The Devil we See

Facebook for me is a window into the lives of those people and family with whom I am not in continuous contact.

An unintended consequence is some of the awful posturing and posting of ad hominem and unsubstantiated attacks on various groups and ideals from individuals or groups either from the Right or from the Left or even somewhere in between.

I tire of stories and memes being posted with the intention of causing embarrassment, humiliation or demonizing someone or something from an opposing viewpoint or orientation. These slanders and lies are designed to clearly establish in black and white terms just who the enemy really is.

Gay bashing; for one. Thankfully, those posts are diminishing as our society finally comes around to acceptance. With the LGBT community out in full daylight, we can plainly see that they are like you and like me. They share the same dreams and fears.

There are two situations in current events that are bringing to the fore some of the most awful examples of ideological shaming.

One is concerning the  Islamic State (ISIS) in Northern Iraq. Making its rounds on social media are a series of unsubstantiated reports originating with one source: Mark Arabo, a California businessman and Chaldean-American leader. He is claiming that ISIS militants are beheading Christian children and putting the heads on pikes. So far, none of the major news sources have been able to verify these statements. In fact, many of them are proving to be blatantly untrue. A gruesome video showing a young girl “cut in two” by ISIS terrorists in Iraq turns out to be from the aftermath of a bombing in Yemen – several months BEFORE the situation unfolded in Iraq. A second photograph, purportedly showing a young woman with her head removed by ISIS militants, turns out to be a still from a Hollywood horror film. It is totally fake.

There is no doubt that ISIS is a brutal force in Iraq fueled by a fundamentalist misinterpretation of Islam and a literal reading of the Quran. The Islamic State seeks to establish a Caliphate in Iraq. History has shown that the majority of people in the world reject theocracy, and attempts to bring about one through force can only result in more suffering. I don’t know what can be done in this situation – particularly in terms of US policy – but, making up fake stories of atrocities only fuels the notion that Western society is full of liars. Why give them that ammunition?

In Missouri, civilization is fracturing into warring camps over the tragic shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer. The young man was shot six times, and the incident is under investigation.

A video showing the young man allegedly strong-arming a shop owner over $80 worth of cigars was “leaked” to paint a portrait of Michael Brown as a street thug – as though this would somehow justify his untimely death at the hands of law enforcement. The resulting divide falls strangely along partisan lines with Conservative Republicans siding with the police officer and Progressive Democrats siding with the family of the young man and the African American community in Ferguson, Missouri. Misinformation and generalizations abound on both sides of this issue. The police are not jack-booted thugs, and most officers are professional and fair-minded. African American males suffer from gross stereotyping that surprisingly still exists in our modern era.

What these two situations illustrate is a disturbing trend that is greatly amplified in our blizzard of social media outlets. We tend to paint our ideological enemies with as dark a stain and with as broad a brush as possible.

This is nothing new.

C.S. Lewis, a Christian theologian and thinker, put together in writing a series of radio broadcasts he voiced during World War II. He was particularly impressed with the ability of humankind to demonize one another in the course of war with “the enemy.” The following comments were published some time after in a book called Mere Christianity. I think his words are appropriate today:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.” 
― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

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