Monday, September 6, 2021

The Meanness Virus

There is an epidemic spreading across our nation that is worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. This societal disease does not have an official name, but I call it the “meanness virus.” It is as contagious as any coronavirus. I do not remember Americans ever being this mean. There have always been bullies and verbally abusive people, but I don’t ever remember such behavior being socially acceptable, especially among elected leaders and people running for office.

This bad behavior has spread to all levels of society. Listen to any talk show on the radio. They are easy to find on the dial. You will get an earful of overt contempt, scorn and ridicule from the host and callers. The attitude is also exhibited in countless Letters to the Editor in local newspapers.

On our town’s local Google group, which serves as a public forum for our small New Hampshire town, it is now common for people to speak condescendingly toward others, treating them as if they were stupid or evil or both – simply for holding a different political position. It is not limited to online comments. In our town there is a yard sign that uses a vulgarity in reference to the president. So much for public civility. Bedford Falls has become Pottersville.

The meanness virus has spread to Christian venues. I was shocked when I tuned into a Christian radio channel and heard the same vitriolic memes I hear on secular talk radio. Christianity used to be known for niceness. In fact “being a Christian gentleman” or a “Christian woman” was synonymous with being nice. Now Christianity has a reputation for being mean.

It is hard to overestimate the damage this plague of meanness, which is spewing from Christian pulpits and pens, has done to the cause of the gospel. People – especially young people - are voting with their feet. The meanness virus is emptying the churches faster than the COVID pandemic.

Some Christians derogatorily call those who hold a different political position “sheep” or “sheeple.” One devout family member taunted me with cries of “Baa, baa” when I voiced a position that differed from his standard of “evangelical correctness.” He seems to have forgotten that “sheep” was Jesus’ term for his followers. Another church-going family member praised a politician she described as a “strongman,” apparently without realizing that “strongman” was Jesus’ term for the devil.

What is the solution? Is there an antidote? Is there a vaccine? If there were, undoubtedly some would exercise their right not to receive it. People would see it as their God-given right to exercise meanness in the name of free speech. Religion does not seem to have a cure. At least not the type of Christian religion that dominates American media. If that were the case Christianity would not have become so nasty.

As a Christian I can only speak to my own religion. I will let those of other faiths speak to their traditions. I believe that Christians need to repent of meanness. As the turn of the century Methodist revivalist Sam P. Jones used to preach: “You better quit your meanness.” I include myself in this admonition. I am not immune to the temptation to return evil for evil. “None are righteous, no not one.”

There is a need for spiritual renewal. The old wineskins of the Christian religion need to be exchanged for new wineskins.  I regularly hear Christians calling for a national revival today, but these calls tend to be for a return to the “old-time religion” that got us into this mess. They want to repair the worn-out wineskins. We need something entirely new.

We need an antidote for the toxic Christianity that has poisoned American culture. Megachurches ruled by mega-personalities with mega-egos and media megaphones need to be replaced by local, homegrown, face-to-face, inclusive spirituality that focuses on loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself. Fortunately that is already present in many small churches.

If love means anything at all, it means treating people with honor and respect. It means focusing on what the apostle Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” As he concludes, “against such things there is no law.” Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.


katieo said...

Thank you, Marshall. Your words always ring so true for me. I'm so grateful for your posts. Blessings, Katie

Unknown said...

Thanks once again Marshall for a little dose of sanity.

Ann Cady said...

Whether Christian or other faith tradition, the spiritual heads of faith traditions taught the "royal rule" or the Golden Rule. Buddha and Jesus are but two of the spiritual leaders in history whose lives we should model. We have leaders currently--Bishops Michael Curry and Desmond Tutu who are also good models. The meanness has to stop and people of faith should be leading the way.

happi said...

Thanks Marshall. I may be an Agnostic but I love reading your Blog. It speaks to what is important in the way we live our lives. Jesus message was one of love. Of caring for each other, particularly the weak and helpless. Even Agnostics need to be reminded that this is the basis our our Society. We are Social Animals and we have succeeded as a Species because we take care of each other. In these times, instead of caring for the needy, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the unemployed I hear rants against "Free Stuff". Jesus would shudder.I believe that all religions should focus more on what we can do, particularly for each other, rather than what is forbidden. Thank you for focusing on the true message that was preached by Jesus ----- the message of Love replacing the message of Justice.