I am seething with barely contained rage.
I think it sparked with Trump. Not Trump himself, because there will always be terrible people, but the reaction to Trump. The way once good-hearted peopled shrugged and embraced this hate-spewing narcissist because he wrapped himself in the flag and a veneer of faith so thin it was transparent. But they’d rather have a hypocritical faith that fueled their thirst for power than a real faith that threatened that power. It’s not the liberal left that will be America’s downfall, as the church has long proclaimed, it will be American Christianity’s embrace of Trump and his ilk.
But then that rage smoldered with the pandemic. Not the pandemic itself, because bad things will always happen, but the utter failure to do the bare minimum to stop a pandemic and save lives. The political and religious right have long proclaimed personal responsibility as the highest good, which has some weird and gross implications, but it’s been laid bare as false idol during the pandemic. These supposed Christians don’t worship God, they worship a warped view of freedom that’s been twisted into deadly selfishness.
Somehow asking people to wear a mask is this horrible intrusion. And they justify it with insane rantings about the cure being worse than the disease, as if doctors and nurses who have always worn masks were also dropping dead all the time from carbon dioxide poisoning. It’s madness.
While I’ve always had my own criticisms of the American experiment, deep down I always believe in American exceptionalism. I always believed that, despite our many failures, we could rise above and be a force for good. I believed that, when faced with the darkest times, we would prevail. We would find a way to come together, despite our differences, and do what needed to be done.
But no. When a worldwide pandemic came, we would bicker and argue while nearly 700,000 Americans and 4.5 million people worldwide died.
3. George Floyd
In the middle of that pandemic, the world watched as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on an unarmed Black man and waited for him to die.
That heinous act is enough to fuel plenty of rage. And it did. Minneapolis and St. Paul burned.
But what really fueled my own rage was the refusal to allow this incident to change anything. Yes, what happened to George Floyd was terrible, but we don’t need to do anything about it. And then it quickly morphed into how terrible those rioters are. And then political lies about defund the police. And Christians try to dismiss ‘Black Lives Matter’ as a marxist political movement instead of a brutal statement about racism in America. (What’s the current Christian response? Let’s demonize critical race theory by calling it the biggest threat to the church while literally being racist.) And on and on it goes.
I think that simmering rage became a blaze after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. It was preceded by two months of insane nuttering about the election being stolen—completely devoid of any foundation in fact. Trump and the COVID lie machine just kept repeating this lie until people believed it, to the point they would betray their country and this democracy with that display of desecration.
And yet Republicans say, “Let’s move on.”
They were OK with it. Insurrection? No big deal. But what about those George Floyd riots?
(Can we take a moment to appreciate the irony? Right wingers, who always go on about the dangers of government overreach, who cling to the Second Amendment as a way to literally defend yourself against that government overreach, are more concerned about the riots and property damage that resulted from a government agent calmly murdering an unarmed man than they are about the blatant abuse of power and overreach of that government agent. And those same folks who wrap themselves in the flag are so quick to burn it.)
5. The American Church
And the real rage accelerant for me is the church. Through all of the above, where has the American church been? Too many have been on the wrong side of every issue.
But Kevin, you wrote a book about Better Politics, Please. You know there’s not a right side and a wrong side to the issues! No, when you consistently side with hate and death, that’s the wrong side.
I grew up in the church. I have faith. My beliefs have certainly morphed over the years, and I’m painfully aware of the shortcomings and failures of Christianity.
But the continual failures outlined above make it hard to think that American Christianity is actually interested in love, grace, and hope. Instead, they only seem to care about power. The power to outlaw abortion (so much for personal responsibility), the power to enforce their views on gender and sexuality (so much for freedom of religion or thought), the power to do whatever they want (so much for Jesus’ command to put others before yourself), the power to dismiss anything that threatens that power (so much for humility).
But Kevin, that’s just your political viewpoint. The left is embracing cancel culture and not allowing us to have our own beliefs. And that’s just doublespeak bullshit for why won’t you let us oppress people?
I’m serious about that. The political and religious right keep crying that schools need to be politically neutral and shouldn’t have political symbols (except for the flag—if there’s one thing Christians will consistently worship, it’s their warped ideal of a deistic America). Which means no Black Lives Matter or All Are Welcome Here signs. Anything that affirms LGBTQ people has to go.
Let me be clear: Accepting people is not a political view point. It’s simply being human.
And what really makes me fucking mad: My faith tells me that loving and accepting people is the highest calling of Christianity. That sentence above should say that loving people is simply what Christians do.
But we don’t. American Christians don’t love people. They love power.
I’m so enraged these days, not because of all the difficulties outlined above, but because through those challenges the church keeps failing. The church is supposed to have a message of grace and mercy, love and hope, and ultimately life—but instead too many are espousing judgment and intolerance, hate and fear, and ultimately death (literal death, thanks COVID).
I feel like my faith has been betrayed.
“You could end the suffering, but all you want is everything.”“Bullfight for an Empty Ring” by Five Iron Frenzy
6. Now What?
So what now? Have I left the church and lost my faith? No, I wouldn’t go that far. But I’m probably closer than I care to admit.
Christians like to get all worked up smearing the next icon of liberals as the Antichrist, but the real anti-Christ is Christians who embody hate. Jesus saved his harshest words for people of faith who betrayed their beliefs with hateful actions. That’s all I can see today. (And sure, it’s not everybody, but the rest are sitting back in silence and letting it happen.)
What do I do with this barely contained rage?
I try to get outside.
I try to get some exercise.
I try to be grateful for the things that aren’t awful.
While my barely contained rage feels like a firestorm, I try to keep the tiny candle of my faith from being snuffed out.