polarization. We often stand justifiably accused of stirring the pot ourselves — and not in a good way. Progressive and conservative Christians regularly skewer each other on Web sites such as Patheos. And we have our Worship Wars (which transcend denominational boundaries) — Christians locked in an unyielding struggle over whether a congregation’s music and worship style should be traditional or contemporary. 

As I’ve paid closer attention to the steady drumbeat of vitriol that makes up the background noise of our daily lives, I find myself thinking, “No wonder we’ve become a nation of people with clenched teeth and balled up fists.”

It would be bad enough if the tide of anger and disrespect — both in our churches and our larger society — served only to put people in a surly, antisocial mood. Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t end there. Our finger-pointing epidemic leads to everything from Congressional gridlock to violence against individuals who belong to maligned groups. While we bicker incessantly, our real problems go unaddressed — raging war in various global hotspots creates millions of refugees; thousands of children worldwide die each day of starvation and/or totally preventable diseases; nearly a third of all children in the U.S. live in poverty. 

On a personal level, the constant conflict leaves me wanting to grab a good book and a flashlight and dive under the bed with my cat. Apparently, I’m not alone. Hidden Tribes (link HERE), a report on public opinion by the organization More in Common, says as many as 67 percent of Americans belong to a group the authors have dubbed “the Exhausted Majority.” Although members of this group have many political and ideological differences, they share fatigue with the current state of U.S. politics and a feeling of being forgotten in political debates. The relentless back-and-forth arguments have rendered many folks just plain fed up and wondering if the U.S. can move beyond division, according to the report.

Matthew 5:13-16 urges Christians to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” I suspect this precludes my hiding under the bed with my little yellow cat until the world stops fighting. But I suspect it also means I must aim to avoid being part of the problem. Because the vitriol on all sides is so widespread and so relentless and so damaging, we must look for ways to create more light and less heat. As Christians, I believe we should do no less.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? Your family and friends? Our larger community? Our churches? Which problems do you see going unaddressed while we rip each other apart? What do you think is behind all the divisiveness and how do we turn down the heat? How do Christians avoid becoming part of the problem? 

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

14 thoughts on “Book excerpt: We need to talk

  1. I love what you have written and appreciate that you are coming out from under the bushel basket to raise these questions. I try to seek God for direction daily. It is much too much chaos for me otherwise. In my experience feeding the fear only makes it grow. For me following the news feeds the fear, so I do it to a bare minimum. I think it is easy to underestimate the value of simply moving as a Christian in public spaces, being kind, curious, courteous and forgiving. That means going to the grocery store, the bank, the library, the gas station and remembering that we actually do carry Christ within.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great questions. How has it affected my family? We have cut off TV service and are backing off social media. I think a big common factor is that as a society we have forgotten how to love and be kind.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Disengagement and focusing on commercial interests and entertainment is rewarded in cultures prone to or in the grip of autocracy. It causes grief and anguish to “know” in either sense of the word. To be curious enough to find out what is actually happening to the family down the street that disappeared in the ICE raid, or to even acknowledge that reality to yourself and flip to the big game.

    What’s chilling about what you’re writing is I’ve seen it written time and time again by contemporary writers concerned about the rising exhaustion and at the same time, cruelty, emerging in their worlds. How people survive by focusing on their careers or not making waves. Dismissing everyone else as going crazy and not bringing up difficult topics to maintain civility.

    This isn’t the first time it’s gotten bad in the United States, in whole or in part. It’s certainly not only found in the various infamous totalitarian examples. But it’s shockingly common in lesser known autocratic slips in Eastern Europe, Argentina, Ba’athist regimes in Iraq and Syria, etc.

    “Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it.” – From “States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering” and its chapter on “Bystander States” quoting Havel.

    Unfortunately the social forces that lead to autocracy were already there for an autocrat to exploit. It’s important to encourage good Christian values like humility, kindness, and altruism during these times. But simply being a good Christian who stays out of trouble just means not standing up for those who need it today. Leaving no one to speak up for you when they come for the rest of us tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I need to make myself clearer here. While I’m tempted to disengage, I know that’s not the answer. I agree that it’s necessary to stand up for those who need it. But to me, if I engage in name-calling and insults myself, I’m becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution.

      Like

      • I think we have to be careful when it comes to enforcing civility rules. Oppressors have used civility to tar the opposition for raising any kind of fuss and dismiss them as outside agitators or disruptive. In your own list of potential insults, you include both hyperbolic and sometimes accurate descriptions.

        A common theme in autocratic systems is making it unacceptable to insult or criticize the autocrat and his loyalists in public. In our own time people advocating fascist and racist ideas are dismissing anyone pointing it out as “name calling.”

        Even in less extreme cases right now, a local school board meeting where racial disparities in education outcomes are being discussed, there is a palpable fear and discomfort of anyone even suggesting that white supremacy is still a factor, even when citing statistical evidence and explaining specifically how a particular system continues to amplify the problem.

        We live in a country where most of our white supremacist history is not taught in schools until the college level, and even then it is heavily white washed to and missing vast relevant material to the North, our role in promoting racial hygiene laws around the world, violent pogroms that displaced entire neighborhoods from cities through violent campaigns supported by the government, etc.

        It’s not that civility is the problem. I agree it should be encourage. I think we undermine that goal, however, when we help oppressors turn civility into another weapon.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good questions, Debi. I also tend to retreat through reading fiction and doing needlework so I am not listening to the media all the time. The anger is building and I see and hear it in so many area that are not even politically related. The anger is in families and relationships as well. I will be watching to see if someone has some good thoughts about where it is coming from and how we get control of this beast that is growing. Thanks for bringing this to the front.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can identify with you wanting to read a good book with your cat.
    Pets are above all the nonsense we see.
    We must retain some sense of humour about it all.
    I remember two ladies having a heated discussion before Church began one Epiphany Sunday.They were fighting about whether the shepherds and sheep should stay in our manger scene, or be removed, because the wise men had arrived !
    Sometimes it is good to withdraw from certain aspects of media. I don’t watch T.V. but I read selective interesting blogs on WordPress.
    Thanks for sharing. 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s