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What Is Behind the Disintegration of Civility in America? – Part III
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What Is Behind the Disintegration of Civility in America? – Part III

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Parts I and II of this series examined the present state of American social and political culture, how it has become increasingly coarse and even violent. We also looked back in the nation's history, examining the radically different point of view taken by many Americans in the 19th century, in particular, the connection between one's own personal liberty and gratitude and obedience to God.

We further looked at how although the religious identity of Americans remains statistically overwhelmingly Christian, the actual definition of what Christianity actually is has changed radically, from being a God-centered and obedient point of view to a self-centered "God always wants what I want" point of view.

As we dive in once again, we need to ruthlessly examine the effects of this "new" Christianity. They are not good, and yet, because of the very nature of this worldview, it is bound to aggravate and enrage anyone who is taken in by this set of ideas.

Christianity,  Individualism and Americanism

In our present times, many people who make the claim that they are a Christian are also equally likely to hold or even state the idea that God is with them no matter what they do, and therefore, they do nothing wrong.

However, in 1865 Doctor John Tyler described the following as a characteristic of insanity:

"Though he may not abandon friends or former occupations, the insane person begins to see the world and hold ideas only through his own inner lens or  'personal laboratory.' Tyler said that these convictions were 'coined by him, and not received by another.'That person will be inwardly convinced of something, rather than persuaded to it by outside facts or situations.'"

And a more recent entry about characteristics of schizophrenia describes this as one of them:

 "Hostility or suspiciousness, extreme reaction to criticism"

To be absolutely fair, these descriptions have often been applied to traditionally religious Christians, especially under President Obama's tenure in the White House. One may remember this remark he made in 2008:

"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or  antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or  anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

In fairness, anyone on one side can always label the other side as "insane" because they are "not like us." And that is a reflection of the reaction to an interesting truth - that people do think differently than one another about given topics.

The problem becomes defined when we look at what happens next. When a person is comfortable in their faith and really believes and lives it deeply and with humility, they do not get angry when questioned about their faith. Instead, they usually listen fully to the question and give a full answer, often with a lot of humor.

Why? Because the question is seen only as a question, and not as an attack. And even if someone does attack such a person's faith, the response is still calm because the faithful person understands also the reason behind the hostility.

The hostile reaction is utterly contradictory to the experience of Christians through history, who considered themselves great sinners, saved only by Christ's love and grace, but claiming no virtue or right to a point of view of their own. For these Christians, the way to salvation was through obedience and reliance upon God, not defiance and pride of self.

But with many in America, the fundamental ideas of the faith have changed while the name remained the same!

This is how we have so many thousands of “Christian denominations” – any time a group or a person disagrees with someone’s statement, they go off and make a new church with a slightly, or radically, shifted doctrine, and that group in turn spins off more splinter groups and so on.

Yet this flies in the face of a very inconvenient truth:  It is not possible for everyone to be different and right at the same time.

Aspects of the "New Christianity"

However, another characteristic of the "new Christianity" is the attitude "It's all good. What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me." In this way, polite Americans seek often to avoid argument or defuse hostility. 

However, it is simply not true. But try to challenge this idea, even (and especially outside the area of "religious" debate) and what happens?

To attempt this discussion has now become tantamount to “hate speech” in America, and it is for this reason that religious identity issues (and by extension now, politics and policy issues) are all too often glossed over.

After all, to call out the American population at large and say “you are all likely to be wrong and you are disobedient to God!” is not the kind of conversation starter that will leave anyone with many friends. The same result applies to discussion now about politics. For that reason, pundits and politicians on both sides have come to advocate more and more direct confrontation.

Talk shows have become shout-down contests, where both sides talk and no one listens. In Congress, elected representatives act clannish and walk out on one another, or lie very brazenly to press any half-baked rhetorical point regardless of whether it is true or not.

American national and foreign policy has morphed into a rigidly-defined set of "acceptable" truths, like "Russia interfered in the US elections", or "President Trump is mentally unfit for office", or "All Democrats are evil", or "If you see Republicans in any restaurant or public establishment, get in their face and tell them they are not welcome!" - This last one paraphrased US Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA) who said this in an on-the-street rally.

The rhetorical firefight got hotter than ever this year, yet at the same time the hotter it got, the more tired many people got of any sort of political / policy debate, because no opportunity for real discussion existed.

