A Permanent Enemy

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Listen to “A Permanent Enemy” by Fred Smith

 

In his documentary film, “Korengal,“ author and director Sebastian Junger recounts the stories of a platoon of American soldiers deployed to a tiny and dangerous outpost in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The “grinding boredom gives way to bowel-emptying fear, followed sometimes by episodes of nearly psychedelic blood lust and the frankly sexual pleasure of unleashing a .50-caliber machine gun on enemies who are doing the same to you.”

While the film is horrifying to watch, Junger’s book, ”The Tribe” makes the case that coming home from war is often harder than risking your life: “There is something to be said for using risk to forge social bonds…Having something to fight for, and fight through, is a good and important thing.” It is re-entry into a divisive country that proves more difficult.

Coming home from such a “band of brothers” experience to enter what Junger describes as “the conflict of a society at war with itself” is painful and confusing: “People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that it is now applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker…You don’t speak with contempt about someone who may be saving your life tomorrow or who you may need to risk your life for tomorrow. One of the amazing things about the current political season is to watch very powerful people in politics and in the media speak with contempt about their fellow citizens. Contempt is poison to democracy…People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”

In his letter to the early Church, the Apostle Peter warned that “scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” Scoffers and mockers are not only those who poke fun at us. Ridicule is just a step along the way to something far more serious and ultimately fatal. It is not cynicism or irony or even humor. Contempt is deadly hatred posing as superiority – intellectual, moral or political. The soldiers were mocking Christ when they whipped him. The Psalmist writes about scoffers who long to see him dead. Mockers want to stir up anger and violence – not just ridicule. Ecclesiastes says, “anger rests in the bosom of fools” and Proverbs says, “mockers stir up a city.”

Do you know how carbon monoxide works? Because its bonding power with hemoglobin is more than 200 times stronger than oxygen, it simply prevents the body from getting oxygen. While it does not attack or assault, its effect is silent, gradual and absolutely fatal. It merely works better than oxygen. People who are contemptuous of others are poison. They are monoxides, and because we are increasingly numbed we have lost our sensitivity to the threat they pose.

Contempt also poisons what makes the life of a democracy possible – respect. A friend told me this week that all Democrats are pure evil. Another claimed that Donald Trump is beyond contempt as she rolled her eyes dramatically. I read headlines like “MSNBC Mocks Trump As A Business Failure” or “Trump Mocks Biden Stumble” and I realize how right Sebastian Junger is. We are more in danger of losing our democracy to the monoxide of contempt than the invasion of a physical enemy. The bonding power of contempt is overwhelming that of respect and a common purpose.

Arthur Brooks often has said, “The best way to have a permanent enemy is to show contempt,” and he is right. Instead of two parties who disagree – sometimes vehemently – we are in danger of creating permanent enemies who treat each with contempt and are convinced of the utter worthlessness of the other.

A nation can recover from the bloodiest of wars, but it is the cold and bloodless wars that leave us laid bare and divided. Again, that is what Peter warns. Those who mock and scoff and treat others with contempt are interested only in creating divisions that are beyond healing. I don’t think we are there but when soldiers returning from mortal danger are more fearful of the poisons of our divided nation than the unrelenting life-threatening assaults of a merciless enemy then we have cause to fear for our Republic.

 

 

You can purchase my book “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 19 comments
  • Avatar
    Walter Hansen
    Reply

    Fred, Thanks for giving this stringent purgative to wash out the poison of contempt. “Happy are those who do not sit in the seat of scoffers” (those who spread the deadly virus of contempt) Psalm 1.
    Walter Hansen

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I have (and suspect you do as well) spent so much time in Psalm 1. In fact, I taught on it two weeks ago. Someday, we will have another opportunity to sit face to face and talk.

  • Avatar
    Lorie (Fouts) Farrar
    Reply

    Words of wisdom. Exposed and identified our current state of society well.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lorie. I told someone this morning that I write best about things that expose my own struggles. I am a world class mocker and scoffer. Oh, wretched man that I am!

      • Avatar
        Lorie Farrar
        Reply

        Happy Birthday, wise one.

  • Avatar
    Patty Machin
    Reply

    Thank you Fred – what words of wisdom.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Patty. I just loved the photo image and wrote a blog to match!

