Kicking the Dog

In last week’s Theology Pub, we discussed how the Romans viewed Christians in the first and second centuries.  After the mad Emperor Nero blamed the Roman Christians for setting the fire that burned most of Rome in AD 64, he began a series of persecutions such as letting wild animals attack and eat groups of Christians in the arena as public entertainment.  He also had them burned alive as illumination for the circus maximus.  I won’t go into any more detail, but the depravity and sheer inhumanity staggers the mind and depresses the heart. My father mentioned how German spies dressed as American military officers infiltrated our ranks in World War II.  He thought that was terrible.  A friend told me how the Viet Cong used children to explode live grenades in the midst of American troops gathered on the street.  And who cannot forget the “enhanced interrogation” technique of waterboarding?  Once we unleash such cruelty on our prisoners, what standing do we have when they do even worse things to American soldiers?  With each generation the cruelty just gets worse.  Our ability to look at others as human beings fades behind our lesser animal instincts of dominance and xenophobia.   Today I heard of an incident in a nearby rural high school football stadium.  Families sat on the bleachers watching the game.  A friend had to retrieve something from his vehicle and beneath the bleachers he found two boys about ten years old, kicking a young dog repeatedly just for the “fun” of hearing the dog howl in pain.  Our society now produces children with the moral compass of Nero.  How can we reverse this madness?   Consumerism has produced the perfect consumer.  We stay at home and order the things we need online.  We get all our information about the world from an illuminated glass screen with varying degrees of truthfulness and integrity.  We can rail at the screen about all the hot button issues that matter to us and we feel better for a moment.  We can watch our glass screen showing horrific scenes of natural disasters and war but somehow, we feel safe and secure.  We may contact a close circle of friends and loved ones, but everyone else is a virtual presence; a talking head on the glass screen.   For a variety of reasons, consumerism teaches us to fear people we do not know.  The fear we experience drives us to buy more things.  Engineers call this a “closed loop feedback system.”  It works with amazing efficiency and most consumers are unaware of the manipulation done to them.  A large portion of our religious bodies also teaches people to fear and judge others.  This is another self-reinforcing system that creates larger and larger groups of “followers” while clearly defining the rest of humanity as “sinful” or as “infidels.”    These commercial, social and religious currents in our society are so powerful, I find that I must constantly check myself in the temptation to judge others.  I am not always successful, but I work at it.  Not automatically judging others is like swimming upstream in a flood.  Loving others who may be very different than ourselves is also very difficult.  But we must try.   Living a Christian life according to the teachings of Jesus runs completely the opposite of our consumerist culture.  It can be summarized in three propositions: