The Culture of Resentment: Building Hell in Heaven’s Despite

In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, there is a scene where Dagny Taggart, the story’s heroine, is attempting to learn what happened to the Twentieth Century Motor Company, whose long-abandoned factory contains a secret with the potential to revolutionize the world’s economy.  Once the leading automobile manufacturer in all of America, the Twentieth Century Motor Company went down in flames when the children of Jed Starnes who built the company up, took it over.  After several false restarts, the Twentieth Century Motor Company was finally shuttered for good while the Starnes heirs hid out and wasted their lives away in drunken dissipation in a small town out in the middle of nowhere.  Eric Starnes, the youngest of the Starnes heirs, had committed suicide four years earlier.  He had started running after a young woman who wanted nothing to do with him, and when she married the man she was engaged to, he broke into their house on their wedding day and killed himself in their bedroom.  The town’s police chief, in explaining this to Dagny, said:

Now I say there might be forgiveness for a man who kills himself quietly.  Who can pass judgment on another man’s suffering and on the limit of what he can bear?  But the man who kills himself, making a show of his death in order to hurt somebody, the man who gives his life for malice–there’s no forgiveness for him, no excuse, he’s rotten clear through, and what he deserves is that people spit at his memory, instead of feeling sorry for him and hurt, as he wanted them to be….

And that is where we are today.  Fox News and talk radio have made a living out of perpetuating a culture of resentment directed against an ever-widening circle of welfare queens, illegal aliens, and other such undesirables.  In the eyes of those who are steeped in this culture of resentment, any benefit directed toward the undesirables comes at their expense.  It is easy to imagine that like Eric Starnes, they would give their lives for malice to ensure that the undesirables have no joy or good in life.

This post from Slacktivist looks at the culture of resentment as a reaction to a heartwarming story about poor children in a community receiving needed school supplies.  Most people would respond properly to this bit of good news, but there are more than a few who would see it as cause for resentment (i. e. their hard-earned tax dollars are being taken from them and given to entitled poor people).

This angry resentment is periodically a major force in American politics. It is a destructive force — destructive of self and destructive of the whole (self-destructive people always have bad aim). The Resenters rejoice when others mourn and mourn when others rejoice, and their politics of resentment has the crabs-in-a-bucket effect of making things worse for everyone, themselves included — making sure that nothing ever improves, that no problem is ever solved. The politics of resentment can never be for anything. That which benefits others will provoke resentment, even if it benefits all, including the Resenters themselves. They will still manage to resent the benefit to others — mourning at their rejoicing — convincing themselves that they might have benefited more if those others hadn’t also been unjustly included in the common good.

…The Resenters have learned to be unhappy. They have been taught to respond unhappily to happiness, taught by a steady toxic diet of Fox News and resentment radio and the demagogues of the politics of resentment. Part of our job, then, must be to help them learn again how to be capable of happiness. We must teach them, remind them, show them how to again look at a smiling child with a new backpack and to take delight instead of taking offense.

Read:  The Resenters: Building Hell in Heaven’s despite by Slacktivist

Stop Saying “God Is In Control”

protestIf you’re looking for the reason (well, one of the biggest reasons) why evangelical Christianity is now on America’s shit list, here it is, in living color.

With the election of Donald Trump, the resulting dumpster fire in DC, and the ever-mounting unrest in our nation, anyone who expresses concern over these developments will, at some point, receive some version of “Take a chill pill.  God is in control.”

True enough–in an ultimate sense, I guess.  In the ultimate sense, God works all things for good.  There is not a thing in the world that he cannot and/or will not use to advance his redemptive purposes for humanity.

But those words, spoken into this particular context, at this particular time–well, here’s what that sounds like:

It sounds as if God meddles in election outcomes.  (Of course there are a few evangelical leaders running around out there who say that the outcome of this election was a God thing.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if evangelicals are now free from any and all culpability for a vote which they may now be regretting.  (Of course there are more than a few evangelicals who are not regretting this at all or who just don’t care.  But that’s beside the point here.)  It sounds as if we are excused from any responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ to people who feel shunned, devalued, and degraded as a result of this election outcome and who are now concerned and fearful of what the future holds for them.

Essentially it passes the buck to God for human injustice and human suffering.

This is unacceptable, people.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But he has called us to work with him in bringing his kingdom to pass, on earth as it is in heaven.  He has called us to be his hands and feet to a hurting world that is desperately in need of his healing touch.  When you say “God is in control” as a means to justify your inaction in these troubled times, you have essentially abdicated your calling and responsibility as an agent of God’s kingdom.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But God is not magical or forceful.  God works to bring his peace and his healing touch into this world through people who aspire to those qualities in themselves and who choose to exercise such power as they may possess right where they are standing.  Jesus is not beamed down from heaven–he is made real in our world through the actions and lives of those who believe that others for whom he died are worth sacrificing and caring for, that mercy is the greatest gift, and that love is revolutionary.

