You're Stupid (And I'm 100% Right)

It could simply be this: because Mr. Obama constantly does things with which they disagree, Mr. Gingrich and others reason, he must not see the world as clearly as they do.

Ergo, he is stupid.

Appallingly stupid.

Fundamentally, mind-bogglingly, ridiculously stupid.

Mr. Gingrich, who is credited by some with "inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction" is also the modern champion of "You're stupid," for anyone who disagrees with him must be as appallingly stupid as a person can be. (Never mind the fact that the Speaker himself is now the recipient of attacks on his intelligence, ethical judgment, and steadiness from conservative spokespeople who disagree with him or dislike him, such as Bob Dole, Tom DeLay, and Ann Coulter.)

Because I disagree with many of Mr. Gingrich's expressed beliefs, I am tempted to call him stupid, because that is our natural human tendency, to denigrate the people who hold an opposing view. But surely I am different, better, smarter, have a right to suggest the superiority of my opinion. People listen to me. That must mean something, right? And although Mr. Gingrich likes to call himself a historian, I was hired by a much better college, achieved tenure, published scholarly articles in my field, achieved respect in the academy. Therefore, I must be of superior intellect, right?

And immediately, I am in the same moral mudfield as Mr. Gingrich and all other practitioners of the art of politics with whom I disagree.

Just because I have thought hard about the issues, just because I may have some native intelligence, just because I like my opinions and don't like to be challenged into examining them, I don't want to pay attention to you and your opinions. And the easiest way for me to continue on my happy way, is to diminish you.

So the problems with politics as usual for people of faith are clear. It is far easier to attack people than to have reasoned conversation about issues on which we disagree. It is easier to forget that our opponents too are beloved Children of God who simply see the world differently. (Which is why I love this Islamic teaching about diversity: that if God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, had wished for all of us to have precisely the same ideas and beliefs, wouldn't God have created us so?)

And it is easier to assume our own rightness than to remember that we live in a world in which our knowledge is always incomplete and imperfect (for, as Paul says, we see as through a glass, darkly), and that none of us can ever claim the Truth with a large "t." Therefore, as hard as it might be for us to stomach, as appallingly stupid as it might sound, we have to be open to the possibility that we might be something less than totally right, and that those we oppose may be less than totally wrong.

My colleague Alan Noble happens to be writing this week on that problem of arrogance, about what we as people of faith ought to do in disagreeing with others. For me, it comes down to this: At the most basic level, love and respect for my brother or sister as a Child of God demands that I respect their professed beliefs and ideas.

Not necessarily accept them as my own; I may find that impossible, given my own beliefs and ideas.

I may feel the need to lovingly ask questions, to disagree, to enter into dialogue.

But I believe that I am called to recognize that the essential differences between Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, anarchist, are somehow a part of God's plan.

Even if I myself am so appallingly stupid that I cannot recognize how that might be true.

2/2/2012 5:00:00 AM