In Notes from all over a link was added to a news item claiming that the latest Dutch spelling reform requested that the name “Christ” be written with a lower-case “c”. That information was spread on various American news channels and blogs. Flurries of comments ensued. A few examples:
“We are sure in the ‘end times’. There will be scoffers of our religion. The name of God or Christ will be wiped from our minds… Shame on the Netherlands and any others. Jesus wounds must open and bleed when this utter hatred of religion is pronounced.”
“And we wonder how the world is being torn apart by hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, viruses, and on and on… tell the Netherlands to watch out because our God is not going to tolerate them much longer… watch and see.”
“This is not surprising. Western Europe is going down hill fast. They aren’t having any children, they don’t go to church, they do believe gay marriage and drug use should be tolerated and encouraged, they believe in living off the welfare state, and they are being taken over by a growing extremist Muslim population … This is just another anti-Christian arrow coming from another decadent Sodom & Gomorrah country where prostitution and drug use is openly encouraged on the streets but God is banned.”
Trivial detail: the Dutch spelling reform did not request to change the spelling of Christ. Names of persons keep the capital. The new spelling only clarified that when writing about a statue of Christ, then the art lexicon refers to it, in shortened form, as “a christ”. Like “a buddha”. The small case is to clarify, out of respect for the person, that here we are talking about an object, of which there are thousands.
And so, again, the media play a major role in misinformation, or rather in providing too succinct and biased information, leaving the audience to draw simplistic conclusions and unleash Pandora.
The bellicose rhetoric in the comments I quoted is scary. We may still find the same rhetoric among some of our own today. But talking about “the Dutch” or “the Europeans” in such terms is just as manipulative and ludicrous as presenting the whole of Utah as a polygamous enclave where all girls are forced into marriage and women are treated as sex slaves.
Why those sweeping condemnations of other nations, peoples or communities?
Intellectual laziness. Adopting a quick monolithic mindset about foreigners, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, Mormons, non-Mormons … is so much easier than to study the issues, discover the multiple facets of reality, open our hearts to others, and learn to nuance. This is not to say there are no problems, or that we should be tolerant of evil. But gratuitous, negative generalizations are terribly wrong and alienating.
Moral isolationism. It is easy to shift all the evil to others and imagine we are the only ones left as the guardians of ethics and values. For some it is comforting to think that the rest of the world is going to hell and that God’s purifying process leaves them to be saved. While, in reality, our communities have just the same challenges with divorce, pornography, alcoholism, drugs, domestic violence, child abuse, gangs, racism, intolerance.
The Beast in us. We carry this genetic reaction of self-protection: others are the enemy. People who are different are sensed as threatening. And hence the need to vilify them even more in order to justify our abhorrence. That reaction also appears in weaker forms, when envy and self-affirmation lead us to be confrontational. Jim reminded us so well of the dangers of meanness, in particular in our own blogging and commenting.
Beware, this post is not about the state of Europe or the Netherlands or Utah, or about views on Muslims, Mormons or Latinos. It is about how to check our information, how to be careful in referring to sources, how to avoid demonizing, how to contribute to understanding and peace. It is about the question how we can better implement what President Hinckley mentioned during this past General Conference about avoiding racial divisiveness in any form, bitterness and animosity, about reaching out to everyone in friendship. The theme came back powerfully in Elder Robert S. Wood’s talk when he urged us to try to understand others and avoid “patterns of slander, of evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping”.