God is in control–in an ultimate sense.  But there is one thing God is NOT in control of (John Piper be damned).  It is you, people.  You are in control of you and God is asking you to be love and mercy and compassion in a way that changes the narrative of the story in which we all find ourselves living.  What are you willing to do to be love and mercy and compassion to a world that is desperately in need of these things–or at least that part of the world in which you happen to find yourself?

Would We Have Taken Part in the Sins of Our Ancestors?

protestIf you have been tracking with me around here or on social media, it is no secret that I am vehemently opposed to our current president and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state which feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.  I believe that Donald Trump represents a unique threat to everything we are as America and as Americans.  I believe that history will one day look back on this moment and demand of each of us, to know which side we were on.

But before we go any farther down that road, allow me to direct your attention to a piece by Mallory Ortberg at The Toast which appeared around this time last year and which will guide our thinking today, sort of.

In a hilarious and snarky way, Ortberg hits upon one of our most natural human tendencies:  to reflect upon the great struggles and moral crises of history and imagine that, if we had been alive back then, we would have been on the right side of things.

The truth of the matter is that we probably would have done no better than our ancestors in the moral struggles which they faced.  We would probably have been right there with the people who were burning witches in Salem.  We would probably have been contributing in our own way to this grave injustice.

And here is where I have to get gut-level honest with myself:  A huge part of the reason why I now stand with #TheResistance is that it costs me very little to do so.  For the price of a Coke or a six-pack of Bud or a one-night stay at an Airbnb, I can commit an act of political defiance.

But if that state of affairs were to change, I would probably be rethinking things a bit.  If Donald Trump were to start jailing political opponents (could happen–I certainly wouldn’t put it past Steve Bannon or the new attorney general Jeff Sessions), you could probably expect me to start toning things down around here.

Because, like Ortberg, I am the sort of person who places a high value on physical safety and comfort.  If the cost of resisting Donald Trump were to get too high, I would probably bail.  I would like to think that I’m a better person than that.  I would like to think that I would stay and fight for the right no matter what.  But I am not there yet, and I have a long way to go to get there.

You see, despite what I have said here and in earlier posts about being on the right side of history, we really can’t worry about that.  Our job and calling in this age is the same as it is in any age:  to resist the injustice of our present age, whatever form it may take.  We can look to the past for guidance, but it is not our job to fight their battles or to imagine how we would have fared if we had lived in their times.  As soon as we do that, then we are in danger of missing the injustice that is right in front of us every day.

Jesus had some not-too-kind words for the Pharisees of his day, who imagined that they would not have taken part in murdering the prophets of Israel had they lived in the days of the prophets (Matthew 23:29-32).  Their eyes were closed to the injustice that was happening right there in front of them, that they themselves were about to perpetrate against the one who was greater than all the prophets.

So I must fight on.  I must resist.  It is not my job to worry about being on the right side of history, or about if I would have been on the right side of history in the great moral struggles of the past.  It is not your job either.  Our job is to resist the injustice of our present day.

I will not do it perfectly.  Lord knows, if the cost gets to be too great, I may not do it at all.  Like Ortberg, I place a very high priority on my physical safety and comfort and there is probably little if any limit to what I will compromise if these things are at stake.  So I can have no illusions about being a hero or being on the right side of history.

But at the end of the day, there is still a battle to fight.  There are people out there who fear–legitimately–what the future holds for them in a Donald Trump presidency.  These people need to know that they are not alone.  There are people out there who hear the name Christian and for them it is inexorably linked to the Republicans and the KKK and the Neo-Nazis and many other things which are completely opposite the character of Christ.  These people need to know that this Christian does not approve.  These people need to know that when 81 percent of evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, homophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic agenda, they do not act in my name.  I may not fight this battle perfectly, but not to fight–that is not an option.

Morgan Guyton: How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues?

Today I direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton, a college pastor in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Guyton blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

Guyton, who grew up in the same evangelicalism where I have spent the vast majority of my collegiate and young adult existence, asks a poignant question.  In the evangelical world I remember, it was all about absolute truth, but the notion of absolute truth was presented like this:  There is an objective universe out there that exists, regardless of the myriad of vantage points from which people perceive it.  Objective facts matter.  You don’t get to make up your own reality.

This is how we differentiated ourselves from all those godless liberal relativists who believed that each person got to make up their own truth.  Now here we are, and don’t look now but we’ve become the exact same thing that we used to (and still do, in some places) accuse those godless liberals of being.  How did we get here?  It all started as a reaction against Bill Clinton and the excesses of his administration–somehow it was OK to cook up absurd conspiracy theories about a morally sleazy politician because his sleaziness justified it, and when those conspiracy theories are debunked just cook up a whole shitload more.  From there it snowballed, and now here we are.

