A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR in my car. Conservative Christians in the state of Iowa were discussing if they would vote for Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich largely on the basis of party loyalty and ignore the fact that he is far from the family values candidate (something they would clearly never do if the candidate was a Democrat). In other words, would conservative Christians suspend their much vaunted beliefs, hold their noses and vote party, anything to defeat President Obama later this year?
One prominent evangelical leader put it this way: "I hate Obama," but I'm not sure what to do about Gingrich, particularly as Gingrich has often touted the sanctity of marriage while engaging in marital infidelities. Another problem for this evangelical leader was the fact that Gingrich had switched from the Protestant faith to the Catholic religion of his latest wife.
What struck me most about all this was how easy this evangelical leader said on national radio, "I hate Obama", and I've heard this invective against Obama by conservative Christians many, many times from the time then Senator Barack Obama began his bid for the U.S. presidency up to this very day.
This is actually not a political post. What I'm really getting at is this. How do people who claim to follow the one who said to love even our enemies, demonize and hate so much? How do we so easily create "otherness"? Otherness that has no feelings or pain that touch us, otherness that has no humanity we are bound to consider or respect, otherness that can become downright demonic, since the invective would indicate that the "other" have no redeeming virtues at all?
I think my wife is a brilliant public school teacher. She has to teach children who have been bred as super-consumers, children with the largest personal disposable income in history (spending some $45 to $50 billion a year), children who influence parental buying to the tune of $750+ billion a year, children for whom almost everyone, including teachers, are little more than customer service reps, and they the consumers are always right. As you can imagine this kind of culture breeds constant school disruption and disrespect in endless forms.
One day my wife asked her 4th graders, who is the most important person in the world to you? They responded, as you would expect, their parents; next their friends. Parents, then friends, were the people in the world they loved and respected the most. My wife then asked why they didn't love and respect the kids that were not in their clique, or even their teachers, treating them cruelly at times, bringing them tears and pain? It stopped them cold. Why don't you treat us like you treat your parents and your friends? I am botching this story because I cannot capture a moment so powerful that several children began to cry, including boys, repentantly. It was the first time that some of them realized that their teacher and other kids they excluded from their lives and hurt are human in the same way that their parents are human, in the same way that their close friends are human, in the same way that they themselves are human.
This lesson left an impact on the children and as a result, my wife tells me, some of them are more sensitive about the way they treat others. In a political and economic culture unfriendly to this principle, one wonders if it will survive into their adulthood. Leaving that aside, I thought about this a good while, and it came to me that maybe this is at least a part of what Jesus meant when he said that, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:2). In any case, some 4th graders learned something real about treating others the way they want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), making them far smarter than many adults today. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?