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Better to reign in hell than
serve in heaven ( Lucifer when
cast from heaven, from Milton's
poem " Paradise Lost " )
By Robert R. Schwarz
You've seen this sign on front lawns--haven't you? HATE HAS NO HOME HERE. Maybe the message is for those who too often don't know the difference between good and bad , or those who demand "freedom" as a pass to ignore the rules. Perhaps you and I are voices crying out in the wilderness of our culture, asking God to rain down his Fatherly mercy upon us as we struggle to bridge the ever-widening the gap between this country's moral and immoral lifestyles ? ( We are those--aren't we--with that willing Spirit to follow rules with which our conscience spurs us through day-to-day living ? )
As a retired newspaper editor and a former manager of leadership development for Lions Clubs International , I'm sort of compulsive about not minding my own business; for years I've been listening to friends and strangers--liberals and conservatives, et al --talk intelligently ( often passionately ) about our American culture , including the bipolarity of its ethics. Thanks to the 5 o'clock news, I think that many of us have perceived that a number of those who recklessly or irrationally foment violence or try to oppose traditional American principles , that they are ignoring tried-and-true Christian values. Should we admit that the thinking and behavior of some has shown a dismissal of God , even at times, a hate of Him ? ( More about that later. ) One word I'm hearing more and more to describe our wonderful America actually frightens me : it's Post-America, a kind of ominous synonym for a Postmortem America.
So, what will it take to resuscitate our culture ?
So, what will it take to resuscitate our culture ?
Let's start with the global and licensed social worker Michael McGillicuddy . ( The two of us had a recent conversation in my home . ) He believes there is a current epidemic in America, and he calls it POLARIZATION
" There is an accelerating crisis of polarization in America today, he says . " Political events of the last two years lay to rest any pretense that our conflicts are in the tolerable range. Good people fear rejection if they let down their guard and share unscripted opinions, so we don masks to protect ourselves. Trust is eroding. Friendships are fraying. Families members walk on egg shells for fear of becoming estranged. We seem to be detaching from our common roots and retreating into parallel universes. "
McGillicuddy wants more transparent and empathetic dialogue between Americans as a healing agent for this polarization . This seventy-year-old married man says has harnessed energy and skills to this desire . He also related a past life of helping marginalized people around the world and serving with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps . He quoted a close observer of the 2016 national elections : "Any common ground between the two [ political ] sides has nearly disappeared.” Himself a watchdog of our country's political landscape , McGillicuddy mentioned that many of the one-fourth to one-third of Americans who are politically active verge on hatred for those " on the other side."
|McGillicuddy ( right ) replies to an audience member's|
question after his program at St. James
Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
McGullicuddy's perspective of polarization played a role in the hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent people in Nazi death camps and Soviet gulags during World War II . McGillicuddy would likely agree that this war might have been avoided if , decades before it, if only there had been less fear and mistrust among the rulers themselves and they had summoned the courage to engage in open-heart dialogue--without an attitude of its either this— or it's that.
As a journalist and Christian most of my life, I can not avoid the reader's question of: what role does evil itself play when polarized people , including authorities , inevitably cross the line that separates lawful from unlawful behavior, from a moral to an immoral lifestyle? It's difficult to imagine a critical decision that leads to war, a holocaust, or mob violence which didn't germinate within an exchange of unresolved viewpoints. . ( Here the reader might want to read my blog post of April 1, 2017, " Forgiving: Often a Hard Pill to Swallow . " )
'Freedom' Some of You Shout ? Freedom to Do What ?
How often do we read or see on television an angry demonstration fanned into violence by passions and rebellious mindsets demanding freedom for this and that. Though many a group's outcry for freedom appears justified, one needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with some of the protesters and ask: What do you want to do with this freedom? Is it to decide for YOURSELF what is wrong and right in life ? To be free to pick and choose what social or governmental rules YOU care to obey or disobey ? The freedom to do what YOU believe is moral ?
And , if you have time, get their opinion on how reliable they believe their conscience is in telling them the real truth of the matter and making wise decisions about being a good neighbor . (But you will keep in mind, won't you , that a human conscience is also formed what its been taught, how its been exercised. Adolph Hitler's elite and often demonized SS troopers prided themselves on their physical purity, social morality, and what they believed was virtuous obedience to Adolph's omniscient and omnipotent authority ) .