Guyton posits that this is due to another way of defining absolute truth–not as the existence of universal truth but as obedience to an infallible authority.  Evangelicals claim that this authority is the Bible but the way it works out in reality is that the true authority is those who interpret the Bible and the doctrinal/theological framework within which they interpret the Bible.  Apply this to a partisan political platform and it’s no surprise that evangelicals are all about Donald Trump.

The biggest mistake conservative evangelicals make is to extol obedience for its own sake. Obedience is the lifeblood of fascism. It is the primary way that sin reproduces, because obeying the crowd is a lot easier than critically thinking for yourself. Most of the time when obedience happens in our world, people are not obeying God; they are obeying an idol whether it’s a political hero or the forces of the market or a sinful lifestyle goal. To actually obey God in a world filled with liars, narcissists, and conmen both inside and outside of the church requires constant vigilant disobedience. That’s what cruciform resistance looks like. Obedience in and of itself is not a virtue.

…I believe in absolute truth. That’s why I refuse to accept easy explanations or mass-produced bumper-sticker doctrines. It’s why I’m very distrustful of people who valorize blind obedience. It’s why I work out my salvation with fear and trembling like the Bible tells me to do (Philippians 2:12).

Read:  How Did Defenders of Truth Become Post-Truth Ideologues? by Morgan Guyton

I Stand With the Resistance

protestHistory is replete with times when horrible people did unconscionable things with power and were able to do such things with impunity, unleashing untold amounts of suffering into the world, because otherwise good people sat back and did nothing.

Our nation is entering into just such a time.

In the future, history will look back upon this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I did not support our president when he was running for office, and I sure as hell do not support him now.  I refuse to get behind his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a rich white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I do not support the pro-choice agenda.  I thought Obamacare was a bad idea, and still do.  I believe that most of the criticism of school vouchers and charter schools comes from unaccountable teacher unions and others who stand to gain way too much from our public education system remaining in its presently broken state.  I remain committed to the conservative position on a number of issues.  Of course, none of this counts for anything in the eyes of those who support Donald Trump:  because I will not shut up and get in line and support their Donald Trump, I belong in the same box with Hillary and Bernie and all the devils of hell.  Never mind that you, Trump supporters, forced me to this by robbing me of all other conservative options.  But all that is beside the point here.

This is bigger than politics.  This is bigger than abortion, Obamacare, school vouchers, gun control, or whatever your political issue du jour may be.

This is about basic humanity.  This is about the sheerest, basest, most virulent form of rank inhumanity now spewing forth on a daily basis from the highest office in the land.  In the name of basic humanity, this must be resisted.

This is about basic Christianity.  This is about 81 percent of American evangelicals supporting someone who is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, knowing full well that he is the complete opposite of the character of Christ, and saying that their Christian convictions compel them to do so.  (Mr. Grudem, your phone is ringing.)  In the name of basic Christianity, this must be resisted.

This is about love.  This is about those who insist that what love requires of us is to support a leader whose message is nothing more than anger and hatred.  This is about those who, speaking in the name of Jesus Christ and on behalf of American Christianity, insist that our relations with those who hail from foreign birthplaces, with those whose skin is darker than our own, be characterized by fear and anger and hatred.  This is about those who seek to remake Jesus Christ in the image of a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic bigot.  In the name of love, this must be resisted.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Jesus Christ died.  Yet our current president has made it abundantly clear that the vast majority of these people–at least those who are not rich white Christian males–count for absolutely nothing.  I cannot and will not support this.

So count me in with the resistance.

Those of you who don’t like the political posts on here and on Facebook:  tough.  This should have been over after a few weeks in the summer of 2015.  It wasn’t.  This should have been over when the election ended.  It wasn’t.  It still isn’t.  So you can expect to see plenty more of this in the months and years to come.  You can expect to see plenty more snide comments about Donald Trump on the Facebook feed.  I suspect that one thing this demon cannot endure is to be mocked, and I am more than happy to oblige.  It is not over yet, and I will not shut up until it is.

Because when Donald Trump enacts his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, he does not act in my name.

When 81 percent of American evangelicals act as if they are perfectly OK with Donald Trump and his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, Islamophobic agenda, with the fear and hatred that he relentlessly perpetuates toward those with foreign birthplaces and/or darker skin than their own–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–they do not act in my name.

History will look back on this and demand to know which side you were on.

So let the record reflect that I stand with the resistance.

I stand with those who oppose Donald Trump and his vision of America as a barricaded, militarized state that feels like home to a privileged white Christian male few and a segregated hell on earth to everyone else.

I stand with those who affirm the dignity of all those for whom Jesus Christ died, people whom Jesus Christ commands us to love, regardless of race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

I stand with the resistance.