Beliefs Culture David Gushee: Christians, Conflict and Change Faith Opinion

A retreat into silence amid our culture’s ugly noise

Silence - photo courtesy of The American Prospect

On the Christian calendar, yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the early church. The priest last night wore red, symbolizing the Spirit coming as a kind of holy fire upon the first Christian disciples.

Immediately thereafter these disciples began to speak in multiple languages, enabling a vast crowd of people from all over the world who were gathered in Jerusalem to understand the Gospel message in their own distinct languages. Many were saved that day, and the mission of the church was well and truly launched.

Holy Spirit, in a world of unholy spirits. Cleansing fire, in a world of destructive fire. Language that unites, in a world of language that divides. The contrast between Pentecost and everyday life, especially everyday life in election-year America, is staggering.

Current trends in American politics, culture, and religion are converging in ways so unholy, destructive, and divisive that I am having trouble fighting off cynicism and despair. And because, as a Christian, I do not think cynicism and despair are where I want to live, I am very troubled by the state of my own spirit at this particular moment, and feel the need of a change.

In my columns in this space over the past year, I have offered dozens of analyses mainly expressing profound concern about the state of our politics, culture, and religion:

  • The rise of Donald Trump, and his continued surging popularity despite everything that is known about his character and everything offensive and bigoted that he has said;
  • The vicious nature of this political campaign, with its moronic and hurtful name-calling and slandering;
  • The bitter divisions not only in our politics but in our religious communities, including evangelicalism;
  • Culture wars, culture wars, culture wars, in a thousand different incarnations, most recently as cake-decorating wars, marriage license wars, and bathroom wars;
  • The brokenness of our national government and its inability to actually solve any problems;
  • The coarseness of our entertainment culture, especially in its reality TV expressions, but everywhere, so bad that even the commercials for upcoming shows are too offensive to bear;
  • The nature of our media, parasitic on conflict, constantly poking at our painful divisions, rushing like lemmings off the latest cliff.

Vulgarity, coarseness, meanness, conflict, division, bitterness, recrimination. Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is where we are, and those who write about the intersection of politics, religion, ethics, and culture daily receive full immersion in this toxic bath.

Where is the good, the true, and the beautiful? What is the impact on all of us of swimming around in the bad, the false, and the ugly on a daily basis? What will be the state of our national soul after six more months of swimming around in this political campaign, which has already reached such new lows? How low can we go?

I am speechless, dumbfounded, and disgusted. There are no words left.

I need more Holy Spirit, less Donald and Hillary, less CNN and Fox. I need more loveliness, and less ugliness. I need more love, and less hate. I need more of what is unequivocally true and less of intractable fractures of opinion and perception. I need an “inward emigration” into my spirit, and maybe even God’s Spirit. I need renewal before I give in to despair.

Anyone else feel this way?

For this reason, I am going to unplug and go quiet for a month. Perhaps I will return to this space with a fresh word, a new angle of vision. Perhaps I will not.

Sometimes the best response to all the world’s ugly noise is a retreat into silence.

About the author

David Gushee

10 Comments

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  • Personally, I think it all comes down to unwillingness to share, coupled with unwillingness to learn about others.

    Some people believe that familiarity breeds contempt, but that couldn’t be father from the truth. Because familiarity breeds knowledge, and empathy, and unity, and growth.

    All of which are the mortal enemies of selfishness — which breeds ignorance, and arrogance, and division, and destruction.

    I’ll miss your thought-provoking comments, David. It’s a shame the mean-spirited and closed-minded aren’t the ones going on sabbatical.

    I hope that your retreat, temporary or permanent, will give you the relief and clarity you seek.

  • It’s okay to want more Bible, as well as more Holy Spirit. People have turned their backs on the Bible, people are openly disagreeing with the clear teachings of the Bible, and that’s another reason why the current situation is so confused and unpleasant.

  • I think we are talking about the wrong things. Emphasis needs to be placed upon our participation with God in our eternal lives. Today’s events are merely a distraction from our true realty.

  • Christianity created the hole for Donald Trump to fill. His supporters are, through no fault of their own, fearful. They are no different from the Germans who were crushed into poverty by decisions made to punish Germany after WW I. Trump supporters were crushed into hopelessness by big business in partnership with the Church. They both wanted to protect themselves from Unions and thoughtful discourse, liberalism.

  • Hi David. I really respect your decision to go silent for a while. As a mom, I don’t feel like I can do that right now, but I also don’t want to end up inhaling all the toxins. So I’m not watching a lot of stuff, but I do monitor my own social media and I’m trying to take an approach of non-violent resistance within my own social circle. My husband and I just took a trip to Europe, where we visited several Holocaust memorial sites, including Terezin concentration camp. On the trip, I read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail over a couple of times and made my own manifesto for non-violent resistance. It’s helped. That and I have good friends who keep me sane. Blessings on your time of rest. And thank you for all you do.

    As I stand, here is my manifesto for non-violent resistance on social media.

    I will keep my goals clearly in mind at all times:

    to speak out so that hurting people know they are not alone

    to present the voices of the suffering so they might be heard and understood.

    I will remember that “the others” are people God loves, created in His image.

    I will speak with respect.

    I will remember that I didn’t always know what I know.

    I will let others be in their process.

    I will let the other person have the last word if they need it.

    I will retreat to safety and receive love and support from my tribe.

    As I stand here:

    I’m uplifted by solidarity with the suffering.

    I’m emboldened by others who stand with me.

    I’m trusting that there’s a change coming, a change that brings freedom and hope and justice and mercy to those who need it so badly.

    “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.” Victor Hugo

    http://kaybruner.com/blog/2016/5/6/a-manifesto-for-non-violent-resistance-on-social-media

  • Though we need to rest, that should not be conflated with withdrawing from the world. That is because there is no sharing the Gospel when we withdraw. But something else is afoot here. The more we withdraw from the world, the more we are saying that the world is not good enough for sinners like myself, that I am tired of always being in the position of giving where there is nothing for me to take. And thus, the Gospel that I really preach when I withdraw is that of looking to be in control. Certainly, either I myself or my group has lost control of the world around me and I can’t stand the mess. So I withdraw into myself or my group thinking that if I can’t see the mess outside, it doesn’t exist. And in the end, all this withdrawing accomplishes is to enter a kind of hospice care where my only concern is to make myself comfortable until the end comes.

    And what others pick up from us when we withdraw from the world is that we don’t care enough to listen to them. And without the listening to others, comes fewer opportunities to share the Gospel.

  • Please write about this again after you return. I feel the same way and would enjoy hearing of your time.

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