By Charlie Johnston
Holy Week started with the Gospel reading in which Judas criticizes Mary of Bethany for anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil, claiming it could have been sold for a great price and the proceeds given to the poor (John 12:3-7). Throughout history the most malignantly malicious among us have often been at pains to cloak the evil they do in some noble sentiment.
Whether it is the Nazis against the Jews, the Hutus against the Tutsis, the Russians against the Jews, French Revolutionaries against the aristocrats, Jihadists against the Jews, or the American left against the Jews – and now Christians – the story is depressingly always the same. The aggressors claim they have been “victimized” by the group they target and that simple justice requires a pogrom. They work themselves into a progressively greater frenzy until, filled with demonic rage and a sense of invincible victory, they commit hideous atrocities that often end in some sort of genocidal slaughter. Eventually sanity returns and the aggressors who were so recently filled with murderous self-righteousness are condemned, both literally and figuratively to the ash heap of history. Even many of them are a bit baffled as to how it could have gone so far and gotten so ferocious. When a person opens his soul to darkness, he is consumed by the bitter rage the satan gleefully inflames in him. When a society does it, the society falls.
Like Judas, pretending, perhaps even to himself, that his malice was actually a refined love of social justice, the malignant left targets all Christian and Jewish expressions of faith in the name of their higher “tolerance.” Intolerance is tolerance in the new thinking, just as war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength, as Orwell predicted. In 2008, one of my secular colleagues told me I needed to develop some “brilliant” talking points, slogans, and carefully concise arguments to bring Americans back from the abyss to which we were headed. The policy enthusiams that were all the rage would beggar the economy, invite chronic war, and generate incredible human misery across the board. I sadly told her it would do no good. “I fear we have reached a tipping point. The stupids have become the majority. They will have their way and we must wait to rebuild from their wreckage,” I said.
National Review’s Kevin Williamson wrote a brilliant article this week on what is really afoot with the new toxically malicious tolerance. The great classicist and public intellectual, Victor Davis Hanson, wrote a brilliant piece on what it means in terms of the coming nuclear holocaust our American administration has enabled with Iran. Both are must reads. But both fall into the category of “These things must come…” If there was no God, we would now be staring at the end of civilization barreling down on us like an avalanche. But God is – and He has decreed it is not yet to be the end, even if we must get a dose of what our self-absorption inevitably leads to.
The toxic social dysfunction that now threatens our very existence does not spring forth, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. It is a product of a generations-long dumbing down, a coarsening of basic values and mores that have corroded the very possibility of hope and justice. Like a field of dandelions, it is not a single massive organism, but millions of individual parts. It seems to have sprung up overnight, but the seeds that made it inevitable were sown long ago. Unlike the soil that hosts a field of dandelions, though, each of our souls is the soil in which the seeds of dysfunction are planted – and each of us has a choice as to whether to accept that seed or root it out. What we face is not a crisis of politics or policy, but a crisis of the human heart. Many, maybe most, of us have accepted that seed into our hearts, not realizing what it would become. It is in our hearts, at our hearthstones, in our faith that the seedling must be uprooted if we are to restore things to their proper order.
In serious, professional politics, opposition researchers are a shadowy but vital part of the process. They cast a wide net, examining every aspect of an opponent’s life and career, looking for areas of vulnerability. In the best campaigns, the candidate is subjected to the scrutiny of his own opposition researchers in order to determine what areas of vulnerability will need to be defended against. While I episodically investigated specific allegations, I was never an opposition researcher. But the guys who did that valued my input a lot. See, they cast a very wide net…kind of a shotgun approach. I always had a great knack for accurately telling them what areas to target their efforts in on a particular opponent to produce the best results. Most thought I had a sixth sense about it, but it was much simpler than that. Start with the knowledge that most people wrongly assume that everyone else shares the same interests and motivations as they do. It is a kind of subtle narcissism.
I always looked at the sort of accusations an opposing candidate had made against his opponents in prior public statements. There are basically two types of allegations; those that are grounded in substantial evidence and those that are reflexive, often non sequiturs. I was uninterested in the former, but paid close attention to the latter, looking for patterns in reflexive accusations. The reason is simple: since most people think other people share their interests and desires, their reflexive accusations usually reflect what they would do IF they had the chance. Zero on those occasions where they had the chance, looking for the sorts of things they accuse others of, and you almost always came up with pay dirt. A part of me always loved when an opponent started swinging wildly at my candidate or, often, at me. The opponent thought he was wounding me – and I never disabused him of the notion – when actually he was revealing himself to me.
That technique makes for a powerful and fruitful examination of conscience when rigorously turned on oneself. Contemplate the criticisms you usually level at others you don’t know and without evidence. Do you routinely call people greedy if they have more than you? You probably are covetous. Are you constantly accusing others of sexual impropriety with little evidence? You probably had best examine your own dark fantasy life. Do you constantly think others are cheating? You probably spend as much time looking for ways to get one over on your colleagues. It is a powerful tool of self-examination which will root out much of the dysfunction you carefully hide even from yourself. Most have neither the stomach nor stamina to apply it rigorously to themselves. But if you do, you will begin to find a peace that will carry you through all storms.
Remember this: satan is sometimes called the accuser of mankind. If you are constantly looking for the flaw in others, whose eyes are you looking through? I do not say to put on a pair of rose-colored glasses, rather, to see things as they are…to, in effect, live Christ’s order to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” That is why I try to be so cautious about facts…neither to accept defamatory assertions about opponents without evidence nor flattering assertions about allies without the same. The satan does not care whether the lies with which he hopes to seduce you seem pious, particularly in the early stages. He well knows that once he can get you to believe a soothing lie because you want to believe it he is well on his way to getting you to believe the lies he wants you to believe, for you have forfeited your will to your desires.
A true Christian should apply charity as the watchword in contemplating the actions of another and rigor while contemplating his own actions. In our toxic culture, we have gotten it terribly backwards…so backwards that malicious prigs are often publicly considered to be icons of piety, when they are actually icons of something much darker. There is nothing so easily and cheaply condemned in another as a sin to which you are not tempted. You should not live your life so that people are intimidated by your piety, but so that they find hope of righteousness in themselves. Nothing so bespeaks a life nobly lived as the testimony of those who found hope and renewal in their encounters with the person who so lived.
In all the decades I contemplated the horrors of the Storm, it never occurred to me that we would reach a point where the Storm would be a less starkly terrifying option than the logical end of our normal course. But here we are. This Storm was made possible by the degeneration of millions of human hearts, one at a time. Renewal will come, one at a time, in hearts that commit themselves to simple principles: acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. Those who commit themselves to these, come what may and under all circumstances, begin a hidden revolution, a revolution which will truly renew the face of the earth. As we prepare our hearts for this, we come to understand that even the Storm is not what it seems: not a harbinger of destruction, but the beginning of rescue.
As we enter Good Friday, may we resolve to let our vanity, our malice, our envy perish on the Cross taken up by Our Lord. Let us separate ourselves from our hidden sins by rigorous self-examination, preparing the ground for our rescue. Let us set our jaws into the wind like flint and say with all our heart, “Come, Lord Jesus”