By / Feb 21

The term “dumpster fire” has been used so frequently as a metaphor over the last few years that Merriam-Webster decided in 2018 it warranted inclusion in the dictionary. It’s not difficult to understand why after even a cursory glance at cable television or social media. Americans seem to hate each other. Worse, hating each other seems to be the natural posture of our politics and, increasingly, a twisted sort of national pastime. 

It is this reality that Arthur Brooks, a social scientist and former head of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, seeks to address in his book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.

Brooks traces his argument across 10 chapters. His basic line of reasoning begins by highlighting the needlessly hyperbolic ways we talk about politics and the resulting damage. Contempt is the coin of the rhetorical realm today, and an “outrage industrial complex” has built a business model around indignation. While some Americans think that strongman rhetoric is necessary, Brooks shows that it is aspirational and love-driven leaders who are ultimately the most effective.

Brooks channels Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind to show that liberals and conservatives have different moral “taste buds,” and persuading others means crafting arguments in light of those taste buds most universally shared. From there, Brooks highlights the importance of real, human relationships and argues that anonymity “is a cancer that is wrecking our country, because it obliterates our ability to understand one another” (148).

Next, Brooks devotes a chapter to the public good of healthy competition, moves on to a chapter outlining how to disagree with one another in healthy way, and rounds out the book with a summary chapter that traces five “rules” to subvert a culture of contempt.

The problem with a culture of contempt 

What stands out as the most valuable aspect of Brooks’s book is his clear-eyed diagnosis of the problem of a culture of contempt. For example, Brooks is right to argue that social media has an isolating effect on individuals, which brings several other ills alongside. At the same time, social media fosters “motive attribution asymmetry” which is “the phenomenon of assuming that your ideology is based in love, while your opponent’s ideology is based in hate” (21).

It’s going to take much more than mere civility or tolerance to breach this societal impasse. It’s going to take love—love that sees people first and foremost as human beings created in the image of God rather than avatars made in the image of one’s political friend or foe.

Brooks is at his strongest in the book when he’s noting not just the individual problems of contempt, but the predatory business model built around it. “America is addicted to political contempt,” Brooks notes (28), but advertisers, television executives, social media designers, and others know that—and exploit it (212). Brooks, astutely, speaks of the problem in terms of drug addiction and of those seeking to commodify contempt as “political meth dealers” (29).

This isn’t hyperbolic language either. Studies show the way that certain social media behaviors and patterns evoke hormonal responses in the brain and how aspects of these platforms are engineered to be addictive. Furthermore, “social media intensifies our addiction by allowing us to filter out the news and opinions we disagree with, thus purifying the contempt drug” (30). In this respect, Brooks’s book serves as a sort of Surgeon General’s Warning that users would be wise not to ignore.

It’s going to take much more than mere civility or tolerance to breach this societal impasse. It’s going to take love—love that sees people first and foremost as human beings created in the image of God rather than avatars made in the image of one’s political friend or foe. It’s going to take courage—courage that is willing to stand up to someone on one’s own side for the sake of healthy disagreement. And it’s going to take wisdom—wisdom that realizes not only that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33), but also that there’s plenty of “bad company” to be found (and avoided) among those who agree with you politically.

We may be in a moment where our society finds itself standing around a cultural dumpster fire. But Love Your Enemies is a helpful book that I hope may help clear some of the smoke.

By / Aug 26

At the beginning of last year, the Lord made it clear that my home, my marriage and the last seven years of my life had been a lie.

He exposed the fact that my spouse was living a complete double life — one marked by terrible and almost unbelievable immorality. Everything I knew to be true and alive was in fact false and dead. His name was even on the infamous Ashley Madison list, though that was just the tip of the iceberg. My spouse was defined by the utter darkness of the sin he lived in and cherished.

To say I was grieved, shocked and devastated would be an understatement. I didn’t see it coming and couldn’t have conjured it up in my wildest imaginations. Our marriage was the personification of John 3:19-21:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

While I could write pages of all the sordid details, the most important things I have learned through this tragedy involve the work the Lord has been doing in my heart. Here are a few lessons that I pray will help you, as well:

1. You do not get to choose your tragedy — I would have never chosen this for myself. My greatest desire is to be a wife and a mom and to have a home for ministry, specifically centered on prayer and the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). I cannot choose the actions and consequences of another’s sin, but I can choose my response to it.

2. The death of my marriage brought the death of me — Great joy has come through great tragedy. The Lord has used this trial to reveal to me what is in my own heart. Jeremiah 17:9-10 reveals to us that our heart is desperately sick and wicked and only the Lord knows it. The Lord used this tragedy to pluck up, overthrow and destroy areas in my life that do not look like Christ, so He can build and plant (Jer. 1:10).

We want the Lord to build on our garbage, but do we allow the Lord of the Word to take the Word of the Lord and perform spiritual surgery? This I know full well: the Lord will not build on my junk. This is his mercy! Think of it this way, had there been any other way for God to redeem man unto himself, would he not have spared his Son? There was no other way, and the instrument used was the cross. Why would my walk look any different than Christ’s? Am I not to deny myself, take up my cross daily and follow him? This is putting to death the flesh, and it is for our good!

3. The enemy does not fight fair — When the Lord unveiled to me what was going on in my marriage, lies of the enemy flooded in at an ungodly speed. It was like an automatic machine gun was going off in my mind, lie after lie after lie. Jesus says in John 8:44-45 to the Pharisees,

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak truth, you do not believe me.

The Lord speaks and the enemy speaks; and he is still speaking today! This is as old as the Garden. In Genesis 2, the Lord speaks, and in Genesis 3, the enemy speaks. In those moments of great devastation, I had a choice to make: was I going to listen to the voice of the Lord or the voice of the enemy? The Truth in me chose truth.  

4. The Lord wants all of me — Over and over again in the Gospel of John, you see Christ saying, “I have come to do the will of my Father.” This is what brings glory to God — when I surrender my will to his will and walk in obedience. This displays his proper weight and value.

John, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, states, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (John 1:5-6). Here is where the rubber meets the road for me: does what I say and how I live align with truth? If not, I am deceived. As the Spirit of Truth worked in my heart through this time, I was constantly reminded that my husband wasn’t the only one who needed Jesus — I am in desperate need of him, too.

There are some days you will never forget because they are marked by great blessing or tragedy. For me, last year was marked by a great tragedy that the Lord, in turn, is using for my good and his glory. But the good came about through a personal act of obedience to the Lord, even though the revelation returned was great and costly. We have heard it said many times, “Sin affects others.” Yet, I also have seen that obedience affects others, too. Through my obedience, light was given, and as a result, darkness was exposed.

As I look back on the last year and what the Lord has done, I can honestly say I would not trade it for anything. And I wouldn’t go back, either. I have seen the richness of his Word and character in ways I would have never seen had I not walked through this tragedy. I can say with all sincerity, “The Lord causes all things to work for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).