I owe the various Presidential candidates an apology. I have been thinking them nut jobs, Roman candling off one monstrous position after another, becoming increasingly cartoonish in their absurdity. Listening to their public pronouncements they are by turns “outraged”, “defiant”, “disgusted” in the most outrageous and disgusting, reason-defying displays imaginable in a pall mall race to even more egregious extremes.
But I have been wrong. The truth is that I have no idea what these candidates stand for. I only understand what we, their constituents, have come to stand for. Because we have made -- and are making -- them who they are. They are simply trying to get elected -- that, as it were, is their only job. Attract votes. And they no doubt recognized a long time ago what I have only recently grasped: that anytime and every time they say something outrageous, their poll numbers go up. We seem to love it! Why, then, should I be surprised at this Pavlovian reciprocity that spawns ever more outlandish pronouncements? It’s as cunningly mathematical as it is disturbingly emotional, and the result is a picture of the American people that isn't very pretty. In fact, it's downright embarrassing.
Leafing back through the pages of our national history, our practices have not always lived up to our high ideals, but that is to be expected when one aspires to nobility. Indeed, it is inevitable and certainly forgivable. At least we aspired to something higher. But somehow those high aspirations have degenerated in recent years -- or generations -- into a delusional addiction to the myth of our own superiority and entitlement. In his current television ads, one of our illustrious candidates fervently asserts, with the clear conscience of a sociopath, that “I will never apologize for the United States of America.” Presumably because we are incapable of being wrong, the rest of the world be damned.
Actually, that isn't quite true. We need -- and fully expect -- the rest of the world to supply our needs (cheaply), staff our dirtiest jobs (inexpensively), purchase our products and excess commodities (profitably), defer to our every whim (compliantly), aggrandize us to their own deprivation, be pleased at the privilege of doing so, and otherwise, like a good restaurant waiter, stay quietly and unobtrusively out of the way. Otherwise, we will crush you like a bug.
Meanwhile, within our sacrosanct borders we are increasingly inured, albeit not quite comfortably, to violence, incarceration, polarization, disparagement, wealth extremes and xenophobia, with the confident self-assurance of religiosity that God, out of some inexplicable favoritism, blesses us.
Perhaps this is what depth psychologist Bill Plotkin is referring to when he describes a “culture dominated by adolescent habits and desires” in which “true adulthood...has become an uncommon achievement.”
It's tempting to say that more than ever before the world needs the church. But as the country’s leading manufacturer of bigotry, hatred-with-a-patronizing-smile, narcissism and militarized zeal, I’m not sure how much more of today’s church the world can stand. To be sure, there are quiet and precious exceptions -- congregations who still remember that patriotism and Christianity aren't synonymous, who valiantly and sacrificially exhibit genuine community, who eschew a merely self-congratulatory gospel in preference for one that actually sounds like “good news”. But they sadly have more pews these days than people to fill them. Love is simply too out-of-fashion.
Maybe what we pray for, then, is that the church remember who it is and who it is suppose to follow and emulate, and that the rest of us simply grow up.