Smart people saying smart things (10.5.18)

Smart people saying smart things (10.5.18) October 5, 2018

Elizabeth Bruenig, “What Do We Owe Her Now?”

It’s obvious that vulnerability will elicit viciousness from predators. But then there are the rest of us … What motivates otherwise ordinary people to abandon all pretense of mercy when faced with the abject need for it?

To look into the eyes of a vulnerable person is to see yourself as you might be. It’s a more harrowing experience than one might readily admit. There is a version of yourself made powerless, status diminished, reliant upon the goodwill of others. One response is empathy: to shore up your reserves of charity and trust, in hopes that others will do the same. Another is denial: If you refuse to believe you could ever be in such a position — perhaps by blaming the frail for their frailty or ascribing their vulnerability to moral failure — then you never have to face such an uncomfortable episode of imagination. You come away disgusted with the weak, but content in the certainty you aren’t among them.

Or they make you feel helpless, just by dint of how little you can do to stop what’s being done to them. The temptation in that case is to look away, let it all be someone else’s problem, or deny that there’s a problem in need of resolution in the first place.

Adam Serwer, “The Cruelty Is the Point”

There’s the photo of a crowd of white men huddled behind the smoldering corpse of a man burned to death; one of them is wearing a smart suit, a fedora hat, and a bright smile.

Their names have mostly been lost to time. But these grinning men were someone’s brother, son, husband, father. They were human beings, people who took immense pleasure in the utter cruelty of torturing others to death — and were so proud of doing so that they posed for photographs with their handiwork, jostling to ensure they caught the eye of the lens, so that the world would know they’d been there. Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer to one another.

Gregory Peck, “That’s why we’re so concerned”

Nathan J. Robinson, “How We Know Kavanaugh Is Lying”

The existence of a “he said, she said” does not mean it’s impossible to figure out the truth. It means we have to examine what he said, and what she said, as closely as possible. If both parties speak with passion and clarity, but one of them says many inconsistent, evasive, irrational, and false things, while the other does not, then we actually have a very good indicator of which party is telling the truth. If a man claims to be innocent, but does things—like carefully manipulate words to avoid giving clear answers, or lie about the evidence—that you probably wouldn’t do if you were innocent, then testimony alone can substantially change our confidence in who to believe.

In this case, when we examine the testimony of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford honestly, impartially, and carefully, it is impossible to escape the following conclusions:

  1. Brett Kavanaugh is lying.
  2. There is no good reason to believe that Christine Blasey Ford is lying. This does not mean that she is definitely telling the truth, but that there is nothing in what Kavanaugh said that in any way discredits her account.

Kristin Du Mez, “Evangelicals, Let’s Talk About Violence Against Women”

And no, I’m sorry, but evangelical opposition to the Clintons doesn’t count as opposition to sexual assault. It might count for something, if evangelicals had demonstrated equal concern for Anita Hill at the same time. (To be sure, conservative evangelicals are hardly the only ones guilty of partisan tribalism when it comes to selective outrage over misconduct; liberals certainly have plenty to answer for in this regard as well. But it’s also worth noting that, aside from any partisan political sex scandal, conservative Christian leaders spearheaded opposition in the 1990s to the Violence Against Women Act.)

Why do evangelicals have such a difficult time condemning sexual assault, harassment, and domestic abuse?


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