The following Religious Insights column was submitted by our minister, Rev. Jim McConnell, to the Herald Palladium. It appeared in the HP’s October 10th edition…
“A few days ago, I was chatting with a friend on the phone. We were talking about politics in America. My friend asked the question, “How can people be so stupid?” referring to a political party with which he is in strong disagreement. After some considerable thought, my answer to my friend’s question is: “I really have not noticed any significant difference in intelligence between our two main political parties.” One thing I have noticed is that acrimony, hate, and angry rhetoric are gumming up the political works in our country.
There is an old Peanuts comic strip that goes something like this: Lucy is sitting in her little cardboard booth by the sidewalk. The sign on the booth reads, “The Psychiatrist is In.” Charlie Brown is standing expectantly on the sidewalk waiting for Lucy to dispense her wisdom. She says, “It is my opinion, Charlie Brown, that the problem is you.” I do not know if her advice is right for Charlie Brown but I believe it is right for many of us in this political season, especially if we are tempted to say untrue things such as: “The socialist Democrats want to destroy democracy.” or “The racist Republicans don’t care about the poor.” The problem is not the Democrats or the Republicans. The problem is you (and me).
The enduring legacy of the great 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant is that he showed us that we do not see reality directly but through a cultural lens that we have constructed ourselves. Think St. Paul and his notion of “seeing through a glass darkly.” If Kant and St. Paul are right, the world we experience is a construction of our minds. A construction for which we are ultimately responsible. If you are seeing someone as stupid, it is probably because you need to see them as stupid to keep your worldview and yourself propped up. There is a theological word for the uncritical use of our worldviews to prop ourselves up by diminishing others. The word is idolatry.
Idolatry, the theme of the first of the Ten Commandments, is the worship of human-made things. Our worldviews are human made things. When we uncritically use worldview to judge and diminish others, we spiritually weaken ourselves. The even bigger problem is that when we practice idolatry of worldview, we do not leave any room in ourselves for the action of The Creative Spirit. It seems to me that with the Russians sowing discontent, the Covid-19 pandemic raging, Democrats and Republicans at each other’s throats, refugeeism at an all-time high, a million Uighurs in Chinese reeducation camps, rioting in many of the World’s major cities, kids in cages on our southern border, North Korea rushing to construct nuclear warheads, California burning, Florida becoming a super highway for hurricanes, and the Iranians doing who-knows-what, that we need to start leaving some room in ourselves for The Spirit.
We leave room for Spirit when we put aside our acrimony, judgment, and hate, and take responsibility for ourselves, especially our human- made constructs that make up our cultural lenses through which we perceive the world.
As you can see, if Kant and Paul are right, and the only access we have to reality is through a glass darkly, we are in a real bind. A bind that deserves compassion both for ourselves and others. It is my proposal then that when we are tempted to bash our political opponents, we substitute compassion for contempt, love for hate, kind words for cruel rhetoric, and encouragement in lieu of hard heartedness.
Besides, I suspect that we need both political parties to keep the ship of state afloat, the conservatives anchoring us in traditional values and the liberals as sails catching the winds of change to bring about positive social change.
The Dali Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
Marin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Those three guys were definitely not stupid.”