I’m married to a Presbyterian minister. We call ourselves “Christians”. To me, that means that we try to live life the way Christ taught us to live it. Granted, we have no writings from Christ himself. We are dependent on what others recorded, claiming to quote Christ. Interestingly enough, though, despite a few differences and contradictions in details, the one message that rings loud and clear, from all the writings others have given us about Christ, is that Christians should love. Love with abandon. Love foolishly, even (at least in the eyes of “the world”). And not only should we love, but we should also forgive. We should forgive over and over, because we are all human and, as such, all make the exact same mistakes. Not only is love Christ’s message, but it also happens to be the message of all great prophets, despite the all-too-human need to distort whatever any prophet had to say, in order to fulfill one’s own dreams of monetary gain and power (I’m interested in reading Karen Armstrong’s new book. From what I gather, she explores this fact).
Not only are love and forgiveness stressed in religions, but they are also stressed in 21st-century psychology (I always maintain that Jesus was the first great psychologist, long before the discipline had been “invented”, which is what drew me back to Christianity after I’d abandoned it for years.) Any psychologist worth his or her salt will tell you that in order to be healthy, you need a strong social network (which is impossible without love) and you need to examine the things you find it most hard to forgive in others, because, quite often, they are the very things you do, or the very traits you possess. You can’t be at peace, find psychological balance, if you don’t forgive. Harboring grudges does damage to you, not to those against whom you harbor those grudges.
I seem, naturally, to tend towards love. My guess is that most humans do. I don’t really care much about power (a word that I often find abhorrent), and my feelings about money? As long as I have enough to live comfortably, I’d rather share the rest with others who don’t, than to sit on it or to buy silly things like McMansions and $800 pairs of shoes. I would, literally, be embarrassed if, for some inexplicable reason, I lived in a McMansion and wore $800 pairs of shoes. I’d do everything I could to hide these things from others.
But it’s not always easy to love. To love is to struggle. How am I supposed to love and forgive Adolf Hitler? Idi Amin? Osama Bin Laden? Abu Bakr al-Baghdad? We can see the everlasting effects of their evil. I struggle with that, and if you put a gun to my head, I’d probably tell you (ashamed as I am to admit my inability to love and forgive them) that I hate people like that, people who seem to have no conscience, who are all about power and greed and their own self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. I understand, perfectly, when others tell me they hate such people, and I am genuinely awed by those who have managed to forgive such people.
So I understand hatred of abhorrent leaders who have no conscience, but what I don’t understand is what seems to be this new culture of hate in America, a culture in which no one is given the benefit of the doubt, and people are willing to believe the most absurd stories about others with no facts or evidence to back up what they believe. Even worse, they seem to be bent on twisting all sorts of petty things into major controversies. I was raised on the principle that in “polite company”– and all company should be polite — you didn’t discuss religion, politics, or money, and if you did, you certainly didn’t get in people’s faces and attack them over these things. If you were polite and loving, your goal was always to make others feel good, to build them up, not to tear them down. All of this is to say that I really don’t understand the vitriol aimed at so many people, it seems, but especially at politicians, people we have never met and really know nothing about except what their voting records are and how the media (and we trust them, those whose interest above everything else is to make money?) spins them.
I can honestly say, although I might have disagreed vehemently with their positions on specific issues, I’ve never hated any of the men who’ve been presidents in my lifetime. That’s going back to Lyndon Johnson, a man who may have done a lot of good as far as the Civil Rights movement is concerned, but who, if you’ve ever read any Robert Caro, was certainly someone who could be hated. He sounds like he was a real bastard, but, I don’t hate him. Why? Because I’ve never met him, and, unlike someone like Hitler or Osama Bin Laden, whom I, of course, have also never met, we have no evidence, zero, that he galvanized others around some sick idea of his to torture and murder countless numbers of innocent people. We have no evidence of any president in my lifetime doing such a thing, so why are people so full of hatred toward them? Why, especially, are people whose lives, for all intents and purposes, haven’t changed at all from one president to the next, so full of hate? Why do they seem to have this need to hate people they don’t know at all?
There isn’t anyone who’s been president with whom I’ve agreed 100% or disagreed 100%. When I look at what they did, what they supported, every one of them did things that make me say “Yea!” as well as things that make me say “Nay!” And I’ve also discovered that sometimes I was dead wrong, believing a president had done something abhorrent and then discovering, after he was no longer president, that I should never have believed whatever source told me he’d done it because numerous other sources have convinced me that it just wasn’t true at all.
All leaders are human beings. They all make mistakes, but unless they are running around torturing and murdering, they deserve to be forgiven for those mistakes, especially when we don’t know them. At. All. I mean, I can understand hating someone who killed your father, but hating someone because you disagree with some policy of his that hasn’t affected you at all? My only question is: Why? I’m not suggesting that every single politician in America is there for good reasons, or that we shouldn’t fight for the policies in which we believe (because apathy enables evil dictators). I am suggesting that maybe many of our politicians aren’t there solely for selfish reasons, solely for power and prestige. I believe we need to have checks and balances (preferably checks and balances that don’t involve money earned for those doing the checking and balancing), to make sure our leaders are being honest, but (and you can call me naïve if you want), I believe that many of our politicians are there because they care, because they’re hoping they can make a difference, even — gasp! — to try to help people. How do I know this? Because I happen to be the great-granddaughter of a man who served as a congressman for one term, thinking he could make a difference. He became discouraged and left, which maybe points to the fact that there have always been a lot of “crooks” in Washington, but I like to think that there are, and have always been, others there who are doing their best not to become discouraged, or who have become discouraged but still persevere, and who are fighting for their ideals. Who are we to hate them for that?
And, on that note, I’m headed down to Virginia (home of my great-grandfather) for a few days.