Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fair Game?

Recently I have taken to sending emails to sports writers and political pundits.  I take the Chicago Tribune, a once proud newspaper fallen, like most other newspapers, on hard times.  Political columnists and sports writers are paid for their opinions.  And like most people I love to read the people I already agree with!  Now, having confessed my sins, I have been known to read people I frequently disagree with.  In the Tribune this is John Kass.  Sometimes I like what Kass has to say.  Sometimes he drives me crazy.  What troubles me about Kass and his brethren in the sports page, however, is not their opinions, but the way those opinions are frequently expressed.  I began emailing when I noticed that it was not enough to criticize the policy of a politician or the play of an athlete; the hapless individuals targeted by Kass et. al. were subject to degrading humiliation.  The attacks were frequently cruelly personal.  It was as if public figures by virtue of the fact that they held public office or started for the Chicago Bears were fair game for mockery and abuse.  Their failures, it seems, were not simply because they faced a recalcitrant economy or a good defense, but because they were bad people.

I have emailed Kass and at least three sports writers asking about this.  Is it really necessary to mock and humiliate your opponents?  Isn’t it enough to point out your disagreements and note their failures without sneering at them?  I have, of course, never received a reply.  I know that writers like Kass and his brethren on cable television are “entertainers.”  People on the left love to hear Colbert take down a bewildered conservative.  People on the right love to hear Glenn Beck mock a hapless liberal.  And so sportswriters and columnists are almost compelled to resort to nastiness to get and hold an audience.  I get that.  But there is something profoundly troubling about it all.  In spite of the fact that Kass is Greek Orthodox, Colbert is Roman Catholic and Beck a Mormon, they seem to have little regard for the words of the man they claim to follow: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43).  It is hard for me to see how you can love your enemies and mock and humiliate them.  It is hard for me to see how you can love your enemies and distort what they say. 

I have determined during this election cycle that I will not join in the mockery and abuse.  I am going to pray for both candidates—even if I can’t stand the positions of one of them (as is likely to be the case).  I will feel free to criticize positions and raise questions about decisions.  But I will not join in the hurling of abuse, lies, and distortions.  While I am at it, I would suggest that the church world could stand to call a moratorium on this as well.  The left needs to stop sneering at the “fundamentalists.”  The right needs to stop excoriating the “liberals.”  Raise questions about theology and practice, but stop denigrating and insulting each other.  We can do this without the personal abuse and cruel assertions that come far too quickly to our lips.  I have written and said a lot of things over the years.  I have not always been charitable or kind and I regret that.  It behooves all of us who write or speak to consider more carefully how our words, when they become intimate and personal, wound individuals and persons who love them.  How can we use our words to challenge and encourage?  How can we use our words to love?

 John E. Phelan, Jr.

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