George Orwell and Serena Williams
I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay silent. I don’t really know why I bother—no one else does. Maybe, I just miss the old, old days of keeping a certain three topics off limits. I want to like and be liked. I wish I didn’t care so much about being liked. Isn’t that rather middle-schoolish? I wish I’d fully grown out of that. But, too, a less selfish reason for why I try to steer away from various hot topics or more inflammatory subjects is because as a Christian, I want to be careful not to align my anger with my personal beliefs. I don’t want to alienate others. I want to stay open-minded so that I can allow God in to confirm or convict me on any opinion I hold too tightly to. I want to respect other’s rights to share their beliefs. And I don’t think that everything needs to be publicly debated. I want to appreciate my friends for who all they are rather than judge them simply on their politics or their religion and I would like that consideration to be given to me in return.
While there’s nothing about me that is more important than my relationship with God, I would like to presume that there are many interesting aspects to my personality that extend beyond my political beliefs. I don’t want to be judged solely on who I did or did not vote for. I try to grant others the same. All of that said, I am still human and we are living in a very divided society. I cannot pretend that my eyes are closed to the turmoil around me. I try to keep my side of the street clean, to be not impartial but understanding. I want my love for others to be evident, not my distaste. Because the love comes from God and the distaste comes from my flesh. I don’t like to offend. This is not easy in a society that operates from a perpetually offended stance.
Ecclesiastes reminds us that it is not wise to listen to everything people say about us. There’s a saying in Al-Anon that says what other people think of me is none of my business. Proverbs says, “A person’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is to his credit that he ignores an offence” and “He who corrects a scoffer gains abuse for himself, and he who rebukes the wicked gets hurt.[a] 8 Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke the wise and he will love you” and that a wise man stays cool when insulted. James 1:19-20 says, “...let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper. For man’s temper is never the means of achieving God’s true goodness.” 2 Timothy says that as a servant of the Lord, I should not strive (be quarrelsome) but rather be gentle to all men. Exodus tells me that the Lord will fight for me and I should hold my peace. The Bible also tells me that Jesus and His words will be offensive to some. I include all of this because I try to live by the Word of God (falling short, often). I try to remember that we are human beings having a spiritual experience. Of course, many do not believe this but if I do, then I need to behave accordingly.
I need to balance this knowledge with my human desire to address, correct, fix, rebuke. I need to always see if my outrage or worry or desire to speak up aligns with what God would have me do. Most of the time, I find that it is not only safer but probably wiser to stay silent. However, there are times and circumstances in which I think we are called to speak. So just as we should question any inclination towards speaking up, any time we choose silence, I think we need to ask ourselves why we are making this choice. Sometimes we don’t speak out of fear, sometimes we rightly discern that the battle is God’s and sometimes we find that our voices have been drowned out by others. I am coming more and more to believe that right now, too many of us are staying silent. And I think that’s dangerous. That if we continue, there will come a day where we look to the past and realize that we should have done something. We should have, at least, attempted to prevent the insidious silencing of our voices. We can’t go on hoping others will speak up for us or on our behalf. I think we need to be braver. Be willing to risk losing friends or being misunderstood or erroneously labeled. Honestly, if we lose friends for speaking our own truth, were they truly friends? Were they truly people we need in our lives?
A million times a day, lately, I have these thoughts. It’s near impossible not to whenever I’m online. The news and social media provide a barrage of opinions and claims of truth and we are bombarded with anger and discord. We are going to have differences of opinion. We have been able to understand that we do not all believe in a universal truth. That’s fine. Or it used to be fine. We used to be a nation built on an idea that we had freedom. Freedom of belief and freedom of speech. We have the freedom to be wrong. This is not so, anymore. Somewhere along the line, an idea of universal truth did take hold and surprisingly it did not come from Christians. Christians do, of course, believe in a universal truth but we were not the ones who decided to stand up and impose our view of what that truth was on others. Truth left the realm of religion and implanted itself within politics. Thus politics became religion. We are conservative or liberal, democrat or republican before we are atheists or Buddhists or Christians. If this is not the case, it sure looks like it.
We, unabashedly “cancel” whatever or whomever we don’t agree with. Whoever offends us for some reason assuming that we have the right to not be offended. I have no idea where we would have gotten that notion. It’s pretty insane. And to demand that everyone agree with you lest they be silenced is rather frightening. To decide that we are the arbiters of truth and acumen is simply arrogant. To call for firings, silencing, and sometimes violence upon the people with whom we disagree is outrageous and cruel.
Yesterday, I came across an article highlighting books which could be considered classic literature that have been banned. Again. As a society, we’ve often sought to ban certain books. I can’t believe that in 2020, we still seek this. Why would we not know this is dangerous? Why would we believe that any content in any book is more dangerous than the push to censor? Has anything good ever come from censorship? I’ll wait. Who are we that we believe we know what society as a whole should be subjected to. It is one thing to lead as a parent; to make choices for our children, deciding what we think is healthy or unhealthy, to weigh movies, video games, books against our own personal beliefs and make the choice to either allow or disallow for any of these. But one group in society deciding for all other groups? How dare we? Many claim to not believe in God yet have no problem at all playing God.
