I parked my car in New York last night and came back to find a leaflet jammed into my door handle. I looked down the street; every car had been hit. I saw a picture of the pope and figured it was just an overeager Catholic blanketing the neighborhood with tracts. I opened it and found otherwise. Badly photo-shopped images of the pontiff with dark underworld figures, ugly references to Jews, and a spree of sinister plots that would make Dan Brown blush.
I sat there at the wheel, looking down the row of cars all sprouted with hate. What, I wondered, would motivate someone to actually join this mission, lug around cases of this agitprop, and do the tedious work of inserting it in door handle after door handle, all night long? Sadly, the answer came rather quickly. It’s the spirit of the age. Everyone wants to know who you hate. It’s not good enough to be right, someone else has to be hideously wrong. Our stars—whatever side we’re on—are the ones who can “take down” the other guy. We troll and counter-troll, we ridicule, we meme and GIF. Because what counts right now is not holding to the good but exposing the evil, and if the supply of evil runs low we must simply make some more.
It’s far easier to figure out what you’re against, than to know what it is you’re for. All that is necessary, we are told, is to storm the barricades—any barricades! Only the daft hold back, surely. Only the brainless could fail to be outraged.
It’s not that we should shrink from the fight. Jesus didn’t. But we must be wearing “the armor of light” (Romans 13:12), and we must be bearing the weapons of love. That means we have to be deeply self-aware, allowing the Spirit to search our hearts and reveal those places where we need conversion. If you aren’t praying you ought not be fighting. It means we have to know what we’re for, what we love. Hatred and contempt come so easily, love so hard.
What do you love? That is not primarily a question about your feelings. It asks what matters ultimately in your life, and what sacrifices you are prepared to make for the people and the communities you love. That’s demanding, because the way of love does not scapegoat and destroy, it doesn’t seek to address the problem by getting rid of the alleged cause. On the contrary, the way of love begins by asking, What needs to change in me?
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” No one, that is, except the one who seeks to love.