Overcoming the hatred and fear of the ‘other side’

Mary Beth Bonacci

Well, I was all set to write a nice little First Column of 2021, about looking ahead and new beginnings and loving each other. 

And then January 6 happened. 

I turned on the radio for an update, and heard screaming callers. Then I turned to Facebook and found the same vitriol times ten. I saw a few respectful discussions. But for the most part, the keyboard warriors were in full battle mode. Friends were lashing out against friends. Emotions were high. Expletives were flying. Any semblance of respect was gone. I walked away, so as not to wind up having to unfriend and block all of the ugliness and vulgarity. 

It’s not my intent here to delve into what happened at the U.S. Capitol that day. I wasn’t there, I didn’t see what happened, and I have no interest in speculating. I’m sure sufficient pixels have been spilled on that subject elsewhere, without me adding my two cents. I have only one thing to say in that regard: I absolutely, unequivocally denounce and condemn the actions of those who stormed the Capitol, just as I denounced and condemned the destruction and violence of last summer. I don’t care which side perpetuates it or why. It’s wrong. Last summer, some on the left seemed to be excusing the violence by saying “This is what happens when people don’t feel heard.” This week, I have heard some on the right parrot the same line. It may be true, and it may be interesting as a sociological observation, but in neither case does it pass muster as justification. We aren’t animals. We are human persons with free will, and we can — and must — do better. 

Now I want to talk about what’s really on my heart — the civil war that I see brewing. Not a war that will be fought with muskets and cannons — although we may find ourselves in something resembling the modern equivalent soon enough. But it seems to me that, on the micro level, we are already engaged in a war that will divide brother and sister and family and friends just as surely as the muskets and cannons did. What I saw on Facebook on Jan. 6 was a heart-wrenching lack of civility and respect for the humanity of those on the other side. And worse, I saw what looked like the fracturing of a lot of relationships. 

For those of us who profess the faith based in “love one another,” we need to look closely at our behavior in these difficult days. 

I have friends and family across the political spectrum. People I love deeply. Of course, I am at times appalled at opinions they hold, or votes they cast. But here’s what has struck me: when I listen to them — really listen — I find that given the information they have received, and the worldview they have formed, their opinions make perfect sense. Of course, in many cases I think they have received flawed information, and that their worldview is skewed. But that doesn’t change their sincerity. 

What’s more, I am also struck by the fact that so many people I know, on both sides, are also sincerely afraid of the other side, and what will happen as that side gains power. Now, I have my own opinions about which side poses the greater danger. But that’s not my point here. My point is that the fear on both sides is real.  And when I express my fear to friends of other ideological persuasions, they are genuinely surprised. Of course, they don’t take my fear seriously. But then again, I find their fears pretty baseless as well. But at least we’re talking and listening to each other, and dispelling misconceptions that often further drive fear. 

In this age of information overload, it has become easy for us to build little “information bubbles” for ourselves. And, subsequently, to build our own “realities.” I reject the idea that “there is no reality, only perception.” Objective reality exists. But that doesn’t change the fact that most people are reacting to their own perception of that reality. And in many cases, it is flawed.

It all boils down to this: I really do believe most people are doing the best they can. We need to cut them some slack, and to the extent it is possible, to treat those who disagree with us — especially those within our own circles — with respect and charity as we discuss these explosive issues. 

I understand that we need to stand up against evil. But also remember that many of the people who may espouse that evil also sincerely believe that we are espousing some sort of evil. And if we believed what they think we believe, it would be evil. Without honest communication, each side just hardens in its own respective perceptions.  

I also understand that some people aren’t open to such communication. You can’t get blood out of a rock, and you can’t get sincere communication out of someone who is unwilling. But you can control yourself. You can strive to be the person who listens, who asks, and who loves regardless of disagreement. 

On that dark day on Facebook, I saw a lot of “if you believe x, unfriend me now.” And I get that, from where they sat, “x” seemed pretty appalling. But wouldn’t it be so much more constructive to say “If you believe x, talk to me. Tell me why. Am I missing something? Help me understand what is motivating that belief.” 

A few months back, I wrote about the totalitarian tendency to de-humanize those who are considered enemies of the regime, and thus make their persecution palatable to the masses. I see us drifting dangerously in that direction. We need to resist the temptation, both collectively and individually. 

There are a lot of forces in today’s world that threaten to damage or destroy us. Don’t let “entrenched mutual hostility” be one of them. 

Featured image: The Peace Monument memorial is seen in front of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!