...are the ones that make the biggest difference


The Presumption of Malice

Given the obviously partisan nature of politics in this country, which seems to have only worsened over the last several years with acrimonious debates about the war in particular, it is no surprise that people at one pole tend to take a negative view of the people at the other. Many a lefty takes a dim view of a righty's stance on the war, social programs, abortion, the economy and a host of other issues and vehemently vice versa. For the most part, though (I hope), this negativism is not personal. I think pro-abortionists are wrong but I don't think they are for "reproductive choice" because they find it quite a lot of fun to kill unborn children. I think the pro-Iraq war folks were and are wrong, but I don't think they find it quite a lot of fun to kill brown people or destroy other countries. The list goes on and for a large majority of Americans, I think we tend to look at those we disagree with in a generally neutral light. But there is an increasingly strident minority that does not. For these people, there is an inexplicable presumption of malice.

I think that presumption operates on a principle inversely similar to Occam's Razor - the reason that is most morally objectionable is the true reason someone supports this cause. This methodology seems to be gaining traction in both parties. I'm not talking about the generally negative speech that emanates from both party bases. Its no surprise that Rush Limbaugh or other conservative pundits credit most Democrats/liberals with stupidity, or that left-wing commentators accuse Republicans/conservatives of greed. No, this moves even further afield than that. In general, I don't count comments directed against particular politicians because I don't put political pandering and manipulation beyond just about anyone seeking national office anymore. Maybe I'm a bit cynical but I think the very nature of the political process in this country has become schizophrenic. We demand a degree of perfection and consistency from candidates that is impossible. There are certain ritualistic performances and statements that candidates have to comply with in order to be politically viable. Take the near worshipful view that all of the candidates have towards 'the troops.' I have no doubt that there is a degree of respect for the military in all of the candidates but not every single solider, sailor, airman or marine is a paragon of virtue. Not every combat action taken by an American has been honorable. Not every soldier is fighting for our freedom. Not every one in the military wants to be making the sacrifices they are making. And yet you wouldn't know it from the candidates' statements because you wouldn't know them as candidates if they didn't make them. Because a candidate changing their message or their views in response to polls or focus groups is no surprise, I personally don't think calling the kettle black is unacceptable. Rude, distasteful and occasionally over the top yes, but not altogether out of the question. Accusations of perfidy are par for the course precisely because of the corrupting nature of American politics.

Of late, however, I have heard comments that presume malice on the part of entire swaths of the American public. The two examples that stick out in my mind were made by those on the left but I know that there are just as many voices on the right echoing the sentiment. The first one that springs to mind was heard last week. A woman made the blanket assertion that we pro-lifers don't really care about the unborn child, rather, we're against abortion because it is a way to control women. By opposing abortion we, primarily, undermine the economic freedom of women who would be forced, in an abortion-free society, to forgo education and job opportunities to gestate and presumably raise their unwanted children. Opposition to abortion is then apparently a way we sexist misogynists can make up for, I dunno, women getting the right to vote or something. The second comment was heard just this morning. Two African-American female commentators were discussing the results of the New Hampshire primaries and suggested that a large number of conservative independents may have switched over to vote for Sen. Obama because they think "a black man can't win the popular vote." Helping him to get the nomination would then ensure a Republican victory by racist conservatives.

Personally, I find this kind of political speech disconcerting and reprehensible. And, most importantly, un-Christian. No matter how strongly we feel about an issue, no matter how staunchly we disagree with someone else, I don't think that we, as Christians, can ever presume malicious intent. If a pro-lifer came out and said "I oppose abortion to keep women down" or "I voted for Obama in the primaries because this country won't elect no n******", then these people have identified their own malice and revealed the ugly depths of their own hearts. But we as Christians have to do better than that. We are called upon to love our neighbor and, at the very least, we have to love them with the language we use to describe them. I think we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Which is why, from here through the election, and probably beyond, I'm not going to sit back and let other Christians speak in this manner. If I hear or read a presumption of malice I'm going to call them on it. I'm going to call them to the higher standard we all know we are obliged to live up to. Who's with me?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, Nathan.

"Presumption of malice" sums it up well.

-Doug (formerly of The Scrivener)