Nobody responds well to feeling judged morally deficient.
If your premise when you’re talking to me is that I’m inadequate and compromised and wrong in ways that you just can’t ignore, it doesn’t matter if you’re right. I’m not going to hear the rest of what you’re saying. And before you argue, think about the difference between Jesus and the Church.
If the Church is the Bride of Christ, then he married a nagging judgmental harpy.
We all know that couple. The one where you’ve got one sweet, friendly, pretty awesome partner, and then this other jerk, and you’re left trying to figure out what the attraction ever was. You eventually stop hanging out with that couple, because as often as the one half is, you just can’t get past all the crappy things the other partner’s said and done. It’s a shame, but no matter how much you love spending time around the one, the other’s always hand-in-hand with them and making them look bad. It’s hard to see the promise of eternal life and values of forgiveness, tolerance and charity, next to a pile of dead orphan kids in Ireland, a coverup, crusades, and daily ground-game bigotry from people championing a cross that stands opposed to all that crap. Eventually, one partner makes the other one look bad. It’s hard to feel you’re really welcome when one partner has invited you, come-as-you-are, to hang out at their house, when all the while, you have partner number two staring resentfully and criticizing everything you like. It’s not the Jesus that keeps young people from church. It’s all the judgment and the feeling that they’ll never measure up, which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus stood/stands for. Jesus, the one who made a point of warm social engagement – look at where he spent his time – with everybody that society and orthodoxy said was irremediably wrong, is now the mascot of a movement that, at least in terms of its most visible public engagement, is embroiled in political intrigues all geared to punish every deviance from the norm. To a generation raised on Jesus’s actual ideals – radical sharing, non-judgementalism, fairness, and the second chance, the posture of the church that holds him up as their great patron sends us running for the hills. “We’re the goodguys, everybody else out there is bad, and it’s our job to make sure everybody knows how wrong they are, unless they come sign up with us, and then feel bad about themselves for not being perfect all the time,” may have emotional appeal for in-crowd members of the faith, but let me tell you, and I know that I don’t have to, how this looks from the outside; an outside that the church spends time and lots of energy defining ever more broadly. We’ve seen this. We know this is a problem for the faith. It’s why we stopped going to church. Most of us pray, or care about the actual values shown by Christ. We have no problem with the message that the savior himself preached. And that’s the disconnect. That’s what I’m here to point at today. We know that this emotional reality is universal and predictive about how we’re going to take things. We know how human nature dictates that we’re going to respond.
Whether that truth is climate science, economics, banking regulation, green tech, civil rights, or even just that bigotry is bad, the country polls in staggering pluralities of support behind the democrats positions. So why does so much of the country loathe a “liberal agenda” that policy-for-policy they resoundingly support? For the same reason that a public who takes no issue with things that Jesus preached, are openly hostile to the Church. One, they agree with and feel validated by. The other tells them that they’ll never really be Enough. That thing you like, it’s problematic in a number of small ways that ought to make you feel despicable for liking it despite them – and that furthermore it’s more than just okay, it’s now encouraged, to look down on anyone who doesn’t join them in that song. It isn’t that we shouldn’t care or press film studios for whitewashing asian characters. It isn’t that we shouldn’t care or march and demonstrate, or write long irritating essays *wink* whenever someone racially profiles. It isn’t even that we’re wrong or that we even disagree with most of who we have our fights with. The battles at this country’s heart can’t all be solved with kumba-ya… But there are vast areas of policy the whole country agrees on, that have turned into a big partisan fight. There is no reason that someone in WestVirginia needs to feel like green tech jobs are bat for him. There is no law that says he needs to make his living underground, when there are energy sector jobs being created in his county building turbines on the hills that he works under. He resents them because democrats like solar farms and wind, and coal and oil are republican energy. He resents them because democrats don’t talk as if they care about what changes to our national energy mix will do to him. Will he be left behind? Does anybody care? He votes against most of his interests, for the people that are talking like they know he’s there, and care. It’s not about policy positions, it’s about affinity, and about feeling like the people you elect respect and understand your life. That’s why the politician you can see yourself having a beer with always wins in an election vs qualified opponents with a policy credential for the job. We don’t feel safe around somebody who discusses us as backbirth ignorant rustics, or likely criminals, or stereotypes, or unwitting racists stained by the original sin of being white, or black, semite.
