My point is not to wave the flag. America will never make you happy, but it is so ordered as to allow YOU to become happy, with enough opportunities and security to be able to do so. But many unhappy people blame the nation for their unhappiness, as if a slight of justice in the courts or a case of corruption in the oil fields or state house has caused this perpetual unhappiness. It does not take unusual perception to grasp the fallacy, yet still, there they are, certain that somehow a change in this law or that football mascot will make their discontent go away. Why?
This weekend, we saw the movie, “The Case for Christ,” based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a hard-bitten, award-winning journalist for the Chicago Tribune in the ‘70’s and 80’s (the backdrop of 70’s décor in the movie was hilarious, including Strobel’s spray-can helmet hair). Towards the beginning of the movie, he and his wife and child are happily eating out at a restaurant when his little girl begins to choke on bubble gum. She is saved by a nurse who happened to be nearby. The nurse then tells them that it was no coincidence but God’s work, as she was going to go elsewhere, but a little voice told her to think again – you get the idea. Later, Strobel’s wife contacts the nurse to thank her, and gets invited to her charismatic church. In short time, she becomes a convert.
Lee is not amused. He is an atheist because to him, the idea of our once having a god on earth is ridiculous, as is having a god itself. As the movie progresses, Lee’s atheism becomes a beast. He belittles his wife and comes near to separating from her. Finally, he decides to do what good journalists do – investigate the facts. He is certain he can prove that the Christ story is a myth, and with this indisputable proof convince his wife to leave her madness. As it turns out, the reverse happens. Visiting professionals in several fields, he learns that the journalistic evidence for Christ – that is, having hundreds of eye witnesses and numerous historical and biological facts at hand - is overwhelming. Eventually he …well, I won’t spoil the ending for the reader, although it is not hard to guess, even though the story is, overall, true.
The point here being – why was Lee Strobel so upset by his wife’s conversion? I can say with some certainty that if my wife converted to a belief that I did not share, I would not be concerned unless bad things – like, say, long periods of abstinence or drinking Kool-Aid – were involved.
In the movie, we learn quickly that it is a daddy issue. He hates his dad, who he believes was cold and unloving in his upbringing. God the Father and his Son are dad, and dad’s a jerk who broke Lee’s heart. Therefore, this other Father would also get no respect, no worship, nada, because, as a father, he, too, must be inadequate. This is not the case with many atheists, whose “problem”, if we see their lack of belief as a problem, is due to an inability to escape from scientific materialism. But those are the atheists who do not hate. The haters, the strivers, those who mock and scorn – in these, there seems to exist a deep personal problem.
We can expand on this. When people react with hatred and violence to issues or others who do not a pose a grave threat, it does seem probable that they are really dealing with an interior issue that has been externalized. There are causes that require harsh action, but is this true with the fundamentals of America? And is this true for a non-mandatory belief in God? As an example: The book, A Handmaiden’s Tale, was written during the Reagan era when it was supposed by his opponents that his silent majority would turn American into a born-again concentration camp. This did not happen, it did not come close to happening, and really, it was never going to happen. Yet the fear was real, and still is very much alive today. It all seems so silly to those who do not have this particular “issue.”
But we ALL have psychological issues, including the concepts people who do believe in God have of Him. We are all scarred and distorted in some way, but I think the effects of that can be moderated with careful insight. When we hate, does the rationalization for it hold water? Or, from another perspective, is hate the most effective response, even if what we hate might be worthy of it? In most cases, probably not. Hating does not make us feel better in the long run, and probably hurts the very effort being made to bring down what we hate, for others see our darkness more clearly than we do – and know to reject it.
And so we come to the Golden Rule – to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. Beneath the surface of that rule we are also advised to understand the ‘other’ as we understand ourselves, for it is only in this way that we can have sympathy for them. In having sympathy, we cannot have hatred. We can hate certain aspects of the other’s belief, but in seeing the totality of the human, we cannot harbor hatred towards that other – who is our self in almost every way. And so we come to treat the other as ourselves – which is not to demonize, to condemn, or to scourge.
Here we find, as is often the case, that the rules of wisdom are called wise for a reason, for if we would extend ourselves to others, we would not develop the complexes that lead to violence. In so doing, we would not cause others to develop their own complexes. The cycle would end. And just like that, we would have a better world. Easy, simple, and infinitely difficult – as Lee Stobel found. Sometimes, one needs a laborious – even complex - trip to OZ to find out the basic truth that it all really begins and ends at home. FK