Last week, the world was treated to Kathy Griffin’s revolting photo depicting a decapitated President Trump. Consistently in bad taste, Griffin has built a career by being outrageous and mistaking it for being humorous. The blowback after the release of this photo took her by surprise, while everyone else wondered how someone could think that was a good idea. Kathy Griffin miscalculated. But not by much. A week after her faux-pas, her supporters are already telling us to get over it.
So-called jokes at Donald Trump’s expense are sometimes shockingly vicious, as there seems to be no limit to the hatred directed at him. I am not a fan of the man, but the fact that, a) he is President of the United States and, b) he is a human being, makes much of this “humor” unacceptable. It seems to have taken viciousness to another level. But nastiness has become pervasive.
The level of incivility in our society has gone off the charts. It seems to be fueled by the anonymity behind some social media, or at least the lack of face-to-face contact, but it has spilled into all aspects of our lives. On college campuses and other venues, we are seeing controversial (by mob standards) speakers shouted down and threatened with violence to prevent them from speaking. Judgment and vitriol directed at ordinary people has become normal. People who are trying to live in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs – usually Christian – are finding that their livelihoods are threatened if they do not comply with new social norms, and there are mobs who will try to “out” them for the purpose of destroying them.
Even within the Church, lines are drawn between liberals and conservatives, between “traditionalists” and “modernists,” between north and south, east and west… it can be scandalous. Shield your eyes from the comboxes! Pope Francis said, “Please, fight against division, because it is one of the weapons that the devil uses to destroy the local Church and the universal Church.”
What is occurring today is a kind of class warfare akin to racism. Not that racism has anywhere near disappeared, but overt racism is generally shunned. This has created a vacuum, as it were, for people to have a group to feel superior to, and the new dichotomy is ideological: liberal versus conservative, and its sub-group of secular versus religious. There are some groups that we must be hypervigilant not to offend, lest they feel the need for safe spaces, but there are others that are soft targets and are regularly mocked and marginalized. We seem to be losing the middle ground and it seems we cannot tolerate civil discourse.
As Christians, we must be wary of our own participation in incivility. We must recognize that first and foremost, we are all children of the same Creator, formed in His image and likeness. When we divide along lines of race, ideology or religion, we are acting against God’s will. Of course, humans will have their distinctions, but they do not define us. People are complex; we are not just our skin color or our belief system. Christ calls us to be the salt and light in this world. That seems especially relevant today.