Too many people were busy yelling at each other, 100 percent convinced one's view was all correct and the other's, all wrong.

Yelling is exhausting. It is loud, painful and takes a lot of energy and spirit out of the yeller, even if he or she seems to win. But those watching or listening to the argument will exhaust themselves emotionally without ever examining the issues discussed discursively.

This is perhaps the biggest loss. Rejecting a God whose directives to us were "love your enemies", and "love thy neighbor as thyself", means that we no longer have to follow these above commandments. And in their place we have substituted animalistic hatred and pure passion.

USA Really contributor Jesse Dominick wrote about this extremely well in his piece about Judge Kavanaugh:

 "Pure, unadulterated rage, unfiltered through any reasoning process... is more akin to the beasts than to true humanity. Man has both his physical and his spiritual/rational aspects, so this bestial side is there in man, but   dipping into it, or rather, diving headfirst into it is a rejection of the higher faculties of man that truly distinguish him as man. When [anyone] behaves this way, it’s at least implicitly acknowledging that it believes that acting out purely from our lower faculties is somehow more impressive, or more persuasive. If they can just show how strong their emotions are, surely it will prove they are more just and righteous!"

I substituted the word "anyone" here for "the Left". The reason is simple. Sometimes people on the right lose it to emotional passions as well. Indeed, this is the temptation because when someone is beset by insanity all the time, it is hard not to react to it with one's own rage and insanity. Indeed, to get that reaction is often the goal of the instigator - to win the argument by getting the other person to give up his or her dignity and peace.

The truth is though, that in America this behavior is more common among those who are liberal. The reason is simple. Leftists reject obedience to God more often and more completely than traditionally minded people, as exist on the political right in the US. Also, conservatives are often evangelicals, who consider obedience to God's law extremely important. Because they live by this worldview, they are far less likely to react in rage and out of control behavior in political frays or religious ones.

The Left's worldview rejects any God that would ask for obedience, and even those lefties who are Christians by name often reveal their real proclivities when discussing politics. The absence of dispassionate thought and discursive assessment is the telltale sign, expressed in irrationally unarguable opinions.

An honest Christian worldview makes note of the fact that there is a bit of the good in the worst of us, and a bit of the bad in the best of us, and that we are all unique creations of God and that we are all imperfect. Properly remembered and applied, that usually puts a stop to pure animal passion and it can create moments of honest listening and consideration.

Final thoughts

So, what now? Is the solution for everyone to become a traditional-values-based Christian?

It would be great if this happened, because of course this is the best answer. But it is an answer that is much, much bigger than the question, and it is not reasonable to offer such a demand of readers.

But it might be a good idea to take a walk through Christian history, to note the character of some of the martyrs and saints, particularly in the early days of the Church.

There was no path to prosperity as a Christian. Christ did not die so these people would get a posh house or carriage or servants. He did not even die so that slavery would be ended. He did not die for any cause having to do with politics or policy of this world. Period.

Jesus Christ lived his life, suffered, died and rose again to give everyone a path to Himself and to his Father. Rather than freedom from a human slavemaster, He gave a way to meet all things in life without being enslaved by the passions. He gave us the way to once again be true human beings, men and women, in the image and likeness of himself. He doesn't offer a prosperous worldly life. He offers eternal life.

And the people who took this life usually didn't live very long doing it before they got caught, thrown to the lions, slaughtered in the arena, drowned, burned, shot, drawn and quartered... yet they met all these things in calmness, peace and even joy.

How unlike what we do now!

Whether you, Dear Reader, are a Christian or not, these above statements are worth consideration. There is peace in being wrong. It is very difficult to be "right" in this world all the time. Most peaceful people are those who are quite comfortable with the fact that they mess things up a lot. They are patient and try harder. But to have a worldview like this that is apart from Christianity itself may be very difficult.

The very thing that makes this topic so uncomfortable for many of us is also the very thing that offers a solution. America lost its way when it removed God from its culture and society. Russia did this in the years before 1917 and it caused some seventy years of pogroms, the GULAG, executions by the hundreds of thousands and millions, and the end result was that Russia learned the lesson - stick close to God. It doesn't work not to.

America is faced with a chance to not have to repeat the horrible experience of the Soviet Union, but it is not clear what choice each of us will make in our own lives. If we think the problem is not ours to face, though, we might do well to reconsider.

Author: Seraphim Hanisch