The Bosom of Fools

 In Culture, Faith, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Politics

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 newest 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 talks about scoffers who want 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 Hillary Clinton is pure evil. Another claimed that Donald Trump is beyond contempt as she rolled her eyes dramatically. I read headlines like “Clinton Mocks Trump As A Business Failure” and “Trump Mocks Clinton 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 preventing that of respect and a common purpose.

Arthur C. Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute spoke recently at The Gathering. Brooks 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.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Joe Leininger

    This is such a good and timely word Fred. I stand properly rebuked and will repent of this toxic spirit that has taken root in me during this unusual season. It is a prophetic word for the church and the country and I will certainly share it with others.

    • John

      I agree. Conviction and repentance are good for the (my) soul. And here I was feeling so good about myself. 🙁

  • Patty

    Thank you Fred – what words of wisdom.

  • Christine Novak

    So true, Fred. I fist saw that contempt turn inward with the Vietnam war. Since then it seems we’ve been suffering from a growing cancer of self contempt. Michael Gerson was so right when he said the quality of public discourse has crumbled. “Come, let us reason together” requires that we love our self, our neighbors and our enemies. It’s up to the Body of Christ to restore that love and respect.

  • Todd

    I had never thought how powerful the “rolling eyes” thing is but Arthur’s talk riveted me and I now see contempt as a seemingly pervasive issue in our culture
    Makes me think of Galatians 5:17-21…..

    Thanks for always challenging me Fred!

  • Rebecca M Harrison

    I sit here wondering how I can get this message to everyone I know, realizing that I must begin with self and the incidious attitude that I allow to creep in toward those who “dont seem to get it”. At some level we are all guilty; at the most important level we must all embrace what God has given you to share. And I must suggest that you run this by often.
    Thank you

  • Tony

    Fred, I wish everyone could read your words of wisdom … but first, I need to check my contempt-meter and replace any coontempt with respect for others, even those I disagree with. Here is how to fix this problem – humans are designed to live in groups, just like Neanderthals, bonobos, dolphins, elephants). When we live intimately with our extended family and neighbors, interacting eyeball to eyeball and face to face, we are forced to resolve our differences. When extended family and community give way to massive, wealthy, lethal governments, ego-driven politicians, and wealthy corporations who will spend and bribe in the $ millions to increase their profits, then unity gives way to division, and a house divided against itself cannot stand. Are we the USA or the DSA (Divided States of America)?

    “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (J Krishnamurti)

  • Linda Wilkinson

    Jesus loves them which in itself is worthy of my respect.
    – a guilty one.

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