Civil War

I had a fascinating conversation with compadre Dana Hanson yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since.

His insight was this:

  • Contempt for one’s opponents/enemies never gets you anywhere in the long run.
  • The Lord and his power, support, and anointing will never back someone who slips into a spirit of contempt for his/her enemies/opponents. If you head into the Valley of Contempt, God will not go with you.

Jesus wasn’t just setting up new restrictive rules when he called us to love our enemies. He was imparting spiritual and practical wisdom.

Sure, showing contempt for opponents can get you some kudos in the short run (from people who already are with you), but life is a long race.

This is especially true in politics: 

  • Hillary Clinton, arguably, lost the election when she painted tens of millions of Americans with the label: deplorables.
  • Mitt Romney, arguably, lost the election when he was caught on tape implying that he has no respect for the half of the population that doesn’t pay enough taxes (because they are poorer).
  • One of the biggest producers of contempt culture is the the currently omnipresent fashion of identity politics. Almost never does the inevitable us/them dynamic involved in its essential structure NOT turn into contempt of the opposition and their leaders.
  • America always seems to need a caricatured enemy whom we can all see as worthy of contempt. During the last century, in order, we have given ourselves permission to have collective contempt, in order of appearance, for:
    • Immigrants (Italian/Irish)
    • Germans (war)
    • Japanese (war)
    • Communists/Russians
    • Japanese (again)
    • Muslims
    • Immigrants (again)
    • Russians (again)
    • Chinese (potentially)

This is also especially true in religion:

  • Religions often spend a lot of time defining who is in and who is out. And gradually, those who are “out” move, in the eyes of the true believers, from:
    • Prospects for recruitment, without really caring about them as people, to…
    • Those trying to stop us, to…
    • Those in league with evil/Satan, to…
    • Those who have no value.
  • Jesus continued to try to use examples of (non-Jewish) religious outsiders who “get it” as opposed to insiders who don’t.
    • The Roman soldier with faith.
    • The Samaritans.
    • When Jesus was born, Zoroastrians from the East (Magi, look it up!) got it and brought gifts. But the local religious insiders actually tried to kill the baby.

Identity Politics

A great counter-example:

If there ever was an American leader who had a good excuse to lapse into contempt for enemies it was Abraham Lincoln. All the other presidents have had tiny problems compared to half of the country splitting off over human bondage.

You never hear him demonizing the one man who was most effective at taking up arms against him: Robert E. Lee. And he even wrote letters of fatherly advice to his constant back-stabber, General McClellan, who originally led the Union army, knowing all the while that the general thought of him as a “stupid ape.” McClellan showed total contempt toward Lincoln for months on end and even ran against him for president in 1864, toward the end of the war.

Facing the disintegration of the nation precipitated by his election as president, Lincoln passionately sought to avoid conflict:

We (North and South–DH) are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

And the words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, near the end of the Civil War, with both North and South shuddering under a massive body-count, still bring a tear to my eye:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Refusing to fall into contempt is what Lincoln would call “listening to the better angels of our nature.”

There is a Lincoln memorial in Washington DC. One of the spiritual centers of the nation.

There is no mention of McClellan–even on a little plaque.

We all have a choice. We can act in greatness…or just be petty.

For more on contempt and faith, see Dana Hanson’s teaching on it: LINK


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