The root of all true heresies is to assume “we” are right, true, and good while everyone else has none of these virtues. It is the assumption of all of Jesus’ enemies in the gospels. When the apostles assume it for themselves, Jesus rebukes them for the spirit they exhibit. The last two decades demonstrates the destructiveness of this belief. Today, it is summed up in the Good Guys with Guns myth. Believing in one’s own virtue to the extent that nothing one does is wrong or evil, is antithetical to St. Paul’s reminder that all sin and fall short of divine glory.
Supremacy and Good
White supremacists assume they are good because they are white. Christian supremacists assume they are virtuous because they are Christian. In their minds, the good people should be in charge and defend others like themselves. How should that be done? By terrorizing our enemies.
The Klan in my area were not just white supremacists but enforcers of Christian morality. Beatings and lynchings were justified in the name of the Bible. During its heyday, the Klan was made up of businessmen, preachers, and deacons. Who better to decide these issues?
Payton Gendron believes himself to be the good guy in the massacre he committed in Buffalo. Dylan Roof spoke his justification to the people he shot in Charleston. Technically speaking they were law-abiding citizens until they murdered people. In their minds (and in some others), they were good guys carrying out brave deeds defending their racial identity.
Nationalism As Heresy
The nation-state is a relatively new concept historically speaking. Many Christians read the stories of King David and Solomon as though Israel was a modern state. But it was not an independent nation-state. Pharaoh took the town of Gezer, which was in the border of the Judean hill country, to give to Solomon. David did not reign over a town that close to him.
Nationalism is manufactured. Germany and Italy are nation-states that were founded in the 19th century. Somehow they became fascist in the middle of the 20th century. American nationalism before the civil war was very different after it. Yet, appeals to the earliest foundation of The United States are made to motivate a segment of the present day citizenry. White/Christian Nationalists look to the beginning of America as a Christian ethno-paradise. The myth is that somehow the nation has fallen and must be restored to this ideal.
What Is Good?
Giving a cup of water to your neighbor becomes suspicious if your neighbor is not one of the elect. This Manichean form of goodness is the opposite of real virtue. Letting the Other starve is allowable under such thinking. Whatever serves the ideology is good.
The idea of good guys with guns goes back to the earliest settlements of North America. Guns were the advantage European settlers had over the native population. The idea is repeated so often that we believe we need the most terrible weapons because we are good. And we should keep such weapons out of the hands of the bad guys. But defining the bad guys, is largely the work of propaganda. It manufactures hatred. Social media has taken the exclusive right to manufacture such hatred away from the government.
Manufacturing hatred is the prime industry for some corporate bodies including fringe groups. The Enemy is whoever thinks differently, looks strangely, or lives differently. The people who think themselves the good guys fear these different people will take over and replace them. They commit great evils and call it necessary.
What To Do?
Virtue is the issue. We need everyone to step up against the myth. “A good guy with a gun countering a bad guy with a gun,” only sounds legitimate. But as we see too many see murdering unarmed people in the name of good carrying out the opposite. The one virtuous person stands alone. But eventually everyone sees why that person is virtuous. The people of Jesus’ day who claim they would not have persecuted the prophets as their ancestors did were saying the right things. Jesus argues they did not really mean it.
Are we ready to speak truth in love to and against evil powers? The answer is we must do it. There is too much at stake for humanity for the church to hide itself away. The Russian Patriarch serves his master and let down his faithful. We cannot do that anymore. We must uphold the faithful. Attend the prayer vigils. Demonstrate the better way.