I admit to being ironic in the title of this blog. What is clear to me is that many, probably most of my friends on Facebook are orthodox Christians. Probably they would call themselves conservative evangelicals, whether they were from a Protestant denomination like Baptists or Anglicans. And probably-I have not counted-many if not most of them are also conservative Republicans. For many of them this is not something that they post about a great deal, although you may detect their leanings by which postings they like. However, for a significant subset there is a fixation on the political. Although I know about the religious leanings and sometimes even see them in the pictures they post of themselves, one rarely sees them in their Facebook postings. The postings, whether created personally or shared or linked, are all about politics, and usually about criticism, often vitriolic criticism, of Pres. Obama. I may see three or four postings in a single day, perhaps in a single hour. So why this fixation?
In part, of course, it is due to the media that they consume. There are numerous right-wing websites out there as well as right-wing commentators, and often the intemperance of the language on the sites is only matched by the holes in their logic and the distortion of the facts they cite. In one sense this is nothing new. I grew up in a family that I would guess was Eisenhower Republican. I say guess because we rarely talked about politics, but my parents seem to have conservative values and yet were not extremist. I reacted to this for one reason or another and became an extreme right wing Republican during my high school years. There was plenty of literature out there that argued that the mainstream of the Republican Party was at least pink if not downright crypto communist. Once you got linked into the network one site would point to another. All of this, of course, took place via the postal system. It was because of this that I applied for a military scholarship, hoping to become an infantry officer in Vietnam after University so I could fight the godless communists. Yes, such distortions of the world were available in the 1960s, but they are even more available now as the Internet makes access so much easier. I have the same problem when teaching biblical studies. There was always distorted and inaccurate literature about the Bible available in the world. But in those days of the past students use the libraries, and much of that literature did not make its way into libraries. The urgency of assignments and the slowness of the postal system meant that students headed for the better stuff in the library, assuming they even knew of the existence of the other material. Now, the Internet has reversed the priorities. Sitting in one’s home one can access the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes energy to go to a library. So I am much more likely to get what I call junk sources in assignments. So one explanation is availability. It is cheap and easy to set up a web presence. One can post things without anyone being able to check them. And one can link to other sites that have the same prejudices. The resulting network of sites makes it look like the data is established. As one person has said, a lie repeated often enough becomes taken as the truth.
I think, however, that this is only a partial explanation. Why the focus? Why the fascination? Why the need to constantly criticize? Some have argued-and I wish I could remember my source-that this is because Pres. Obama represents the other. He is black in the world in which the white majority seems to be losing its control. His father was foreign, which makes him more other. Some of his childhood was spent in foreign countries. And in fact he was born in, often lived in, and still returns to Hawaii. For many Americans Hawaii is foreign-it is treated as if it were not a state. So the otherness of the president could be a factor in the vitriol. This includes the refusal to believe that he is a Christian, despite his clear confession of a conversion experience, and the ready acceptance of the myth that he is Muslim. To the extent that this is true, we have covert racism. Over racism is not acceptable, but it is apparently acceptable to constantly criticize a person for everything they do. It is acceptable, because one does not mention skin color. One uses other epithets that label the person as other. In this case, it is that he is a covert or overt tyrant, that he is against the Constitution, that he is against individual rights. There is probably also something to this, but I wonder if it is the full answer. Followers of Jesus have lived under real tyrants before, but we find them hardly mentioning them. Paul says a little about the Emperor and never names Nero. The closest we come to such a naming is Revelation 17, where John does indicate that Domitian is evil. I had a lot of German friends who lived or even served in the army under Hitler. Even after the war, I did not hear much about his evil. Nor did they talk much about their suffering. They were focused on other things. What they talked about were there plans, their ministries, their love of Jesus, their families of the present. How did these and many other followers of Jesus avoid the fascination with evil that I find in in these many Facebook posts?
Another reason for this fascination, this negative fascination, may be the cognitive distortions of our age. The political center has tended to fade at least for those on the right of the spectrum. Seasoned leaders in Congress, skilled in the art of negotiation and compromise have retired, often with deep grief, because compromise and negotiation seem out of date. We live in a world of cognitive distortion, where black and white thinking, where herding, where high reactivity are the rule. This is what was predicted by Edwin Friedman in his book Failure of Nerve. You see, I do not want to pretend that I believe that Pres. Obama is above criticism. I personally think his policy of assassinating perceived enemies via drones is immoral. Unfortunately, this is not what the right is criticizing him for. Many of them would be even more violent. I personally do not think that his medical program goes far enough-it should include the immigrant, among other things. It really does not have an effective measure for reducing the fact that Americans pay four times as much for healthcare as Europeans and Canadians, whose healthcare measured in terms of longevity and infant mortality is more effective. Yet I am thankful that more of the poor will receive healthcare under the president’s plan. No, there are things that one can criticize, but as I noted in my example of healthcare, there are things that one can be thankful for. I may not like the use of drones, but I am thankful for the winding down of the presence of American forces in Afghanistan and, earlier, in Iraq. My point is that this is not black white thinking. There are some negatives, which concerned me, and some positives, which I applaud. It is not all or nothing. And that is usually the case, even with admittedly evil people. Take Hitler, for example, the Germans are still enjoying the fruit of his need for an effective transportation network. One suspects that Eisenhower’s development of the US interstate network was modeled on Hitler’s development of the autobahns. And I feel free to say this, without denying that overall his influence was evil. The irony is, that a lot of his rhetorical methods sound similar to those I hear on the right today: black-white thinking, herding, you are either totally for me or are totally against me, if you are not for me you are an enemy of the state, and, of course, scapegoating. In Hitler’s case it was the Jews and Communists, and today it is liberals. Today we do not have a state-controlled press or radio, but we do have media companies that control the output of the media they own. And we do have a national mindset that is as black white, as full of cognitive distortion, as that which Hitler created.
And yet, I wonder if we have as yet plumbed the depths of this phenomena. Is what I have mentioned enough to explain all of the focus by people who should be focused elsewhere? Let me add one more psychological explanation, and that is reaction formation. In reaction formation unacceptable impulses are massed by a movement in the opposite direction. So a person who is unacceptable sexual impulses, may become a prude or celibate, rejecting even appropriate sexuality. If this is part of what is happening, then perhaps the real truth is that these right-wing Christians, meaning right wing politically, really love Obama. But this love, this approval of at least some of what he does, is unacceptable. So it is masked by vitriolic attacks. I would hardly call Obama the extreme left, for he has been attacked by the left wing of his own party. But in a sense what one sees is the right reflecting the left, and because they have some of the impulses of the left they must prove that those impulses aren’t there by becoming more radically right.
So there are probably many explanations. But it is a fascinating phenomena. My struggle is to deal with this without getting sucked in emotionally. I have a strong love of justice and fairness, and so some of these tirades can upset me. I have decided that I not only need to focus on letting things go in meditation, but I need to simply ignore the tirades. In some cases I have unfriended people because the vast majority of their frequent posts were of this type. In other cases I am learning to simply ignore such posts. There is plenty of stuff that comes in email or on Facebook or on Google plus that needs to be ignored, just as there is plenty of stuff that needs a loving and caring response. I know that I need to focus on what leads to godliness and to ignore the other junk. And yet I continue to wonder could it be, could it be that some of these people will there are many negative posts are really crypto lovers of Obama, who cannot admit to themselves their love, and so cover it with hostility?