I confess that I was truly shocked when someone I went to school with wrote a comment on something I posted on Facebook, which read as follows:
No since Barack is an absolute moron and possibly the most worthless president that ha been elected
It wasn't the spelling and lack of punctuation that bothered me, nor surprise at this person apparently being on a first-name basis with the president.
It was shock that someone would actually write that, someone I went to school with, would write something at once so insulting and so ridiculous.
Apparently I should not have been that surprised. A piece I saw today on Opposing Viewpoints suggests that hate speech about president Obama is on the rise on Facebook.
At the time, my first instinct had been to respond by saying that if the leader of a country, one who is well-educated and articulate, seems to you like a moron, then that probably just goes to show how hard it is for such a person to lead a country among the citizens of which there are people who are such morons that they would call an intelligent person a moron, in public, and think it makes them look smart.
In the end, I chose to reply somewhat more pointedly, focusing on the fact that casting a quick insult says nothing about the intelligence of the person insulted, but says a lot about the one doing the insulting.
What I want to comment on here is what the extent and pervasiveness of such vitriol tells us about the United States.
We are a country the vast majority of whose population self-identifies as Christian.
We are a country in which a great many people believe that the nation was founded on Christian values, and that departing from them is disastrous.
We are a country in which a surprisingly large number of people do not realize that hating even an enemy, if that's what they think Barack Obama is, would be completely antithetical to the previous two points.
We are a country in which there seems to be no awareness that Barack Obama is motivated in some of his views and policies by his own Christian faith, often drawing on texts that are in the blind spot of the so-called Religious Right.
We are a country in which people will happily demean the intelligence and mental competence of a president even though he is highly educated and even taught at one of the nation's top universities, and will not realize that, while the insults themselves run counter to the Bible's teaching, propagating such insults to such an extent that people start to believe them is essentially bearing false testimony, something even more serious from a Biblical perspective.
Perhaps it would be a good thing if the United States did indeed see a return to its Christian roots. But unless a very substantial number of Americans grasp that that would include loving neighbors, loving enemies, and not insulting even people who insult us… And here's how the Holman Christian Standard Bible renders Matthew 5:22:
But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Fool!' will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, 'You moron!' will be subject to hellfire.
There is a lot of lip service paid to Christianity and the Bible in the United States, and unfortunately most of it comes from people who don't really know enough about Christianity or the Bible to do it effectively.
Whether the president's policies are right or wrong, helpful or harmful, the best or worst we've seen in years – none of that is the point of this post. The point is the one I made to my former classmate: the throwing about of insults doesn't in fact tell us much about the one insulted, but they do tell us a great deal about those doing the insulting.