Some of the things that I am about to express today may offend you.
Some of the things that I am about to express may not apply to you.
But either way, they are statements, ideas, and conclusions, that have not been discussed enough lately in the discourse that has been permeating our long, national narrative for at least the last twenty-five years, but they are present most recently in our national non-discourse, since the death of a man in St. Louis last year.
Or maybe it was the death of a young boy in Florida.
The deaths are only the latest example of human beings engaged in the ultimate conflict—violence—with each other, as a way to resolve issues.
These deaths are troubling, but not for the obvious reasons that drive social media communications, meme generations, outraged postings, declaratory blog posts, media declarations, and the fake outrage of television pundits, entertainment celebrities, and social justice advocates.
These deaths are troubling because, instead of drawing the American (and global) population closer together, they (and their immediate, reactionary aftermath) seem to only drive people further apart, into separate camps, meme-ing and glowering at each other with outrageous social media declarations about “unfriending” people who disagree.
Their deaths are troubling because the underlying issue beneath of all of these deaths is never truly talked about, examined, or dissected.
Maybe because that issue appears to “obvious,” to “easy” to deal with, or perhaps, the issue appears to be so unsophisticated to our contemporary minds, that it overwhelms us with the depth of its simplicity.
But, much like Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer is often the most accurate one.
But not the easiest one to solve.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956
Discussion about the depth, breadth, and nature of the problem of human evil—and changing the hearts and minds of the people who have a propensity to do evil rather than to do good—gets less and less sweeping media coverage of any kind these days.
Collectively, we have decided in the United States (with much of the rest of the world not far behind)—that people (both individually and at scale) will just be perfect (or can at least be coerced into being good) if enough laws are passed, if enough people are socially sanctioned and made uncomfortable about holding and expressing uncomfortable opinions, and if the public responds quickly enough to get outsiders to straighten up.
We believe the Rousseauian myth (though he was not the first to express it) that man is driven to commit evil because of inequalities in society (a society, of course built by imperfect men) that manifest through the disparate gossamer of poverty, racism, sexism, or whatever phobia there is of the moment.
Culturally, we accept that the root of human evil is not based in a soul fallen through the curse of Original Sin (I mean…who wants to talk about sin?), but instead we believe that evil lies somewhere buried in deep in all of the social structures humans have invented, built and maintained over time.
We genuinely believe that if we just change the structures, either gradually or immediately, that justice will be meted out, that death will come only to the guilty, and that peace and freedom without consequence will reign.
And that would be a fine, worthy set of beliefs to pursue, if they weren’t proven catastrophically wrong, time, and time again.
Yesterday was the anniversary of Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton in a meaningless duel over politics, honor, and expedience.
The Hutus and the Tutsis engaged in genocidal mass slaughter with machetes in Rwanda in the 1990’s.
All over the world today, children wake up and are abused, beaten, and even worse, on their way to adulthoods, where they will continue the patterns of senseless abuse with their children.
A few days ago, a man shot police officers doing their job.
A few days before that, a man was shot in a traffic stop.
A few weeks before that, a man shot 50 people in a nightclub who weren’t bothering anybody.
A few months before that, a child was shot in a neighborhood scuffle.
And for years upon years, the crime rate in major cities in America has been ticking ever so slowly downward, even as the heinousness of the crimes that created public ripples through immediate reporting shock us even more with their depravity.
A few days ago, a college student got drunk and raped another college student.
A few years ago, cocaine, and then crack addiction were tearing up cities with murders, thefts, and all other manner of depravity.
And now heroin is doing the same thing, in “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” rural areas populated by the poor, the abused, and the neglected.
A few decades ago, some cops pulled a man out of a car in LA and beat him, seemingly without provocation—and no one put down the camera to stop them.
A few decades ago, violent riots swept through cities, following an endless spate of assassinations that no government entity could prevent.
In the 1930’s a government put the pressure to its own citizens and ultimately drove many of them into gas chambers, putting the horrifyingly apt title of The Final Solution to a process that had previously had no designation, other than the term pogrom, going back into the Middle Ages.
The examples overwhelm because at the bottom, they are about the depravity and evil of the human heart, which is desperately wicked, desperately ego-driven and selfish, and desperately desirous to do whatever may come to mind unto others without consequence, rather than having anything done unto them.
