We live in a time when holding others in hatred and contempt over political differences is increasingly considered not only virtuous but morally obligatory. And, if this trend continues, it will spell the end of not only democracy but the end of peace itself.
To be sure, peace and order have never been absolute certainties in the human experience. Violence and unrest have, in fact, characterized most of recorded human history. This sad reality reinforces the view that human beings are fundamentally flawed and the world in which we live is indeed fallen.
How Societies Work
Nevertheless, there have been concerted efforts throughout history to fashion and cultivate societies that respect the value of human life, promote peace, and embrace democratic forms of government.
The very idea of democracy (broadly defined) is that people choose to manage and resolve their inevitable differences via peaceful means. They choose constructive engagement over destructive impulses. They choose the pen and podium over the sword.
Keeping such a society together requires that everyone agree to what Enlightenment philosophers called a “social contract.” They must subordinate themselves to laws, processes, and the peaceful handling of disputes and disagreements.
They must also be emotionally invested in this enterprise by holding their nation-state and their fellow citizen in high esteem. In other words, they must be patriotic.
In his Farewell Address, President George Washington said that the United States (then only a few years old) had the right to “concentrate your affections.” He pointed out that such affection, such loyalty was essential to the new nation’s success. He explained:
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize.
Washington was well aware that developments would threaten such unity, which is why he continued:
But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
Sadly, the American people didn’t fully heed Washington’s warning as seen in the civil war which claimed the lives of over 600,000 Americans and almost permanently destroyed the “national union” Washington cherished.
How Justice Works
There are those who will, of course, say that the civil war was justified in light of slavery. They will argue that true peace isn’t possible absent justice.
And I would agree that the evil cancer of slavery — something the Founders themselves inherited and were unable to eradicate (though many of them tried) — led to the civil war.
However, I would also argue that what ultimately perpetuated slavery is the very same thing that made it necessary for a civil war to end slavery, rather than the American people agreeing peacefully to do so.
The same is true for injustice in general. What allows injustice to prevail is when selfishness prevails over selflessness and sacrifice.
When people start seeing narratives, agendas, and personal (or even collective) interests as being more important than people, we are on a treacherous path to ruin and catastrophe.
Many people today will justify their hate and loathing of those on “the other side” because of the consequences the other side’s personalities or positions have on people.
I would agree that principled stands must be taken against injustice in all forms. We must stand against racism and hate. We must stand up for justice and civil rights.
But it’s so easy to let our convictions lead us into self-righteousness, prejudice, and bitterness.
How Love Works (and Why We Need it)
The only way to stop us from sliding down this calamitous slope is to embrace what a certain carpenter’s son and Jewish teacher said 2000 years ago.
We must LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR.
And Jesus defined “neighbor” when he told the parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25–37). Your neighbor isn’t just the person living next door or across the street. Your neighbor isn’t just your close friend or the person with whom you must relate or agree.
Your neighbor is anyone in the path of your life.
Your neighbor is whoever you are sharing this planet with.
You are to love everyone in your life and everyone on planet Earth.
That means you are to love your Republican neighbor, Democrat neighbor, liberal neighbor, conservative neighbor, socialist neighbor, libertarian neighbor, or the neighbor whose views you still can’t figure out!
You are to love your neighbor — regardless of race, creed, color, sex, gender, geographic location, point of origin, belief, practice, economic status, personality, or sports team preference.
To be sure, it’s important to be patriotic — to love your country. But if a person’s patriotism doesn’t include loving your neighbor, then we’re not talking about a healthy patriotism but rather a toxic nationalism.
We must love our fellow human beings, regardless of whether they agree with us or not. In fact, our love must not be confined by national borders. We must love everyone.
Jesus drives this point about love home when he says that we are to even “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
To put this into modern application, that means we are to love Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris.
We are to love the people who voted the way we did and also the people who voted differently.
We are to love everyone, and we shouldn’t let differences or disagreements change that.
Of course, many people struggle with this because I think many people are confused as to what it means to love.
Love doesn’t mean agreement.
Love doesn’t mean approval.
You can love someone and still disagree with their beliefs or disapprove of their choices or actions.
You can love someone and yet still believe they should be held accountable for their actions.
One of the best definitions of love was given by St. Thomas Aquinas in which he said: “To love is to will the good of the other.”
And that, I believe, is perhaps the best way to look at love.
To love someone is to want what is good for that person.
We may not all agree all the time. We may not see eye to eye on the problems facing our society. We may indeed have deep disagreement on various issues, candidates, or controversies.
But we must not stop wanting the GOOD for each other.
We must not stop caring for one another.
As the late Dr. Martin Luther King once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The only way to bring light and healing to our nation is through love.
And it must start with you and me.