I’m still slogging through the 193 pages of opinions from the Supreme Court Justices on the health insurance decision – so bear with me. In order to take a break, I thought I would try to draw attention to something that should bother all of us, regardless of our political positions.
People tend to think badly of the intentions of other people. If someone offends us in some way, it’s often easier to blame their stupidity rather than to “walk a mile in their shoes,” as Atticus Finch famously says in To Kill A Mockingbird. Rather than see the rationale behind another’s points, we are often quick to condemn them without taking a moment to consider again our own motivations.
I recently went to a baseball game while thinking about this. I was reminded of the 2003 incident in which a baseball fan named Steve Bartman, at a playoff between the Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins, attempted to catch a foul ball. Just as everyone around him was doing, Bartman reached for the ball and accidentally deflected it. Unbeknownst to him, Cubs outfielder Moises Alou was attempting to catch the foul ball for the second out of the inning. Due to the deflection by Bartman, Alou missed the ball, and the Marlins later scored eight runs that inning. The Cubs lost the series the next day.
Now a normal, decent person would realize that this was an honest mistake. Did Bartman hate the Cubs? No, in fact, he was a devoted Cubs fan! However, Bartman was instantly the target of insults, garbage, and beer from all the spectators sitting nearby. Security had to escort him out of the park. Soon after the game, somebody got ahold of his name and personal information and posted it on the MLB message boards. This only allowed angry fans to target him with insults. Bartman received so much media criticism and so many death threats that his life has never been the same. He even had to receive police protection for a time! Bartman is a true victim of what can happen when people quickly jump to conclusions and condemn others they don’t agree with.
So why do I bring this up? Because, as most of you know, there was recently a landmark Supreme Court decision on health insurance. Debates are everywhere on Facebook, and it’s amazing to see the level of political involvement that many of my friends now have. Unfortunately, despite the prevalence of civil discussion, there are people who descend into insulting remarks. Take one example in particular:
I dearly hope that, regardless of your political stance on the new law, you are able to see the danger in a statement like this. This arrogant statement goes hand-in-hand with statements advocating something along the lines of, “If you oppose this health insurance law, you must hate poor people.”
The author of the above Facebook statement then went on to describe to me how he somehow had the “right to decide for you where your faith lies based on your personal political views.” Yes, you read that correctly. He’s just saving God the trouble of knowing my heart (1 Samuel 16.7), because he can decide for me if I’m truly a Christian.
Let’s stop and think for a moment about how this sounds. Do you really believe that God is not the one who decides which of his followers are true Christians? Do you really believe that any person can make that decision already about anyone else? Do you really think that conservatives don’t care about poor people? If so, then how are these facts about charitable giving between liberals and conservatives true?
Quite honestly, I think we need to all agree that these kinds of statements are destructive, untrue, and outrageous. I do care about helping the poor. I could defend myself against the allegation by describing my experiences with volunteering at churches, charities, and community organizations. But I shouldn’t have to. Claiming someone “doesn’t care about poor people” is not a legitimate debate tactic. It’s just a way of avoiding the argument.
I’ve disagreed with many people on this blog over the past few months. In fact, at one point, I even described how I thought the free-market system is in line with my biblical values! The debate that ensued was excellent, and I was able to consider a lot of great points from people who disagreed. However, I would never presume that those of you who disagreed with me are evil, heartless monsters. I truly believe that we’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. I truly believe that we are all trying to end poverty. We just disagree on which programs work and which organizations are best suited to provide help.
Whether it’s baseball, health insurance, or any other political issue, we would all do well to remind ourselves that those who do something we don’t like or disagree with our political positions are not necessarily uncaring monsters. They’re simply trying to help in a different way. Using destructive insults (like the one above) only serves to distract from the real problem, a problem we are able to solve with civil discussion. If we stop using these ridiculous statements, we can work on the important issues – such as rationally determining if the economic benefits of the health insurance law actually help or hurt people.