The typical, rule/sanction based bulwarks of religion, government, and even social sanctioning are gradually losing their ability to sway people away from committing individual acts of evil. Paradoxically, they are gradually swinging toward passively supporting, more and more, collectively larger acts of systemic institutional evil, because, as the Founding Fathers noted in the Declaration of Independence “…all experience has shown, that mankind is more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
And as the rule/sanction moorings fall away, one by one, the only thing that is left between people are relationships; the ties that bind, as it were. And even those are tenuous, at best, without something else buttressing them.
Do black lives matter?
Do white lives matter?
Do cop lives matter?
Do civilian lives matter?
Do children’s lives matter?
Do women’s lives matter?
Do men’s lives matter?
Do rich people’s lives matter?
Do poor people’s lives matter?
Does changing the human heart matter?
Does it start with you?
And now we are at the crux of the current manifestation of the age-old matter in our digital age.
No hashtag ever changed a thing.
In person change has always been fraught with difficulty, misunderstandings, miscommunications, negative escalations, and conflicts. When people talk with each other face-to-face there is always the opportunity for confusion and conflict, particularly if the conversation in question is questioning deeply held stories around values, worldviews, and frames.
It takes a lot of emotional quickening to escalate from a conversation to a confrontation to a conflict to a fistfight to a war. There are many discrete steps in face-to-face communication that social norming has established, developed, and refined for thousands of years to limit such escalation. But, as is always the case, human beings’ tools for communication get better, friction and misunderstanding increases, even as the speed of communication increases, and conflicts flare up.
From carrier pigeons to riders on horseback to the telephone to mail by airplane to emails and now Twitter, there have always been people who would rather fight to hold onto the status quo in their hearts, than take a risk and explore a different way. As the speed of our tools has increased how fast we get a message and then react to it, (going from days or weeks to micro-seconds) there hasn’t been a commensurate increase in the heart of rational contemplation.
Thus we get to social media communication.
The collective social media population reacts within seconds to an offense that culminates publicly only after brewing deeply in a human heart for years, and then uses the immediacy of social communication tools to psychologically manipulate people on the other end of the message into reacting rather than thinking.
And there’s really only two reactions available: fight or flight.
Not a measured argument.
Not a reasonable discourse.
Not knowledge or growth.
They are looking for either a respondent’s heels or their fangs.
In the case of the Internet, and the communication tools we have built on top of it, we have exchanged immediacy for escalation, and have confused personal passion driven by our reactions for legitimacy of an assertion.
Ease of access to digital tools also allows our solutions to deeply heart-based problems to be focused on the tawdry and the spectacle—which is short term—instead of the deliberative and the reasonable—which is long-term.
No hashtag ever saved a child.
Our desire to comment, burn, and react on the basis of spectacle, indicates that the type of communication we desire is that which will be friction free, painless, non-relationally based communication, when we want it, how we want it, that allows us to do what we want, when we want, how we want.
But this is an inherently selfish and vain position, a reaction from deep in the human heart to strike immediately at those who hurt us. A reaction that culminates in employing the phraseology of escape (“Please “unfriend” me if you disagree with me”) rather than the language of understanding, compassion, and recognition that we are all fallen.
We are all in need of justice with mercy, compassion with understanding, and reconciliation without strings.
No hashtag ever made a traffic stop less dangerous, or more dangerous.
Online communication will always be fraught with difficulty and no amount of changing a name policy, policing speech we don’t like, or building walls and doors into our platforms (or our physical lives), is going to prevent than difficulty.
The solution to all of this, as with most things, lies in changing the motivations, the drives, and the worrying tendencies deep in the dark heart of man. But we cannot begin this change under our own power.
My long, troubled, questioning journey through physics, philosophy, politics, and even religion, has convinced me that the solution to the all of these motivations, drives, and worrying tendencies, endlessly repeated from one news cycle to another, lies first in individually establishing a heart-felt, meaningful, personal relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, reading the Bible, and joining with others in community of all races, genders, orientations, and beliefs.
But many people (some of whom are my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms) are unwilling to believe that the solution to all of this depravity is this simple. Some of you (if you’ve made it this far) will probably be vehemently disagreeing with me. Some of you will be confusing the ineffective, rule/sanction based bulwark of religion, with meaningful relationship with other people in Christ.
I welcome your feedback.
I am friends (and nominal associates) with all manner of races, sexual orientations, political positions, and religious/non-religious people on many social platforms. I do not run from disagreement on this conclusion, and I welcome questioning.