  • Avatar
    John Coors
    Reply

    I have contempt for the godless Marxist views being forced upon us, because I know God lives and loves. He yearns for our return to Him. Are we not already at war with ourselves? How do we fight a war without some sense of moral superiority? I know the marxists feel they own moral superiority.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. I know there is a place for anger – even appropriate hatred – if it has a purpose and accomplishes something. In my life contempt has not done anything positive. Proverbs 6:12-15 has been a guide for me when I have trouble knowing the difference. This describes someone who holds people in contempt, I think. I am a world class mocker and an accomplished scoffer so I spend a lot of time on these verses.

      A troublemaker and a villain,
      who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
      who winks maliciously with his eye,
      signals with his feet
      and motions with his fingers,
      who plots evil with deceit in his heart—
      he always stirs up conflict.
      Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;
      he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

  • Avatar
    Clint Roxburgh
    Reply

    Great blog Fred. I had really never thought about how big a divide there is between “conflict“ and “contempt”. I appreciate your perspective. Now to recognize when the first starts to turn into the second. Practice always seems more difficult for me than philosophy.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thanks, Clint. I’ve had plenty of conflict experience in my life and while it wears
      me out it does not get to my soul. I passed along this verse to John Coors in response to his comment. For me this is the difference between conflict and contempt.

      A troublemaker and a villain,
      who goes about with a corrupt mouth,
      who winks maliciously with his eye,
      signals with his feet
      and motions with his fingers,
      who plots evil with deceit in his heart—
      he always stirs up conflict.
      Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant;
      he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

  • Avatar
    Susan Awes
    Reply

    These words, forwarded by a friend, came at a moment when the Spirit was convicting me
    that I was coming to the shore’s edge of contempt, (politically), and God forgive me, feeling a sure
    moral superiority. I have dwelled on them all weekend and have a work of repentance
    ahead of me – yet already am sensing a lightening of spirit, accompanied by joy – and
    a turning in purpose. Thank you seems trivial, but thank you.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you for these words, Sue.

      “we don’t have much say

      beyond our own circle

      settle for that

      shine your light

      in the midst

      and not on yourself

      but on those in the dark

      and those on the fringe

      and those who have sorrow

      it’s more than enough.”

      I read your blog this morning.

  • Avatar
    Rod Mabry
    Reply

    This blog is excellent, Fred. It’s clear advice will help me reduce the appearance of contempt as I write and speak, keeping my comments more often in the realm of criticism. Nevertheless, the culture war is real, and one that requires battle to avoid slipping into unconstrained and forced one-party rule and group-think. Free speech is already effectively dead on almost all campuses, and openly dead on the large ones. Bans of hate speech on campuses have fully devolved into banning the non-dominant view of the world on campus. In 2020, we now have cases of university administrations tossing students from their ranks—including Texas, at Hardin-Simmons U—for not expressing the new values. Our universities are usually 10-15 years ahead of the rest of society, but this movement is already 8-10 years old. Without stronger language and real action, the rest of us will assuredly be required to join the fold.

  • Avatar
    Rod Mabry
    Reply

    Fred, it’s should be its. Perhaps the word “in” before Texas to make it clear I’m talking about the state and not the university in that instance.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Rod – I agree. Like so many others I am concerned about the “cancel culture” on campuses as well as other organizations – like media. I thought the resignation letter from Bari Weiss was a good example of what journalists face. As well, I believe in strong resistance and various ways of doing that. Humor has often been an effective tool as Thomas Nast used it against Boss Tweed. He was not contemptuous but prophetic. Prophetic as in speaking out and not in predicting the future. We need prophets but not mockers. Mocking is their tool. Freedom of speech will always be a threat to the spirit of demagogues.

  • Avatar
    Raymond C. Pierce
    Reply

    This is an incredibly important analysis and warning. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the ‘Beloved Community’ the nation would have to build following the often times fierce debate,fight, and disagreement that encompassed the Civil Rights Movement against Jim Crow. After the victory following the Montgomery Bus Boycott Dr. King warned against demonizing the opposition and instead preached that the aftermath was the time for reconciliation and unity. To build the Beloved Community that is referenced in the Gospels and the Book of Acts. The opposite would lead to hate and division. Contempt is the enemy of The Beloved Community. To survive as a nation The Beloved Community must be embraced with a fierce love for all that is good, just and right. The Beloved Community may require a strategic policy that forms a movement. I fear this slime of contempt requires more than faith and prayer that it will recede. Combating the slime of contempt will require massive work. Faith without works is dead.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you for this perspective. I could not agree more. We will need to pledge ourselves to a peaceful transition and not a counter-revolution or a tribunal or Nuremberg court. There has been so much rancour and spite on both sides that we could enter a long period of retribution and hatred. How do we
      do this?

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