Sometimes I find out just how angry people are. Sometimes I make the mistake of reading the comments. Facebook posts these days are so frequently about wearing masks, or about churches being open, or about opening businesses, or about keeping them closed. Even reading just those posts can sometimes remind me of the anger, but the comments – the comments are brutal.
The comments remind me that people actively hate me. That the very fact that I exist fills people with rage. Why? Because I am left of center. Because I trust in medical experts. Because I am a registered Democrat. According to the comments, this means that I am a communist, and a fascist, and I hate America. This means that I want to kill babies, and want to keep hard-working Americans locked in their homes. I want to destroy the economy. I am a coward. I am no Christian.
Not every comment says all these things, but they’ve all been said. And I don’t believe it’s all just bots. Real people wrote these things. And it’s not just the comments, it’s not just social media. This has been creeping into the letters page in the newspaper. It’s been creeping into stories in the newspaper. Just today (Memorial Day), the primary op-ed piece began with the words, “How dare Governor Wolf…”
I feel like I’m being attacked. Because of what I believe about science, about politics, and about faith, I am attacked by people who are filled with righteous indignation against me and my kind. It hurts to read it. Perhaps I’m just a “snowflake” who can’t take it. But it hurts. A lot.
I believe that some conservatives feel this way too. They also feel like they’re being attacked. They read social media, and the comments, and the newspaper, and they feel like people are attacking them. They see liberals calling them nasty names and trashing things they hold dear. It’s always been going on, but it has suddenly turned nastier, I think, in this third month of coronavirus lockdown.
And so much of it is cyclical. Some of the liberals who feel attacked transmute that feeling into righteous indignation, and attack right back. And some of the conservatives do the same. And what may have just been perceived attack at first becomes a real attack next. I saw a post on Facebook the other day that, in essence, said this:
“I am so sick and tired of you people telling me that I’m afraid, just because I don’t want to such-and-such. I am so sick and tired of hearing that I’m a coward because I want to so-and-so. Well, you know what? YOU’RE afraid! YOU’RE the coward! YOU’RE the one who hates America!”
I’m not even going to mention whether the author was liberal or conservative. Does it matter? Both sides are writing stuff like that. God, maybe that’s what this post is too. I hope not.
I know, I know – I should just ignore it. I should turn off Facebook. I should stop reading articles that I know will make me upset. But that doesn’t help. You know why? Because even if I don’t see their words, I will still know that there are people out there who feel like this. I will still know that there are people out there who hate me, who are so filled with rage simply because people like me exist.
And there are times that I really want to just please them and stop existing. I don’t want to live in a world where my existence causes people rage. Frankly, I don’t want to live in a world where such rage exists at all.
And then I realize – I only feel this way sometimes. This feeling comes when I read something especially noxious, or when something happens that hits close to home. Like the president’s announcement three days ago that “all churches should be open this weekend,” and that he would “override governors if necessary.” (As a pastor, now any decision I make, including the announcement I made on Sunday, will look partisan and political.) This feeling also comes when I see a number of “attacks” in quick succession, which I have the past few days.
I only sometimes feel like others hate me. But then I remember that there are some people who feel that constantly. My black neighbors are well aware that there are people out there who hate them, simply because of who they are. My LGBTQ brothers and sisters are well aware that there are people out there who hate them, simply because of who they are. There are people out there so overflowing with rage simply because another sort of person has dared to be born.
And I hate that. I hate that so very, very much.
It breaks my heart to know that millions of people live their lives knowing they are hated by others for no reason.
And it breaks my heart to know that millions of people have that hatred and rage in their hearts.
It breaks my heart. And there are times when I just don’t want to live in a world with hatred like this. Why would anyone want to live here? Sometimes I feel like the American experiment has failed – it was a good ideal to shoot for back in 1776, but it’s over now. We’ve failed, and we’re nothing more than tribes of people who hate one another.
And sometimes I feel like it’s broader than that, as though God’s great experiment of humanity has failed. And that we’ve earned another flood.
Times like these I can’t see any hope. Times like these I look out and see only despair. Why? Because I know that there’s no way everyone’s mind will change. I know there’s no way that everyone will let go of the rage, the anger, the hate. Perhaps some can change. Perhaps things can get better in small ways. But the overall arc of humanity seems destined for Sturm und Drang, for indignation and self-righteousness, for spleen and bile.
I know there are things I can do to move myself away from this. Praying for hope. Or focusing on good things. Or exercising to get my own endorphins flowing. Or meditating to find peace. Or just distracting myself with some good television. But sometimes I don’t want to do any of that, because I just don’t see the point. If life is full of so much misery and animosity, then why bother looking for the good. Even if I found it, it wouldn’t change what else is out there.
Sometimes I find that strength, that hope, to carry on. But tonight? Not tonight.
I’m not asking for help. Not asking for wise words or sympathy. Just asking to be witnessed.