There have been some stories making the rounds in the media recently about people losing friends over the upcoming election. I’m surprised that this is considered newsworthy. People lose friends all the time over contentious arguments, and politics provides a greater opportunity for contentiousness than just about any topic other than religion.
I’ve got more than one friend or casual acquaintance on Facebook who has posted something to the effect that, “If you plan on voting for candidate X/candidate Y, just unfriend me now.” Sorry, not going to happen. I wouldn’t stop talking to someone I know over such a thing. Even if a friend was convicted of a heinous crime and sent to prison for decades, I would not cease trying to be friends. So I’m certainly not going to separate us because of a disagreement over who to vote for.
Anger and contentiousness are becoming more and more prevalent in our culture. Sociologists and other learned people will conduct studies and write papers and give seminars on why this is the case. In my not so humble opinion, there’s no need to do any of that. Our culture’s abandonment of Christian principles, chiefly the true meaning of love, is the root cause of the widespread lack of mercy and forgiveness.
Now Ken, you may say, surely you don’t mean non-Christians as well? How can they abandon principles of a religion to which they do not belong? But I do mean non-Christians as well, because American culture came into being from people who were almost exclusively Christians. The culture of this country formed over time with Christian principles at its core, to the point where those Christian principles came to be seen as much a part of American culture as distinctively American principles such as the primacy of the individual. Eventually they were synonymous with the culture in the eyes of the public.
Today that has changed. The areas where Christianity and American culture intersect have been shrinking dramatically over many decades due to changes in the culture. One of the earliest separations was the acceptance of contraception, breaking the link between the sex act and children in the minds of many people. A generation later, we experienced the sexual revolution and the eventual acceptance of no fault divorce. No fault divorce expressly presents marriage as not only a mere contract rather than a covenant, but a contract of so little importance that it can be dissolved without any actual wrongdoing on the part of one of the spouses.
Some people claim that these things, these attacks on the family, were done in a sinister manner to transform and/or destroy American culture. That isn’t the case. A culture changes when enough people decide to believe or do something different. These changes were allowed because even back then a large number of Christians were only nominally Christian and did not understand the nature of marriage and the family. And as the culture has diverged further from its Christian roots, it has became harder every year to explain why anything that originally came from Christianity should be retained.
Just as one example, arguments against abortion are seen as Christian arguments. Even if religion is never mentioned and the argument is made by an atheist on purely biological terms, any argument against abortion is immediately dismissed by the culture at large as an imposition of Christian morality.
As Saint John Paul II wrote in multiple documents, but most profoundly in “On Reconciliation and Penance”, the chief consequence of sin is deep and painful division. Division within the family, division between social classes, division between nations, deep and painful division of any kind, is brought about by acceptance of sin. Sin brings about a lack of interest in reconciliation, a lack of interest in mending the division and ending the separation. Sin separates even those who should be close: husband from wife, parent from child, brother from sister.
In purely human terms, these divisions are too great for us to ever reconcile. We can’t hope to bring together people who disagree over such dramatically different and polarizing views of the world. Are the unborn nothing more than clumps of cells, or are the unborn people with an innate dignity and worth beyond price? Are acts of charity a personal responsibility that I must participate in directly in some manner, or can I leave charity to the government without me doing anything beyond allowing them to tax me to fund such things however they see fit? Is there an objective truth out there that does not change depending on our own personal perspectives, or is truth subjective and each of us can determine on own own what is right and wrong?
Left to our own devices, we will never reconcile these and other mutually contradictory and conflicting arguments. Might will make right, with the loser bending to the will of whoever holds power at any given moment.
Our only answer is to turn to a mystery. That mystery is something unfortunately not really thought about by the vast majority of Christians, much less the rest of the world. It is the mystery of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. God himself entered into the world as one of us, lived and walked with us, laughed and cried with us. Incarnated as Jesus, the Son hung on the cross in agony and cried out the cry that is in the soul of each and every one of us whenever we suffer:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
God KNOWS, not just intellectually but through personal experience, what it’s like to experience the effects of sin and division. He knows what we experience when we’re rejected, because he himself was rejected. Almost all of his closest friends abandoned him in his time of suffering. He went through pain, sadness, and despair like us, possibly worse than some of us, and definitely worse than anything I’ve experienced in my own life. And then he died, tortured and humiliated before the public.
The symbol of the Christian faith is not a golden throne, or the tablets of the Ten Commandments, or a beautiful church, or a ray of light, or anything glorious. No, it is an instrument of torture.
In the Catholic Church, we don’t just use the symbol of the cross most of the time. We use a crucifix, a cross with the body of Jesus depicted hanging on it. Through it we remind ourselves of the suffering that God endured for our sake. He didn’t need to suffer, but he did it for us. He expressed his deep love for his creation by joining us where we are and showing us that through suffering it is possible to heal division.
For after he rose from the dead, he met his disciples who fled from him in his time of need and forgave them. He did not return from the dead the same as he was before, but glorified. He did not point out the way to mend divisions and send us off on our way, but walked before us and then invited us to follow.
So no, I will never lose a friend over any disagreement. I will never cut someone off, no matter what they do. If someone else chooses to be separated from me, I will not choose to be separated from them. I will continue to love them and pray for them, and check on a regular basis to see if they want me back in their life.
I can’t heal the divisions of the world; the world is too big and the chasms separating people are too deep. But through cooperation with God, I can allow him to heal me. I can allow him to work through me to mend whatever divisions are near me.
Everyone else can as well. All we have to do is ask God, and he will answer. He may not give the answer we want; he rarely gives me the answer I want. But like any good and loving parent, he will always give us the answer that we need. Because he loves us, even when we are not worthy of love.
Especially when we are not worthy of love, because that is when we need love the most.