We live in a strange age. It’s an age marked by contention, strife, and factionalism. This is true in the Church and in the realm of politics (both in the U.S. and in many other countries). To take just one example, here’s some objective evidence on the terrifying and widening political chasm in America:
The shares of Republicans and Democrats who express very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have increased dramatically since the 1990s, but have changed little in recent years. Currently, 44% of Democrats and Democratic leaners have a very unfavorable opinion of the GOP, based on yearly averages of Pew Research Center surveys; 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners view the Democratic Party very unfavorably. In 1994, fewer than 20% in both parties viewed the opposing party very unfavorably.
This particular point is salient because it’s not just that we disagree. It’s that we don’t trust “the other side,” and actually hate each other to a degree not seen in modern U.S. history. And American Catholicism hasn’t been exempted from this trend, either. You’ve got uncharitable pro-Francis and anti-Francis Catholics bashing each other, and uncharitable pro-Trump and anti-Trump Catholics bashing each other. So what’s going on, and what can we do about it? Here’s what Neil Postman, C.S. Lewis, and St. Paul might say about where we’ve gone wrong, and what we can individually do about it.
I. The Outrage Addiction Industry You May Not Know About
One problem with food might be that it’s mislabeled – this was a problem in much of the early 20th century. But another problem is just that the food itself is unhealthy junk that makes your life worse when you consume too much of it. The news is the same way. There is fake news, the reporting of things that literally didn’t happen. But a much bigger problem is junk news, news that exists only to entertain and which actually makes us worse people when we consume too much of it.
Part of the reason for that is our addiction to outrage. Way back in 2015, Psychology Today had a post warning about that “anger is a public epidemic in America.” The author explained why anger is addictive:
What happens is that anger can lead to similar “rushes” as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain, or like other forms of addiction such as gambling, extreme sports, even drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Anger can become its own reward, but like other addictions, the final consequences are dangerous and real, and people follow impulses in the moment without regard to the big picture.
Read more at Word on Fire.