You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.James 2:19
Think of all the hate there is in Red ChinaP.F. Sloan, Eve of Destruction
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
But when your return, it’s the same old place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.
I am a person who is easily attracted to wisdom traditions. I love Christianity, but I also enjoy reading works from each of the world’s major religions and secular philosophy. I feel like I take away something worthwhile from all of them. This has been the case ever since I was young. My crazy mother was all about getting me to read great literature, and had me reading books like Candide in middle school. By high school, I was reading Kant and Leibniz. That’s probably how I ended up a homeschooler, if I think about it. I’m now the crazy mother.
*pauses to let that moment of clarity sink in*
What is less easy is holding fast to one’s beliefs when your community profoundly disappoints you. If you ask younger generations why they do not go to church on a regular basis, most will likely not tell you that it is because they are unbelievers who think they will derive nothing from religious discipline. They will tell you that they are “spiritual” in their own distinct way, and that’s probably true. What they don’t want to do is share a pew with people they perceive as hypocrites or listen to a hypocrite minister deliver a sermon.
The purification of the church is a theme in pretty much every religion. In Christianity, this is a function of the Jewish diaspora historically. The church fathers were not people with fixed audiences, but missionaries who carried the message to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire, and who circulated among their social networks for the sake of holding believers accountable.
I was talking to a neighbor recently who was deeply invested in bringing me over to her purely political interpretation of current events. For this person, everything that is happening lately is one colossal battle between good and evil. There are the on-message team players (good) and everyone else (evil). I suspect there are a lot of people like her out in the world now. They are the same people who are going to call the police because your kid is playing out in the front yard during the quarantine. And they will furiously slap their own back for doing it. Because they are on the “good” side.
This kind of behavior – trying to bully people into believing something they otherwise do not believe, often for good reasons – has been ubiquitous online for years now. But the coronavirus is giving the worst actors an excuse to bring that behavior into their real-life interactions. I expect that after a few weeks of this behavior, communities are going to be deeply divided with a very durable form of hatred and contempt. People are going to remember this event and who said what for the rest of their lives.
I responded to her by explaining that in times of crisis, my main concern has always been maintaining my purity of mind. This is true both intellectually and spiritually. You cannot be a good investor if you allow people to bully you out of facts. Moreover, you need to be able to seek out situations where the consensus is wrong, because that is what is ultimately profitable. I have not watched the news for weeks now, but instead consume primary sources and raw data for all things. Instead of listening to Fox News or CNN summarize data, I look at the data. Guess what? Both Republicans and Democrats believe a lot of bullshit things right now. And I stop talking to toxic and political people as much as I can.
Do you know how difficult it is to talk to someone who relies on NBC for literally all information about the world after you have sat down and parsed models? Don’t even try it. Just walk away.
Watching this kind of pettiness play out – now, and across all the years that social media mob mentality has been a feature of our existence – has given me a great deal of sympathy for the early church leaders, who lived with the constant risk of being persecuted and having their lives destroyed for the simple act of believing something different than their neighbors. It is not difficult to think the world has gone absolutely mad when you are surrounded by people without a smidgen of intellectual humility.
I’ve watched the little church ladies in our neighborhood and online defend hoarding essential goods and even participate in it. They get into physical shoving matches in the grocery store over canned goods. But ooooh do they love Jesus.
I’ve watched little church ladies in our neighborhood and online shrug off millions of people losing their jobs. As someone with a background in finance and economics, it’s almost worth a shrug to me too. In June they get to see how much their pensions have been destroyed, so until then it’s them versus the whippersnappers.
I’ve watched fellow homeschooling mothers gloat about all the other children who have experienced the government laying waste to their education. Many of them shrug off job losses too, because they’ve been housewives so long the real world has become an abstraction to them. It’s frankly kind of disgusting.
And all of these people, at the end of the day, blather about God and how other people’s misery is God’s plan. As if simply invoking the idea of a deity is sufficient to relieve them of their own agency. It’s like listening to a bunch of Joel Osteen bots, with the implication that other people are experiencing misery because they are of lesser metaphysical status and can be redeemed solely by expressing gooey thoughts about Jesus on Facebook. This is everything sane people hate about organized religion, and it’s why the church fathers keep trying to bring people back to the basics of faith and compassion.
The Bible is very clear about what to do in situations like this. Guard your own purity of mind. Care to live justly even when it is inconvenient. When other people hoard, share. When other people gloat, hide. Separating the pure of heart from those who are invested in the madness is not something that is only happening out in the world. It happens in the pews too, unfortunately.