A Culture of Contempt

This is my article that appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel on May 25. It seems prescient in light of the recent shootings of Congressman Scalise, security officers and House staffers in Alexandria, VA. I wish it wasn’t.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last year, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) read from a transcript representing the testimony of Gail Heriot of the United States Commission on Human Rights. In her testimony, Heriot was critical of the Obama administration’s requirement that public schools allow access to students to bathrooms and locker rooms according to the gender to which students identify, rather than their biological sex. Lofgren was offended by Heriot’s testimony, and when Heriot tried to say that she was offended by the Obama administration’s policy, Lofgren blurted out, “I think you’re a bigot, lady. I think you are an ignorant bigot.”

When Judge James Robart placed a moratorium on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, Trump tweeted a criticism of Robarts that referred to him as a “so-called” judge. This is only one of numerous tweets by our president responding to his critics with belittling and name-calling.

In his new Netflix show, presumptuously entitled “Bill Nye Saves the World,” Bill Nye remarks, “We are enlightened and forward thinking, but not everyone sees it that way,” when introducing a bizarre animated film that proposes the fluidity of sexual orientation by means of talking ice cream cones. Nye has implied that climate change skeptics may need to be imprisoned and that parents who have “extra” kids face sanctions.

These and so many other examples evidence a culture of contempt. It seems respectful disagreement with another is no longer an option. If others think differently than you, you are expected to hate them, to accord them no respect, to dismiss them with ridicule. Not only are some ideas unworthy of finding their way into public policy or inspiring personal behavior, they are unworthy of consideration, and those who propose them unworthy of even the barest modicum of deference.

It has long been said that religion and politics are subjects one ought never broach in polite company. But, I have to wonder if there is such a thing as polite company, anymore. The anonymity of social media has inspired the worst elements of our natures to the surface. People feel empowered, not only to say what they might never have said in person at the dinner table or the water cooler, but to criticize those who think differently in the most vile, insulting way, with the goal not simply being to discredit their ideas or positions, but to discredit them. The strategy seems to be that if I stain you with a horrible epithet (racist, bigot, misogynist, any of a number of various “phobes”), than I can successfully convince others that they’ll want nothing to do with you and, as such, nothing to do with your ideas or positions. So, I need not bother committing myself to the hard work of coming up with actual arguments against your position. I only have to find the ignominious label that sticks and victory is mine!

Now, Jesus Himself was unhesitant to call a “brood of vipers” out when needed. The difference is that Jesus was opposing those who tried to keep the sinner away from God’s mercy, not simply those who thought this policy would be best for the city to adopt, or this budget proposal rejected. Ultimately, He died for everyone, even those vipers. If we can see in the other, especially in the one who thinks differently, the face of Jesus, then we might be inspired to extend to them the courtesy of one made in the image of God. Recognizing the humanity of the other, and that God loves them, too, would go a long way toward turning down the heat on Facebook, around the water cooler, and at the dinner table.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


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