Two articles appeared this past Friday well worth of reflecting upon on a Sunday morning. The first is from Victor Davis Hanson in which he wonders if we are on the verge of civil war. The other is from Jonathon Tobin is which he wonders if Democrat behavior concerning the Kavanaugh nomination justifies much that is Trumpian. The politics of these pieces are most interesting, but I am far more concerned about what they say about the American soul.
It is worthy of note that the Israel into which Jesus was born was a devoted and deeply religious state. Yes, it was under Roman occupation and oppression, but they were still allowed to robustly practice their Jewish faith. They were still plainly God’s chosen people. But something was amiss. Jesus saved His wrath not for Roman officialdom, but for the Jewish officialdom. Christ’s condemnations were aimed at the Jewish hierarchy of the day, not the Roman one. Something was amiss in Israel; outwardly faithful, their soul was sick.
Consider first the Hanson piece. Hanson looks at the bitter, political divides in the country right now and wonders about their origin. He cites numerous factors, but one in particular caught my eye:
The internet and social media often descend into an electronic lynch mob. In a nanosecond, an insignificant local news story goes viral. Immediately, hundreds of millions of people use it to drum up the evils or virtues of either progressivism or conservatism.
As I read that a word popped into my head – gossip. During the entire affaire d’Kavanaugh, I have been struck by how much it resembled the politics of my high school class elections. At this juncture it is even about things that happened in high school, but that is not really what has struck me. It’s been the “Judy said that Bobby said, that Shirley hinted that Fred felt…” stuff that was always whispered through the halls in high school and now echoes through the corridors of power in DC. It’s just childish gossip. And the media passes it along as if it were sacred writ.
And then I recalled just how many verses there are in the Bible cautioning us against gossip. Consider just one example:
Proverbs 10:18, 19 – He who conceals hatred has lying lips, And he who spreads slander is a fool. When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.
I wonder if social media, the thing that is supposed to make us the most informed people in history, has not instead made us fools?
But let’s turn our attention to the Tobin piece. Tobin analyzes the politics of the Kavanaugh fight and wonders if the conclusion is that the ends justifies the means:
Most mainstream Republicans were looking for a qualified conservative. Trump voters wanted someone who would fight the Democrats without regard for fair play or the whole truth. They wanted someone who would be as ruthless and as unapologetic in slandering opponents as they conceived Democrats to have been during the Obama administration. And in Trump that was exactly what they got.
But after the last two weeks, it’s likely that the number of those in the latter camp has declined precipitously.
Members of the Senate may take Feinstein’s skullduggery as just revenge for Garland’s treatment. But many ordinary Republicans will likely interpret the willingness of their political and media foes to take apart the reputation of a respected establishment figure as an indication that any remaining restraints on political combat must now be ignored. If that happens, what the Democrats are doing to Kavanaugh could be a seminal moment in our political history in which Trump-style politics become the rule, rather than an exception.
It can be debated whether Trump is quite as underhanded as Tobin describes him, but let’s take this at face value for the moment. There is little question that Trump does represent a coarsening of political debate, if not the “underhandedness” that Tobin seems to think he does. The essential question is this, “Are we, by adopting similar tactics becoming that which we oppose?”
Are we becoming fools? Are we taking on the underhanded tactics of our opposition? If you answer those questions “Yes,” then I think it is fair to say we are coming to resemble the Israel into which Christ was born. A nation of outward devotion, but that is sick in its soul. The scandals currently plaguing the Roman Catholic Church would be another indication of that. I think the Catholic example also gives us a way out.
I am an outsider, looking in, but when I look at the Catholic scandal what I see is a church far more concerned with appearance than reality – a church that wants to be viewed as a “winner” in some fashion. Hence they cover up that which should be purged – for the sake of appearance. I think this underlies many of the troubles that have beset Evangelicalism as well. In an effort to appear successful they have linked politics too closely with faith. Thus political victory becomes a sign of faithfulness and so we chase political victory without concern for the other things that in the end matter more.
Trying times take the measure of our souls. This was the thesis of the tribute I wrote (in another venue) concerning my mother when she passed away a couple of weeks ago. We are not being judged purely on our political victories.
The bottom line is this, it is possible to participate in social media and keep our souls intact. Likewise, it is possible to support Trump politically without compromising our souls. But those statements are only true if our souls are in good shape to begin with and we work diligently to preserve them. I weep when I think about how little most churches do today along those lines.
I am not a fatalist. The country can recover its soul just has so many of us have recovered our souls on a personal level. But this will take a diligent effort. An effort to decouple political success from spiritual success. An effort to place our souls ahead of political victory. An effort to deal with our issues openly and honestly and not worry so much about how it appears.
The church has its mission. Will we do it?