Commenting on freedom and truth , Pope Benedict XVI writes in his book (pg. 102 ) Reason Open to God, " Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused . Today , a particularly insidious obstacle to the task of educating is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon therefore , real education is not possible without the light of truth . "
A theologian likely would assert that getting to the absolute truth of any hotly debated and polarized belief might require reflecting on a fundamental Christian belief, that absolute truth begins and ends with the One sent from heaven to tell us that He is not only the Way and the Life , but also the Truth. ( Now, there's a knot for our Congress to untie. )
Profound comments made about freedom and related to the fickleness of human truth came from the archbishop of Philadelphia when interviewed recently outside a hotdog stand in his city. When asked on the television "why faith in God is so essential to human freedom, archbishop Charles Chaput stated: " If there isn't something above the state or us personally, then we become the arbiter of all issues, we're the person in charge, we decide what's valuable and what's not valuable ; [then ] we can change things if our mind or mood changes…In order for us to have a stable country as well to have stable lives within the country, it's necessary to have a higher authority that guarantees our freedoms ; otherwise someone else interferes and tells us what to do. It paves the way for dictators and for the dictatorship of relativism , so that what we considered valuable 20 years ago is no longer valuable at all. That really undermines our capacity to live together as American citizens ."
Adding to these thoughts is Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal, who writes, "True freedom is threatened by disordered sensuality , narrow-mindedness originating in selfishness, and the desire of doing one's own will. These obstacles are overcome by obedience, which raises and broadens one's personality ( from his five-volume opus , In Conversation with God, Vol 1, pg. 366 ).
A horrible example of polarization leading to loss of freedom for a society occurred in lst
Century Israel when a
ruling group of men ( Pharisees and scribes ) stoned to death a devout Christian named Stephen, recognized
today as Christendom's first saint.
This group of extreme legalists passionately believed they were daily obeying every word of God handed down by Moses. But in
fact, as Bible scholars tell us,
their obedience was rife with hypocrisy and displayed a cold-heart , slave-like rule over the people. The polarization between what they believed and what the people so desperately needed
and what Jesus taught , was cleaved
to canyon. depths .
|Two in McGillicuddy's audience engage each other with|
questions about polarization.
I wonder if many psychologists and behaviorists today understand why these Pharisees and scribes hated Stephen so intensely that they stoned him to death. I've heard it said and I believe that they hatred Stephen because of his goodness and love of God , and therefore he was a living example of what they, the country's religious leaders , should have but ( outrageously) did not possess . He was a constant reminder of their lack of love and wicked hypocrisy. ( Talk about a corrupt heart and self-denial ! )
So, when Stephen told them one day, You men are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resisting the Holy Spirit, You who received the law as ordained by angles, and yet did not keep it ( Acts: 7:51 ) , they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. They then drove him out of the city and stoned him until he fell on his knees, crying with a loud voice, Lord do not hold this sin against. them.
Unexplained Hatred Against One 21st Century Christian Man
Now, dear reader, allow me an aside to report on a sometimes lethal , hidden dynamic of polarization: ENVY.
In a rehabilitation center in Niles , Illinois, Bruce Kuss is one of many patients whose care comes mainly from a monthly Social Security check. Bruce, a boyhood friend of mine, is 83 and has had two heart surgeries and now is afflicted with Parkinson's disease , which has attacked his throat , disabled his legs and forced him into a wheelchair
Bruce is mentally quite normal and loves to talk ; unfortunately , when we converse during my weekly visits, I can decipher only few of his words. His diet is largely liquid and, soon, according to his doctor, he will have to be fed by tubes . Bruce is firm about no tubes for him, which means he will soon be on hospice care.
For most of his adult life, Bruce has literally shied from churches , marriage , and social interactions . On the top of his room dresser are several family photographs and movie CDs given as birthday or Christmas gifts--mostly from a niece . She and I are his only visitors. Also on this dresser stands a framed portrait of Jesus , which he acquired when his father died when Bruce was a young teenager. . A few months ago, when Bruce spoke a bit clearer, he told me: " I look at it often when I think of someone with a problem, someone hurting . I say a prayer for them. " Then , looking over my shoulder at the Jesus portrait, he said to me , " Wherever you go , whatever you do, He's looking over you."
Two weeks ago, I asked one of the nursing aids what the staff thought about my friend . "He always has a good story to tell and something cheerful to say," she said. Cheerfulness and a you-before-me philosophy has remained Bruce's life mantra ; tragically, it also tied that knot which social worker McGillicuddy keeps trying to untie for people. .