I’m rereading 1984 by George Orwell. Did others not have to read this in school? Or has its message been forgotten? It reads like a playbook for how we behave today. It was meant to be read as a warning. When and how did we decide it was an instruction manual? If you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, I would recommend that you pick it up. I could write pages of commentary on the similarities between today and the society depicted in that work of fiction. I probably will soon. Yet, I haven’t had much time to dwell on my fear concerning the banning of books because I turned around and was face to face with another troubling matter. So much is under attack and I feel like we are the frog in the boiling water. We’ve allowed things to progress to a point that we may not be able to turn it around. We may be slowly dying in that water, too stupid to jump out.
I re-posted a quote attributed to Serena Williams on my wall. The gist of the quote was that we are, as a society, undeniably divided and that this division has taken over. The writer of the quote says they are sick of the division, of groups at each others’ throats, of the nastiness that’s permeating society. It states that we should all be able to believe what we want to believe, vote for whomever we want but that we should stop thrusting these beliefs or preferences on others. We should stop being upset that not everyone agrees with us. It makes the audacious claim that we are all individuals and beautiful. That we don’t have to agree with another person in order to be their friend or believe that they are a mostly decent human being. Well, Politifact swooped in to issue a warning, covering the post with an announcement that this was partly false information. I should be able to stop there and know that everyone can see why just the warning in and of itself is disturbing. We are no longer trusted to read anything without the powers that be determining whether or not it’s safe for us. We need to be educated by the smarter members of our society. We shouldn’t be trusted to just read whatever we want, post whatever we want. The information might be (gasp!) wrong. Not two hours later, The Associated Press added their own fact-check to the post just in case I didn’t believe Politfact.
The first point is that not only is our freedom of speech being suppressed but so, too, is our freedom of thought. It turns out Serena Williams did write this but not the famous tennis playing Serena Williams. Of course, I think it’s important that quotes be attributed to the correct people. That’s not the point. The point is that there exists so-called fact-checkers designed to correct and keep people in check. Is misinformation more dangerous than a nanny state? Do we believe ourselves so ignorant that this is necessary? I don’t believe we do. I do believe we think others are so ignorant that this is necessary. We want other people to be held accountable, put in their place, fact-checked.
But, fine, thank you Politfact for clearing things up for me. It is good to know who really authored the statement. What alarmed me more than the warning placed on the post was the explanation given by Politifact. They clarified that they weren’t fact-checking the content which, I dare say, is kind of them since the content was an opinion. Rather, they were just clarifying that this post has been shared often and it was manipulated to look as if it was authored by someone who did not author it. The explanation goes on to opine that “the viral post does not sound like something Williams the tennis star would say. She has supported causes related to the Black Lives Matter movement.” Politfact shares that Williams has expressed that she has been wronged because of her race. She has also been quoted as asking why anyone would want to look at Confederate statues because they represent the mass killings of innocent people. Polit-fact’s “ruling” is that the words in the post were written by a different Serena Williams and also, that “based on recent interviews,” Serena Williams the tennis star “probably wouldn’t agree with the sentiment.” Did. You. Catch. That? Politi-fact is allowed to “rule” not only that the quote was wrongly attributed but that the person it was attributed to would “probably” not agree with it. How does this not discredit them as a qualified and serious fact checker? If we needed fact checkers, why would we need fact-checkers that share their opinion with us? Are we talking facts or opinions? And as soon as opinion enters, the status of “independent” becomes false. To me, this is so obvious but somehow so many of us either don’t care or it’s lost on us.
Finally, can we just discuss what in the sentiment there is to disagree with? I listen to a lot of Dave Rubin. A little over a year ago he interviewed two liberal atheist men who were speaking about how scarily religious secularism and academia have become. They discuss the blind following of social justice in academia. Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay. Anyway, they said something interesting in the interview. They suggested asking someone who is offended, what it was that was wrong with the opinion or stance that offends them. So, applying that, I would like to know what is wrong with saying that we should have the choice of who to vote for? What is wrong with saying that we should be able to believe in whatever we want? What is wrong with saying that having our own minds is what makes us all individual. What is wrong with saying that we should be able to be friends with people who hold opposing viewpoints? How could someone not agree with those “sentiments?” I honestly don’t know. I do know that we seem to be living in some sort of twilight zone where sentiments proclaiming freedom and individuality and kindness are no longer agreed upon by a majority.
We need to call these things out. The loudest groups right now have no problem calling out everything they see as wrong. We need to voice our disagreement or we may lose the opportunity to do so forever.