When the Giving of Thanks is a Sham

Thousands of years ago, there was a Rabbinic blessing that the Jewish rabbis would recite every morning.  ¨Blessed are you, O God, for making me a Jew, and not a Gentile, free and not a slave, a man and not a woman.¨ Although clothed in religious language, this ¨blessing¨ covered up some of the national and social prejudices of the time. In other words, their giving of thanks was a sham. In their specific context, Gentiles, slaves and women had inferior places in society. The free, male rabbis were thankful that they were the ¨winners¨ in their social context. Down through the ages, people have protested, fought wars, made speeches, taught classes in favor of the equality of all humans. We have come a long way…but we still have a long, long way to go.

The racial prejudice, machismo, and social sins of previous generations are quite evident to us today, who are the ¨enlightened¨ ones. Nevertheless, we have our own biases. In our politically divided United States, most of our citizens are clearly in one of two camps. Almost all areas of life: voting, Covid vaccines and mask wearing, education/PTA meetings, the Supreme Court and even our churches are increasingly politicized and polarized. Most of us are arrogantly thankful that we are morally superior to those in the other group. It comes across in the way we talk about people on the other side.  ¨All Democrats are baby killers¨ or ¨All Republicans are racists¨ even though these affirmations are obviously exaggerated and false. These exaggerations are shameful and shamful.  Many in the middle are increasingly frustrated with both sides.

I am not a moral relativist. All options are not ethically equal. Truth is important and so is distinguishing right from wrong. I am happy when I shed morally or intellectually inferior options in order to choose better ones. But these wise decisions are accompanied by the temptation of pride. That pride and arrogance are dangerous for us individually and as a nation. Therefore, I recommend the following suggestions for my/our interaction with those on the other side.

Before, during and after we critique others, we must remember that

  1. All of my ¨opponents and rivals¨ are as important as I am.
  2. I must appreciate and recognize the aspects of goodness and truth in positions that I reject.
  3. I need to be rigorously honest in my use of information about others and about my side.

Let us go forward in truth and grace.

Idolatry and Politics

The current political situation in the United States is quite troubling and sad. This can be illustrated by looking at an identifiable group on each side of the political spectrum. On the “right” are the “always Trumpers”. They repeat the White House’s talking points on every issue.  A clear example is the current spike in the Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. President Trump has downplayed the severity of the pandemic. He has repeatedly claimed that the high numbers are due to the greater number of tests the United States has administered and that the U.S. has a low Covid-19 rate. The “always Trumpers” have echoed these claims even though they are absolutely false. On a per capita basis, the U.S. has NOT administered more coronavirus tests than most European countries, and the European Covid-19 rate is much less that the rate in the US. In fact, the U.S. has the fourth worst per capita rate in the world. In their desire to support the president, the “always Trumpers” are in denial of reality.

On the other side of the political spectrum are the “never Trumpers”. For them, Trump is so detestable that everythihng he says or does is false and evil. They have such a knee jerk reaction to Trump that they must be against everything Trumpian. For example, Trump has pushed a ¨Warp Speed¨ vaccine for Covid-19 for rapid research and actual production of millions of vaccines. Although it is obvious that Trump is urging this project largely for election purposes, the ¨never Trumpers¨ are unwilling to acknowledge that moving swiftly toward the development and distribution of a safe vaccines is good and necessary.

If people are totally “pro-Trump” or “anti-Trump”, they have abandoned their use of logic and reason. Their absolute political loyalty distorts the use of their minds. From a Biblical point of view, an absolute commitment to any human or institution is idolatry because we are worshiping the creation and not the Creator.

Unless people want to be classified as “pro-Trumpers” or “anti-Trumpers”, it is easy but not helpful to put our “opponents” in one of these categories. It is easy because we can then dismiss any evidence they offer without examining it.  Because too many of us categorize others in this way, we are becoming ever more polarized. When our favorite political party or politician receives a criticism, our default mode becomes a defensive posture. Instead of seeking and acknowledging the points of truth in the criticism, we grasp for any argument that helps our position, no matter how flimsy.

Since both of these extremes are dangerous for the advance of truth in our world, I suggest the following. Identify the three strongest criticisms against your favorite politician or political party. Are there any grains of truth in these criticisms? If so, do we acknowledge and act on them? If not, we are treading on dangerous ground.

Let´s keep seeking the truth and it will set us free.