Yesterday, the Supreme Court was very good to Christians. It is very hard to tell if you peruse the mainstream news sources, but it was a great day. Read about it here and here. We should be celebrating! So why is it my inbox has come upon two very nasty anti-Catholic musings in the last 24 hours? Perhaps it is just coincidence, but it does seem to be the way of our faith; the greater success we enjoy the more infighting we engage in. It’s ugly – it’s very, very ugly and it is not good for our public witness or our political action. I do not find it purely coincidental that the very serious setbacks faith suffered during the Obama years coincided with Mitt Romney’s two runs for office. Actually I find it a source of some shame.
A couple of weeks ago, Jonathon Tobin wrote a piece on the politics of Kamala Harris and what they bode for the future of the nation. Being a Californian, I’ve had to pay attention to Ms. Harris for quite some time, and I concur with Tobin – it is not a pretty picture. And yet it is a very similar picture to the one we paint when we start pointing fingers around religious circles.
There is a base for Ms. Harris’ brand of political nasty just as there is a market for anti-Catholic nonsense (or at least strong Catholic suspicion – just ask Dan Brown). The political ghettoization of Evangelicalism that has resulted from the great Romney religious debates has left the Catholic church as the only effective religious force standing in the nation. (The Mormons could also be standing with them but seem to be in a minor retreat after the blow back from their efforts in California on Prop 8.) Envy is understandable. But said envy works against our goal of a better nation. Why then is our impulse to tear down and oppose rather than concur and perhaps join?
Sometimes I think it starts in school the first time your class encounters a teacher that grades on a curve and you are old enough to figure out what that really means. There is always that one student that does really well, raising the curve and thus lowering everybody else’s grade, or at least so it seems. Most good teachers I know, if the student is truly exceptional, will not include his/her score in the curve calculations, calling them an outlier – but somehow that message never gets through to the class. Pretty soon the class, rather than admiring the student begins to ostracize the exceptional. It seems like it is easier to tear down the really good than it is to become really good yourself.
When we get into the working world, we seem to see things a little differently. Every organization has those few individuals that actually get things done and all the others that just look to those people. Typically nobody notices this arrangement; it only becomes apparent when something goes wrong or somebody needs something out of the ordinary. When it does become apparent, everybody rushes to the can-do person, but as soon as the crisis is averted everyone is happy to talk about the part they played and take their share of the credit. And God forbid the can-do person get any special acknowledgement – this was a “team effort.”
This phenomena is actually unremarkable if you think about the fact that we now raise children in a fashion that teaches them they are wonderful in every way. When they come across the harsh reality that some people are better at some endeavors than them, things are going to happen. I found it serendipitous that this morning Glenn Reynolds wrote, “SO DON’T LISTEN TO THEM. BY DEFINITION, THEY’RE NOT EDUCATED YET. College panel: Free speech on campus under siege from students.” How dare we not listen to our students that are so wonderful in every conceivable way? Even if you remove all the emotional complications, the cognitive dissonance alone is going to create some upset. But the problems are actually much deeper than that, and truly disturbing in Christian circles.
This is a reflection of deep character flaws – envy, a lack of ambition (provided one agrees that effort is a part of ambition as opposed to defining ambition purely as desire), a sense of entitlement, imprudence and immense pride. There seems no virtue in this mess anywhere. Such a lack of virtue, particularly when it is evident in inter-church rivalry, indicates to this observer that the church is failing not just at its political and public activity, but at its core mission – personal formation. Moreover, is not our political and public activity dependent on us getting personal formation right? If we are not virtuous, dare we ask for virtue from others?
Our efforts to fix the nation and the world begin with fixing ourselves. I think this might be a good place to start.