This stuff knows no politics. That’s not the mechanism that we’re dealing with. We tend to map politics to tribe. Are these folks with us or against us. Southern legislators give no shits about the “master race” when it comes time to draw up districts. What they care about is, black voters don’t vote republican, and so it’s in the party’s interest to suppress them at the polls. Hispanic voters, thanks to decades of the party’s pandering to xenophobes and racists in its voting base, despite broad policy agreement with conservatives, vote democrat because republicans discuss them like an unwashed criminal job-stealing assault on all that’s white and english-speaking. It doesn’t matter how much somebody deep down agrees with you about tax policy or education funding, if they’re also pretty sure you don’t respect their right to be here in the country… It doesn’t matter if your healthcare plan curbs growth in premium spending and holds drug price inflation to a slower rate than it was on without you. Not to someone who’s been led to feel that all you really want is more control over their lives. It’s not about the pills and prices or emergency room visits. Not for people who don’t trust you. Would you trust someone to rebuild your healthcare delivery system, if you also felt those people looked at you with nothing but disdain and condescension? We don’t trust people who we don’t think Respect us. We don’t listen when we get it in our heads that someone talking thinks we’re not worth listening to. It’s not about who’s right. Most people will be wrong if it means sticking it to someone they feel disrespected by. Social science research bears this one out, time and time again. We’re tribal beings, wired to take in information differently depending on whether or not we think the source has our best interest at heart. When someone who we think respects us does something that hurts us, we forgive it, feeling safe that they’ll look out for us the times it really matters. But if someone – say, a president from an opposing party – makes a move that actually benefits our lives, nine in ten people treat the action with suspicion and dissent, because it seems as if it’s probably a trap or pandering. It works the same way for facts. Who’s talking, and whether or not we think that they respect and care about us or not, matters way more than the truth or falsehood of what’s being said. Climate change denial isn’t rooted in a deeply-researched conviction that humankind isn’t contributing too many annual tons of carbon to the atmosphere. It’s rooted in the sense that the people talking about climate change would merrily put them out of work and kill the fragile-seeming economy over something that feels awfully abstract next to potential loss-of-job. “All to save some wooly tree slugs.” It’s the feeling that endangered squirrels matter more to “these environment types” than whether or not a family gets fed – an untrue feeling, but the truth has never mattered where emotions are concerned – that drives resistance to clean air and water platforms. This is trust, not policy. Want proof? The public overwhelmingly supports universal background checks for firearms purchases. Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to let JoeTerrorist walk into some gun shop, smile big, and fork over some fifteenhundred dollars for a hefty bag of guns. Not with a rap sheet eight miles long that says he’ll likely kill again. But there’s a set of fellow citizens who’s so sure that you’ll use this as a foothold to remove their right to have a gun at all, that it is WORTH THE CHANCE to them that something happens and a heap of kids gets shot. That’s the state of trust that’s formed by talking about political opponents with dismissal and condescension.
It’s not enough to be right.
It’s knowing what to do with what you know, that plays a disproportionately larger role in how people receive it, than just telling them they’re wrong and need to change. Even – maybe especially – when they’re wrong and need to change. Because here’s the thing – We all know better. We’ve been alienated by a church whose founding values we all largely agree with agree with. Be good to strangers, make peace with enemies, and generally be chill. Help people out when they’re in need, and share your bounty. Make amends when you screw up. Hoarding bad. Forgiveness good. No one takes issue with these, and they’re the core of Jesus’s ministry and heart. So why do we hate the Church so much, as a generation? For reasons that have nothing to do with those core values, and because of how little emphasis that church puts on them when it gets the chance. So why would Democrats, Republicans, or Orcs for that matter, work under alternate rules? Of course they can’t admit racism is real, when someone does or says a clearly racist thing. That hands the Democrats a weapon that there’s no defense against – one they’re sure will be used to silence and dismiss them on things that have nothing at all to do with race, along with silencing the racists everybody uniformly hates.
Look, here it is –
Nobody likes the KKK, but the KKK is telling them that they were born into the master race who rightfully should own the country. We’re here telling them that just because they’re white or male or straight, they’re just not capable of landing on a valid feeling. That may not be what Democrats mean, it may not be what Democrats believe, and we might cringe when someone puts it in those terms, in the course of loud and public ‘venting.’ But the message gets across. There is a difference – and not a small one – between building our lives, and our communities and institutions, in to shapes that don’t discriminate or marginalize or harm their most vulnerable members, versus using the metric of who/what is or isn’t so ‘woke’ enough yet as to be perfect and beyond reproach, as a way to vet who it’s ok to dismiss. This is human. This is natural. In the case of lots of social justice issues, it’s a combination of responding to lifelong persecution, and not having the luxury represented by the feeling that it’s safe to give an enemy agent quarter. Hell, that’s how the Church got to where it is, and why it behaves the way it does. That’s how a lot of churchgoing folk feel, looking out at a world that relishes at every chance to call them dangerous and wrong. It doesn’t matter what’s true here. Only what things feel like to the people who are living them. We know how that manifests in practice, because we’ve all experienced it from somebody online. Verbal conversion-by-the-sword-of-social-shame. We know that doesn’t work. What’s important when you want something, whether it’s national policy, or attitude adjustment is asking, “What would change my mind?” Then doing that.
“Nobody cares what you know, until they know that you care.” ~Dale Carnegie
We’ve been doing this all wrong.