Because I am talking about relationships.
When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, not a rule based relationship, you don’t go it a nightclub and shoot people. No matter how egregious their life choices may seem to you in the natural.
When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you pray for those who have wronged you racially, ethnically, and socially, and you let those prayers change your mindsets, behaviors and attitudes before you put on your policing uniform.
When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you let that relationship determine when to disobey (civilly) those in authority, when to obey (in civilly) those in authority, and when to let God sort it out.
When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you are not frightened, worried, or consumed by human injustice perpetrated by human actors; instead you are emboldened to act with courage in the face of all of that, knowing that Jesus walks before you—so who can be against you?
When you have a real relationship with Jesus Christ, you are able to forgive your enemies before they do unto you, without rancor, without judgment, and without fear of what you will lose.
I am convinced, now more than ever, that the greatest impact we will ever have on each other—the greatest ability that we will ever display to others to show them how to “destroy a piece of [their] own hearts” is by walking out the love, compassion, and nonviolent response exemplified in the life, actions, and words of Jesus Christ, to people whose opinions, positions, and even behavior and actions, we find to be scary, repulsive, revolting, and even violating human decency.
Our role is not to deal out death (whether that be rhetorical death via a social media post or literal death via a weapon) in judgement, for who can know all ends of the human heart?
Who can predict how walking out the impact of a relationship that goes above all human knowledge will affect that other person who disagrees—even unto death?
No hashtag ever generated a relationship with Christ in another human being.
The solutions are simple, but not easy.
Teach your children to use kind words with each other and role model not looking at the phone.
Go and talk to your neighbor who disagrees with you politically, economically, racially, scientifically, emotionally, and find out why they disagree through actively listening to them, rather than making a judgment.
Take the inner journey toward Jesus Christ, with or without a Bible believing church behind you. This journey—if you take it as seriously as you take protesting, demonstrating, and inspirational posting—will change your heart fundamentally, if you let it. It is no surprise that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a practicing Reverend first, and then a nonviolent demonstrator, and then a public hero.
No matter what your title, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your desires, or your needs, begin with changing the world, by changing yourself—your own dark heart—first.
Avoid dealing out metaphorical (or even literal) death in judgment, and instead lead with compassion.
For justice without mercy is merely dressed up revenge.
And mercy without justice is merely watered down passivity.
We are all called to be active, not passive, players in this life, regardless of our title, our position in life, our past history, or our current situation.
I am not preaching human love. I am not advocating for human understanding. I am not writing for more of the same thing that doesn’t work. I am not telling you who to vote for. I am not telling you what church to go to. I am not telling you what pundit’s video to reTweet, or what meme to post.
I am focused, laser-like, on uplifting you toward examining yourself first and then looking at others. I am focused laser-like on destroying pieces of my own heart that are capable of evil. I am focused laser-like on attaining and facilitating the justice that Jesus Christ would have me attain and facilitate, rather than engaging over and over again with my own anger, disappointment, and disgust.
And the diamond through which I am shining that laser-like focus is my real relationship with Jesus Christ.
The solutions cannot be all wrapped up neatly at the end of a 2700-word + essay, because the problems are buried deep in the human heart.
They’ve been going on since man disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, and then, Cain slew Abel and his blood cried out from the ground for justice.
They’ve been going on since Abraham bargained with God for the preservation of Sodom and Gomorrah.
They’ve been going on since the Romans burned Christians as pyres to light Nero’s palace.
They’ve been going on since the Catholic Church killed Jews and other non-believers, in the Inquisition.
They’ve been going on since one part of our country decided that they would rather engage in an apocalyptic Civil War than give up the trade of humans as chattel.
They’ve been going on since Vladimir Lenin decided that in order to make a “perfect world” he would have to break some eggs.
They’ve been going on since Hutus and Tutsis destroyed Lake Victoria with each other’s dead bodies.
They’ve been going on since a cop shot a man in a car for no other reason than he appeared to be threatened.
We cannot begin changing others under our own power until we change ourselves first.
If we could, we would have done it already.
We need more Jesus, not less.
And not the Jesus we make up to make ourselves feel comfortable about our human evils, and to justify our judgements and decisions, but the Jesus who is what He says He is.
Or else…well…just look at the headlines, the videos, the news reports, and the decay of interaction to see what the inevitable outcome will look like.