Charity in the Age of Trump

Charity in the Age of Trump January 24, 2017

To start, we have to consider the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” a term coined by literary theorist (and Christian) Paul Ricœur. In essence, it means not taking the superficial meaning of a text or person for granted. Something else must be at play. Trump’s similarities with Putin must mean he’s a puppet. Those small hands suggest a small something else, an inadequacy that can be overcome only by holding power. Hillary Clinton’s exhaustion must mean she’s ill and unfit to lead.

It’s a way of uncharitably reading the world, the culturally-salient version of “trust no one.” Its converse is a “hermeneutics of faith,” a certain willingness to believe, a gut reaction of, not disagreement, but hope. It’s a way of charitably reading the world.

That may sound a bit naïve. It’s bound to in our society. It’s the way simple folk think, those who don’t recognize just how depraved the world is. I, however, disagree. Having endured chronic illness and the early death of a parent, I am well aware that the world is not fair, that most people are not being totally honest most of the time. And yet, suspicion does nothing but breed more suspicion. What of childlike innocence?

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. (Matthew 18:1-5)

Will we be the unforgiving servant or the obedient child of Christ? When we see news will we immediately assume it validates our narrative or will we wait for the emergence of more facts? Will we hear what we want or will charity live in our ears and on our tongues?

Some of you may recall that I put up a very emotional piece a few months back. It involved some very difficult admissions. To this day, if you look at the comments or find postings about in online, you’ll find people who have chosen to ignore my account of what happened; they have labelled me a naïve fool, obviously repressed and romantically incapable. Never mind my pre- (and post-) conversion history of sins, my past relationships, or my detailed account of how what happened happened. No. The narrative must be kept intact.

I do not have anger at such people, but after experiencing what suspicion can do to a person enduring emotional difficulties and seeing how it has utterly transformed our politics (let alone our culture!), I cannot help but desire to check the tendency in myself.

I refuse to turn everyone into an enemy; I refuse to seek confirmation (the irony of the hermeneutic of suspicion!) in everything I see and read.

Such suspicion is a form of narcissism. It exalts itself from an ironic distance. But to turn the question back on such un-charity, I cannot help but ask: might the only persons worthy of our constant scrutiny be ourselves? Is it not as Simone Weil has written?

We have to turn all our disgust into a disgust for ourselves.

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