One might characterize Bruce as a sweet and pleasant fellow who (as far I know) never uttered an obscenity, crude joke, enacted manipulative behavior , nor broke the rules laid down by the large retail store which had employed by for 45 years . Bruce sold cameras, then shoes, and finally, when management would no longer tolerate his not being aggressive enough with customers to sell his daily quota credit cards--Bruce disliked the contract's obscured penalty clauses, which were as draconian as the employee rules-- Bruce was assigned to restocking inventory shelves . Climbing that tall shelf ladder pained his back,. This last assignment was designed apparently to force my aging friend out of the company . But a more forceful event preceded it (an event which relates to a deeper level of polarization: Envy. (This and other facts related to Bruce's last days with this national store I had to drag out of my friend. )
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious
to us…merely to see him is a hardship for us…
because his life is not like other men's, and
different are his ways. ( Wisdom: 12, 15 )
They were unable to cope with
the Spirit with which he was
speaking. ( Acts:6 : 10 , before
they stoned Stephen to death)
On an evening near the end of 2011, Bruce did not leave his work area with his fellow department workers at quitting time. Instead , he walked near his manger, who was sorting out some sales documents . The manager was in his forties , a "company" man who had come on board a month ago . Bruce told me that the manager three times in the past and for no apparent reason, had raised his voice in giving a routine directive to Bruce. His voice was louder each time, until on third time it was almost a shout. According to my deductions from what Bruce told me , the manager appeared to be the polar opposite of Bruce: he was aggressive, but in a quiet , disciplined way and without a show of pride or the defensive behavior of someone lacking confidence . In fact, since the manager's arrival, there had been nothing--not even the credit cad issue-- about behavior or words exchanged between the two to there was any conflict or" bad chemistry" between them.
Nevertheless, I suspected something was festering in this manager, something hidden in his character which he himself was not aware of. I saw that as a threat to Bruce.
It all reminded me of a few occasions in grammar school when several buddies of mine and I , with jeers and disdain , expressed our dislike of three classmates by calling them Goodie, Goodies . It took years for us to realize that , in truth, our irrational--and sometimes intense dislike of this fellow classmates--came from our envy of their disciplined behavior, good manners, and grades always way better than ours . It was a daily , ill-rubbing hint that reminded us of what was missing in us . We should try harder to be more like them ? we thought. No way ! For whatever reason, it was a truth we denied entry to our minds. They had become in a sense, un-friends.
Bruce stood several feet from his manager, waiting to be noticed, ready to help if asked, and prepared to reply calmly to any burst of irrational temper from his superior .
The manager turned around and, according to Bruce , showed no emotion except what his lingering gaze might reveal to a therapist's eye.
" What are you hanging around here for ? " he said in a low voice.
"I thought you might need some help after hours ," Bruce said cheerfully, knowing, of course, there would be no overtime pay. (I knew for a fact he had had no raise in several years ; he had always been intimidated by the fact that requests for a raise often meant an employee's hours would be lowered to a part-time status .
In that moment--and I imagine--the manager felt a strange despair overtake himself. If only all my staff could be a Bruce If only I….No, who wants to be a Bruce ! Merely to see him is a hardship !
There was no thank-you to Bruce for his kind offer . Instead, the manager began yelling, again and again , not a tantrum, not blood-hot anger, but hate expressed incoherently with bursts that made no sense to Bruce nor, likely , to the manager himself . It was over in five, maybe ten seconds . Both me stood and stared at each other. The manager turned swiftly and walked away. All Bruce knew was he had become a threat to this manger. Utterly confused and wounded, Bruce slowly walked out of the store and went home to his bachelor's apartment and watched the Andy Griffith show.
A week later three co-workers arranged a retirement party for Bruce in the cafeteria. No wrist watch or severance pay. But there was coffee and two strawberry cakes. The manger a month later quit . Neither Bruce nor I ever found out what happened to him.
Solutions and Advice from McGillicuddy ?
Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 in the library of the St. James Catholic Church library, Michael McGillicuddy lectured--he has master degrees in sociology and industrial relations --for 90 minutes on "untying the knots " that polarize people. Included among his emphasized comments were:
An attitude of I'm right , you're wrong "is a formula for disaster…We live in a world of gray, It's not either-or, but both-and…"
Having all friends "who think as you do is a " drawback" to un-polarized thinking .
" Find common ground . We must first form a heart-relationship before a rational relationship. "
McGillicuddy then had his audience pair-off and ask each other the follwiing questions:
What do those who deeply disagree with you misunderstand about you core beliefs and values? What would you most like them to understand about your perspective ?
What assumption do you make about people who hold very different beliefs and values from you ?
Is your faith [ church ] community polarized ? Do you feel safe sharing your views and telling your story?
Summing up, McGillicuddy--he marched with Martin Luther King--told his audience, " We have to learn to live with each other. "
|I'm right, you're wrong "is a formula for disaster ."|
All comments are welcome.
© 2017-18 Robert R. Schwarz