The level of hatred and contempt being shown on social media and in the marketplace as public discourse is increasing both in volume and intensity. Occasionally people share some of the offensive tweets they receive, full and ripe to bursting with hatred, redolent with foul language, threats of violence and vituperation spilling out onto the page, poisoning all it comes into contact with; and it is horrifying!
I find myself reflecting as a Christian that I believe there is a fundamental expectation placed on all of us by Jesus about our behavior and orientation towards the ‘other’ which is one of loving our enemies. In communities and in advocacy groups where they teach Christian non-violent activism and in the tradition of Martin Luther King, the basic philosophy is to practice the refusal to carry out any violence in thoughts, words, behaviours or actions.
When you stop and think about it, it is an extraordinary expectation placed on each of us which we break each and every day. It also means in spite of what I might wish, God has not chosen my side rather than your side; God is not on the side of this or that country, this or that tribe, family, kin group, race or community. You and I don’t own God and allocate God to a specific nationality, gender or race or creed. God has not been domesticated and reinvented in our own image.
God at the moment, is not an angry white male fearful for his future.
Each of us is created human in God’s image, with the same DNA, same physical structures, emotional, spiritual lives and loves. We each share the same hopes and fears and desires as we live out our lives in God’s exquisite creation. God loves every single person who loves the ‘other’ as much as Jesus loved us; and I am remembering Jesus loved us so much he died for love of us, rather than give into the hatred, contempt, vilification, politics and power of the time in which he lived. His life of forgiveness and reconciliation offers a pathway for all of us.
The psalms and the gospels remind us over and over again: God existed before creation was brought into being, God knew each of us, every single person individually before we were born, before we were ‘knit in our mother’s womb’ and knows every hair on our head and the length of our days. We cannot hide from God however far we run or however loud we talk. We are unable to drown out God’s presence with busyness or noise. God was, is and will be forever. We are reminded then, that whenever someone’s life is cut short, is reduced and diminished by other human beings and their actions, they are being made to live and die a life that falls short of what God desires for each of us. Each person is sacred. Each person matters. Consequently, you and I are diminished by the hatred, fear and violence handed out in the name of power and fear, God, nationhood, security, economy or society.
So the idea that somehow despising a particular group, showing them disrespect, indignity, hatred and discrimination is now acceptable in our society whether or not we believe in God, is absolutely wrong! I might fiercely disagree with someone and find it enormously hard to find anything upon which I can agree or like about them, but that does not give me any permission or latitude to do anything other than love the ‘other’, whoever that person might be in my life, near or far, whether I know them or not.
Like Jesus I feel enormous anger at what is being done in my name as a Christian woman, a priest, a citizen, a voter, a mother, wife and friend. I wish to overturn the tables in the temple and challenge the use of unjust rules to punish the innocent and make the weak and vulnerable fearful to death, both mentally and physically. This is all being done in the name of my country which claims a Judaeo-Christian heritage, God and values, but this is not the God I believe in or stand in witness for and in solidarity alongside other brothers and sisters. Instead, I see Jesus being crucified again and again in our marketplaces today as people are triumphant and cruelly vindictive in their victories and losses.
We are struggling enormously at the moment with those who do not behave or take into account social behaviours that we thought we could take for granted. We’re left gasping for breath at the rudeness and lack of social manners and courtesy when people shout, talk over someone else, curse and swear, threaten violence, torture and death, real or imagined against a different gender, race or religion, when they lie, cheat and generate falsities and dreadful idols. Our use of economics to enact violence on those who are trafficked for slavery and profit, or where, in the name of security we kill citizens of other nations, punishing them for simply existing or disagreeing with us, is profoundly wrong.
Our expectations of only hearing non-violent words in conversation are found to be simply unrealistic. Our leaders are not maintaining standards we thought we could rely on; and neighbours are giving into the temptation to behave equally badly when they see such dreadful examples around them. The rise in fear and the temptation to retaliate out of fear and hate is increasing and the loss of trust is palpable.
Trust, respect and love are the only antidotes to such behavior. Its very hard to do so consistently and honestly; and interestingly, it is very unwelcome, and now almost unbelievably counter-cultural to be polite, while verbal and physical violence provides people with little room to breathe and settle down and draw back and start again.
Hannah Arendt, a Jewish philosopher wrote ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ about the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Arrendt (1992:150) who followed the trial, wrote afterwards:
Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbours go off to their doom, and not to become accomplices in all these crimes by benefiting from them.
And then she concludes, with some irony I think,
But God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.
Arundhati Roy also commented with terrifying clarity:
The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable. Roy, A. 2002:172
We face the same test in our time. This is the challenge of our times, to resist the slide into a very dark place, instead we need to find ways to work humanely, to deal justly, to walk humbly and to love gently with God and to point always to a different way of being and doing.
I applaud all of you who are picking up the language and experience of resistance and non-violence and in solidarity, I witness to this story as blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.