You Can’t See Through Wood!

I heard an interesting theory this past week in the Cracked Podcast about how we as a society are becoming addicted to outrage. We open our phones or turn on the TV to the latest tweet or story designed to raise our hackles. The conclusion reached in the podcast is that this cannot possibly be healthy. Outrage triggers hormone releases in the brain that give us a sense of excitement, that can ultimately be addicting. Psychopaths were also discussed on this same podcast in that psychopaths are generally plagued by a severe sense of boredom that only increasingly intense risks can assuage. It might even seem as though our whole society has become psychopathic because each new tweet or story must be that much more outrageous to even register anymore.

Jesus talked about this anger in his Sermon on the Mount. He discusses just how important forgiveness and patience with one another is. One aspect of his teaching we don’t often talk about is contempt. He talks about contempt in a couple of contexts. The first is the progression of anger. Yoda said that fear leads to anger, anger to hate, and hate to the dark side, and Jesus said something similar: anger leads to judgment, abusive language leads to litigation, and contempt leads to the fires of Gehenna – destruction. (The phrase translated “You fool” could easily be modernized to “@#$& you” or any highly offensive racial epithet and maintain a little more of its original punch.”

Consider that Jesus’ main thrust is to consider others as important, as children of God, as worth our attention, love, and compassion. Contempt removes all of those things. Contempt allows a person to strip away love, compassion, and mercy, and leave only hatred. Contempt removes the humanity of the other. It is, in fact, the board that causes us to have a problem removing the speck in our brother’s eye.

Say you had a surgeon who was the best in the world. Her hands could deftly remove and repair any problem the body could throw her way. Now, imagine that she hates you. Imagine that she is the only person capable of operating on your successfully, but she doesn’t even see you as human. Would you trust her to perform the surgery?

Now consider that so many of us have blind spots of contempt – we have boards that are blocking us from seeing clearly. Those boards may cover people with a different denomination, a different skin color, culture, language, or maybe a different tax bracket, or maybe even someone who has just wronged us in the past. If at any point we are unable to extend grace, love, or forgiveness, we may have found a board that we need to remove. We will never be able to carefully, lovingly correct someone else if our vision is blinded by our own contempt.

Contempt is what led to the holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Stalinist purges, and the lynching and civil rights abuses of our own United States. Contempt is what keeps the right and left from negotiating politically. Contempt is what keeps many Christian groups from working together. Contempt is the board we have carried around for far too long.

Am I free from this? Of course not. Do I have to work constantly to find boards that I never noticed before? Yes. Our outrage culture is cultivating a false narrative that contempt is healthy, and even necessary. A society cannot be built on outrage and contempt… otherwise we will see our story devolve in something monstrous and hateful. A legacy of contempt invites only derision, and that is if it is remembered at all.

How does your language model healthy compassion for others? Are there any people or groups that you see as less? How might you begin the process of developing true compassion for them? What kind of example does outrage and contempt set for our children?

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Can we please keep shooting our neighbors?

In my fair city of Chattanooga, we have had a rash of shootings and deaths recently due to violence attributed to gangs. The situation is horrible when members of the same community come to such conflict that murder is the outcome. The constant state of one person believing they are completely in the right and and understand the other side without sitting down for discussion leads to blind misunderstanding and angry outbursts.

Oh, wait… that sounds like American Christians, too, doesn’t it? Huh…

I’ll start with this observation gleaned off of the most recent Cracked podcast: cynicism does not equate with wisdom.

I continue to see on my feed shared posts written by cynical, spiteful individuals whose contempt for others is evident in the way their prose stabs and accuses with all of the dexterity of a stampeding bull. In my opinion, if one is going to mock and deride another human being, at least have the decency to use wit and style to their full effect, in the vein of Voltaire or Jonathan Swift. Those two and their like, at least, had a respect for humanity that went beyond the individual that led them to heap style and humor in with their contempt.

Contempt is something Jesus speaks strongly against in his Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew. (We’ll be referencing Matthew 5.21-24 and 7.1-5 for the rest of this unless otherwise stated.)

Consider the idea that Jesus equates hatred and contempt with murder. The very attitude of contempt stems from anger, the idea that I or someone close to me has had their rights infringed upon, and the desire to act on that anger. Jesus shows the progression from anger, to abusive language and malice, to contempt and exclusion. Understand, the moment we begin to exclude and consider an individual or group “other” we begin to slide down a gradually descending slope that first allows us to mock, then to attack, and then, if allowed to continue, to consign to destruction. As Christians, we’re all very careful to avoid actually killing anyone, but how quickly are we to say the phrase, “You’re going to hell.” And, really, depending on your belief, what you’re saying is the equivalent of sentencing them to death. And how arrogant of us to contemptibly throw that very phrase at another brother or sister in Christ. Don’t we know that, as Christians, we are both members of Christ’s body? Can the ear say to the eye, “I hope you rot and fall out,” and things still function properly? (I Corinthians 12)

Moving along, later Jesus has his famous “speck and plank” section. I had always thought that the plank in my eye causing me to lose sight of the speck in my brother’s eye was my own failings and sin. In a way, that is what’s going on, but Dallas Willard points out another possibility in The Divine Conspiracy: that the plank is my contempt. How effective will I be in a surgical procedure that requires care and concern on behalf of the surgeon to the patient if I am angry with the patient, or worse, if I do not value that patient at all? Jesus rightly shows that if I am blinded by contempt, then all I will do is cause more damage than good.

I will also point out that in some cases, spreading around juicy tidbits of what other Christians are “doing wrong” could easily be classified as gossip. You know, gossip, that insidious little sin we tend to ignore when its convenient. It happens in church foyers and it happens on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when we share those titillating stories about how intriguingly terrible other Christians secretly are.

Remember, children watch your behavior. They learn from you, their parents and role models. Children can pick up, and I think the internet is proving this, the capacity for contempt of other human beings who are made in the image of God. Children pick up that if mommy and daddy think this person or people group are worthless, then I can treat them however I want. And we wonder why racism, sexism, violence, and poverty continue on from generation to generation…

What do your actions and posts teach your children about valuing and respecting other Christians, and other humans? How do you speak about those groups or people you disagree with? How do your children speak about people they disagree with? (This last question might answer the first two…)

Consider that discernment and correction are the realm of fellow Christians. We are called to correct in love, with care and gentleness, knowing that we can fall into the same pitfalls as the person we’re trying to dig out. So before we talk about someone or share or write a particularly spiteful post, we should consider if it is helpful correcting, or if it is simply contempt and gossip masquerading as help.