Rejecting the New Normal: Dr. Duane Arnold
“Sadly and perhaps tragically, our culture and society seems to be getting more and more uncivil. We are certainly all too familiar with the rude and crude tone in national politics, talk radio, cable news, celebrity Twitter wars, and social media in general that has created a new normal that is shockingly and appallingly uncivil. Many major news outlets… have stopped allowing readers to offer comments at the end of online articles due to an increase in uncivil commentary.
Social Learning Theory instructs us that people will model or emulate the behavior of others and especially behavior from models who are seen as high profile individuals like national politicians, Hollywood and athletic celebrities, and so forth. However, just as the frog placed in an increasingly warming pot of boiling water may not perceive a temperature difference until it is too late for survival, perhaps we too can habituate to increasingly uncivil behavior and especially when high profile members of our society appear to not only get away with it but are often reinforced for it.”
Thomas G. Plante, PhD
I’ve decided that I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.
I have millennial friends who seem unable to make it through three sentences without dropping the “F” bomb at least twice. I’ve been told, “It’s the new normal”. In discussions, it is now common for people to take the most extreme position possible, yell the loudest and consign those who disagree on any point to eternal damnation. Shouting others down, I’m told, is the “new normal”. Careful, meticulous research – the result of literally years of study – can be presented and, in an off handed manner, be rejected as “fake” or “biased” without a single glance at the research, sources or materials presented. Once again, we are informed that it is simply the “new normal”. The life, actions and statements of a person in leadership may be shown to be immoral, corrupt, and/or filled with false assertions while openly engaging in nepotism in their position of trust. When questions about such a person are raised, however, we are informed that they are a visionary, or new to the job, or, indeed, that they have been placed there by the “hand of God” and that such questions are inappropriate at best, or at worst, sinful. Such reasoning is the “new normal”.
I am speaking, of course, not about politics, but about the Church.
Moreover, I am not speaking merely about one segment of the Church, but about the Church at large. It is far too easy simply to target ultra-conservatives. We need to recognize that for every Jerry Falwell, Jr., boasting of “packing heat” to deal with a supposed Muslim threat, we also have those like the ultra-liberal Katherine Jefferts Schori (former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church) who forbade the sale of church properties to congregations leaving the Episcopal Church, preferring to see them become mosques, bars, or simply left vacant.
There is, however, something that links someone like a Falwell and a Jefferts Schori and that is their equal appropriation of the “new normal”. The bullying tactics of the “new normal” have been employed by both, as have been the consigning of certain groups to perdition, the off handed rejection of careful scholarship, the lack of transparency in financial and pastoral/leadership decisions, as well as the megalomaniacal assertions that they indeed know God’s will in a more profound manner than other mere mortals. Moreover, they really, really, don’t like people asking them pointed questions, preferring that people simply listen… passively and uncritically.
Whether they know it or not, or, indeed, want to admit it, the extremes are mirror images of one another in employing the “new normal” of belligerency and incivility.
Now, I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the “new normal”, whether employed by liberals or conservatives, is inimical to the spirit of the Gospels and the example of Christ.
Some like to believe that by embracing this “new normal” we can somehow sanctify it, after all, didn’t Christ overturn tables and drive the money changers from the temple? Unfortunately, we are much too influenced by the dramatic artistic renderings of the event – tables and money flying through the air, a whip in an upraised hand, animals escaping from cages, priests running away. Yet the Synoptic Gospels make no mention of a whip and, according to Nathan O’Halloran, it is more likely from an examination of the text in John, that Jesus used some ends of ropes lying around to drive the animals out of the temple precincts, pretty much as any herder of animals might do, no doubt followed by their owners! Not as dramatic (and we do like drama) but possibly a bit more accurate. Moreover, the point was not to be found primarily in the action that took place, but in the meaning of the action, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
I’ve always found it interesting that although the Samaritans as a religious community were castigated by the first century Jews in Palestine, Christ did not pronounce a judgement on them as a group. He spoke of them, and with them, almost exclusively as individuals – the woman at the well, the “Good Samaritan”, etc. In our own day, in the Church, it has become common to marginalizing someone’s opinion simply by placing them in an opposing group that has a label – “he’s a liberal”, “she’s a conservative”. It is significant to note, however, that it was not Christ that made use of this technique, but his enemies, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Interestingly enough, Christ only replied that he did not have a demon and ignored the marginalizing slur, saying only, “I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.” He was not going to play the game of division by association… and neither should we. What was “normal” for others, was not “normal” for Christ.
All this is to say, that we do not have to accept the “new normal”. Indeed, by accepting the “new normal” in society, or in the Church, we become less than what we are meant to be as believers and often dishonor the One we claim to follow.
Oh, by the way, to my good millennial friends – I love you dearly, but keep the “F” bombs to yourself. In this, as in other matters, I don’t want to get used to the “new normal”.