We become distracted from productive labors by our perceived opponents; we become focused on them and not on our larger calling to advance our nation; our debate becomes more about scoring points against an adversary and less about advancing our common cause. – Cory Booker
My thoughts today are not overtly political, but they are the result of political activity and how it is reported. As our political divide has widened, elements of opinion, rather than news, have flooded our airways and further divided a country already attempting to deal with the fault lines separating red and blue states, rural and urban communities, and varying levels of education. There’s not much we agree on, and somewhere along the way support for the “common good” has been lost and self-interest has led to a “breaking of charity.”
The concept of breaking with charity dates back to the Salem witch trials. It refers to the moment when two members of the same group break apart and become different tribes. In Salem, the break occurred when some among a group of young women accused others of being witches. When you break charity, bonds of trust and truth are shattered and everything good thing you have done is affected. What is broken may be mended but it will never regain its original strength. In truth, it cannot be unbroken. Think about political commentary and the words we throw at each other today.
There was a time when we came together and stood as one, not because we were in agreement with one another, but because we recognized the threat to our common good. We formed a bond of charity with one another. I was raised in a politically active and informed community. Some of my earliest memories are of sonorous voices booming war news from London and Berlin. I still hold in the recesses of my mind the memory of Gabriel Heater’s, “There’s good news tonight,” and Walter Winchell’s, “Good evening Mr. and Mrs.America and all the ships at sea.” But my clearest memory is the voice of Edward R. Murrow grimly announcing, “This is London,” as bombs dropped around the rooftop from which he was broadcasting. Shortly after the war, a lightly veiled story of his exploits was made into the movie Foreign Correspondent. We had not yet broken our bonds of charity.
“Okay, we’ll tell ’em, then. I can’t read the rest of the speech I had, because the lights have gone out, so I’ll just have to talk off the cuff. All that noise you hear isn’t static – it’s death, coming to London. Yes, they’re coming here now. You can hear the bombs falling on the streets and the homes. Don’t tune me out, hang on a while – this is a big story, and you’re part of it. It’s too late to do anything here now except stand in the dark and let them come… as if the lights were all out everywhere, except in America. Keep those lights burning, cover them with steel, ring them with guns, build a canopy of battleships and bombing planes around them. Hello, America, hang on to your lights: they’re the only lights left in the world!”
When did we forget the importance of our light in the world? When did we forget we are a nation of immigrants? When did we forget the biblical injunction to feed and clothe the poor or to care for the sick (Matthew 25:34-40)? When did the influence of a rich man become more important than the opinion of a laborer? When did we systematically overlook or participate in voter suppression? Are we still “the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Have we finally broken with charity and formed opposing mobs intent on overpowering those whose voices do not echo our own?
So much of the current environment has been fed by both the liberal and conservative media. They have a lot of air time to fill. The “what” of any story can be quickly dispensed, but that leaves another 23 of the 24 hour news cycle to explain the “how” and “why” of what has been reported. That requires lots of “expert” commentary, and in this environment raw news quickly becomes sensationalized or opinionated. Regardless of your affiliation, you can find opinions that support your beliefs and undermine those of your neighbor. If at first you don’t succeed just dial around.
The curse and blessing of my high school years was the emphasis the nuns placed on pejorative reading and writing – reading and writing from a point of view. It was introduced to us by taking the same story from the three different newspapers to see how reporting of the same facts could differ. By the time we graduated, a pen would not touch paper until source documents were verified and point of view could be identified.
Fairness demands we try to listen to all sides of an argument, but polarization makes it nearly impossible to keep the bonds of charity. We have lost a sense of common cause and have truly broken with charity. I remain in the fray, often leading with my chin, because I remember a time when we were bound together in a fight against a common enemy. There is a part of me that knows something, not yet identified, will again unite us, hopefully before we completely break the bonds of charity and burn each other at the stake.