What brought the following thoughts to mind was a widely distributed editorial by Wesely Pruden in The Washington Times (I have not checked to verify and am referring only to the copy distributed via e-mail), e-mails sent to me by a few acquaintances, a number of letters to the editor in our own daily paper, and radio commentary that I pick up when I hit the wrong button on the tuner.
In the early 19th century, England was the scene of internal conflict generated by their industrial revolution. Traditional weavers and their supporters organized as Luddites to fight automated weaving and the elimination of fixed prices. The term evolved to mean those who reject new ideas and are anti-intellectual. A few decades later, America saw the rise of Know Nothings who formed, among other things, The American Party, to oppose the unchecked immigration of Irish Catholics in the east and Asians in the west. The opposition to Irish Catholics was based on the paranoid belief that they were part of a secret plot by the pope to take over the U.S., and I guess the opposition to Asians in the west was just plain old fashioned racism.
The recent presidential campaign saw the public emergence of the worst of both in a revised early 21st century edition. While the so called mainstream media was said to be overly pro-Obama, the Internet, certain television hosts, right-wing radio and some newspapers were filled with the most outrageous accusations of Obama as an agent of every element of radical, racial and un-American activity possible. They were aided and abetted by people whose obsession with “Our Broken Borders” fueled rabid anti-immigrant attitudes.
The election is over, but echoes of those sentiments are streaming into letters to the editor and talk radio commentary all across the country. Many people were sold, solidly sold, on all the fear mongering accusations poured out on Obama. They really believe they are all true; they have no doubts. They are unwilling to examine their fears, beliefs and attitudes through any lens other than the one they already have. They have become modern day Know Nothing Luddites who cannot be persuaded by any argument that their beliefs and attitudes are not only wrong but add up to nothing but bigotry. They are convinced that America, their America, has been taken away from them and handed over to the powers of everything they have always hated and feared.
What is the proper Christian response? Well, we have a problem with that. A good many of those modern day Know Nothing Luddites are Christian and profess their attitudes in the name of Christ. A good many of those who oppose them are also Christian and react with un-reflective, self-righteous outrage, also in the name of Christ. Can we learn anything useful by examining the record of Jesus walking among the warring factions Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Roman Auxiliaries, and ordinary villagers? Can we find some way to, individually and collectively, become agents of healing and reconciliation in the name of Godly love? I know I’m not very good at it, but it seems to me that that has got to be the path upon which we walk, even if not very well. My guess is that if there is any contemporary guidance to be had, it is probably King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” So, got any thoughts on this?