By David E. Roy
Increasingly these days, I find myself laughing, screaming and crying in response to innumerable political and social events, from local to global. These responses spring up out of frustration, incredulity and disappointment. For the time being, at least, they have replaced any practice of eating, praying and loving.
My laughter is sometimes mirthful and bemused: “Don’t they see how foolish and immature this makes them look?!” At other times, it expresses the powerlessness I feel, a low-key, “Ha, there they go again (idiots I can’t stop).”
I mostly scream silently, like Edvard Munch’s famous painting (except while I’m driving—alone).
To date, my crying has been more metaphorical than literal. Inside, I fell a dull, sad aching, but there have been no visible tears.
When I reach the fullness of all of this, I often need a brief break. But if I don’t keep a close watch on myself, the break won’t be brief. What I’ve realized is that this desire for an extended diversion comes from wanting to avoid experiencing the intense pressures being unleashed as our nation’s social-moral structure breaks apart.
As irrational as it sounds, I feel responsible to make sure it gets put back together, vastly improved of course. I suspect I am far from alone with this perspective. Of course, I cannot do this alone, nor is it likely that things will end up in ways that will come close to embodying my expectations. If we are at the start of this, or early in the full cycle, many of us will not see the more complete outcome, including myself.
Context: Our Old Values Helped Bind Us Together
First, a bit of context: In what used to be understood as the Judeo-Christian perspective, certain values were prevalent. Of course, many people failed to live up to those values, but they tended to know they were failing. Perhaps some even rationalized and came to accept their actions that defied a core value as a requirement for living in the “real world.” But at least there was agreement that these values were good, and for most, if you violated them, you knew what you had done was contrary to accepted norms. In this way, these values helped to bind us together. (This was far from perfect or complete.)
I don’t think that is anywhere near the case today. Despite the fact that upward of 80% of U.S. citizens are self-proclaimed Christians, the actions of so many, particularly of our visible leaders, do not embody Christian values.
Ugly Political Speakers
The media during our last general election and the recent government shutdown were awash in some of the most insensitive, selfish, even cruel statements by elected leaders, candidates for local and national offices, and media commentators.
There are so many examples of this that I could fill a Sunday LA Times and still have to make cuts. Some of the nominees for the title of Most Despicable Me would have to include nearly all the on-camera staff at Fox Broadcasting. (News it is not.)
Nominees depend on the events of the week, day or hour, of course, but Tea Party representatives are a constant nomination, and today they are being led by someone revealing an increasing amount of uncaring views about nearly everyone except himself, Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas): Kill the healthcare law or I’ll make the government shutdown. What’s Obama doing shutting down the veterans’ memorial?
No doubt you have your own list. Others on my list include the venerable Karl Rove, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and the irresponsible banking and financial institutions, in conjunction with the 1% of the 1% who control trillions of dollars and seem immune from any accountability.
One pair that has been increasingly exposed are the sneaky, devious Koch brothers. Among things, they are funding “think” tanks that crank out templates of laws that keep them rich and protected from the 99%. Once created, these templates are carried to states and have been adopted any number of times.
The King of Vile Radio
The pioneer of all of this meanness and divisiveness has been around for nearly 30 years, Rush Limbaugh. He has practiced and refined his skills in the use of verbal brass knuckles. All one has to do is to listen to a second or two of his tone of voice; it reverberates disgust and disdain, and it is perfectly designed to evoke shame, probably our most volatile emotion.
His voice becomes the carrier wave for some of the crudest and most vile slams on anyone with whom he disagrees or feels he can make look idiotic. As I outlined previously, his show has helped lead our nation to extraordinary polarization and that turn is exceptionally dangerous. He helps to make the idea of cooperation and compromise off limits and this means that tension can only increase to the point of exploding because no other resolution is possible as long as people in power fear him. He, along with most of the others, do not function in any way that reflects old-fashioned Christianity.
Christian Values: The Beatitudes
So, what do I mean by Christian values? In the past, most practicing Christians would point to the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes as expressing their faith’s values. Obviously, one does not have to be a Christian to act according to those values, but if one is a Christian, these would have been the ultimate guidelines.
The relevant verses are in the books of Matthew (5:3–46) and Luke (6:20–46) and Luke.
Starting with Matthew, I think that the values expressed in this section can be summed up as saying that God’s greatest concern lies with those with the least: the least resources, the least power. As this is God’s greatest concern, so should it be ours.
Nowhere in any text in Matthew or Luke, or anywhere else in the New Testament, does it say to look down on these people, nor to mock them, make fun of them, shame them, attack them verbally and physically. It certainly doesn’t say ignore them, let them starve, keep them uneducated.
Hard to Imagine Verbalizing the Harsh Words
I find it the hardest to imagine how some of these politicians and other leaders can even give a voice to some of the statements they make. If they are simply saying these things to hoe the party line but don’t really mean what they are saying or how they are saying it, then they are being false to themselves while lying to the rest of us. This has to do permanent damage after a time because truth-telling is one of the cornerstones of our interior and of our social lives together.
If they mean what they are saying, truly, deeply, thoughtfully, then in some ways that is even more frightening and even more difficult to comprehend. It is the extreme expression that no one is real as I am, no one is important enough to consider as a precious human being except me and what I identify with (my profession, my possessions, all that makes me look good, look important).
Jesus Was a Full-On Radical Progressive
By way of contrast, Christianity, as I have come to understand it, is a radical religion. Jesus’ message was radical and was the same in spirit as any 21st century political and social progressive. (This was what got him crucified, by the way.)
As most progressives recognize, or come to learn, we are in constant struggle with the all-powerful status quo when it is as egregiously out of balance as it has become. The sheer size of the human population has pushed some issues to start accelerating far too rapidly for us to be able to assess whether we are going to catch up.
If we were to make some real changes, what would they be and how would they be best accomplished?
As a therapist and a human being (yes, one can be both), I know the best change process is the one where we clear up and clear out whatever is interfering with recognizing, understanding and making that change. This can make for a slow, hesitant process, but once the person takes ownership and is motivated, the changes will continue and perhaps generalize to other areas.
On the national and world stage, is there really enough time for this? Can we even reach some of the people who have the ultimate control over the money? Of course, the more that is learned about how people can be motivated to change, the better chance we have.
And that would be, now, the next step.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 5475 N. Fresno St., Suite 109, Fresno, CA 93711.