Fear, Toxicity and Truth-Telling: Three Short Reports from the Christian Century

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The Christian Century is not only for Christians – or even only for those who consider themselves religious. This biweekly magazine, which was established in 1884, deals very professionally and intelligently with a wide range of timely issues, including political and social justice topics. In their summary section entitled “Century Marks,” the journal summarizes recent reports from mainstream and alternative sources.

The August 17, 2016, edition contained three particularly noteworthy pieces, which I will quote here in their entirety and on which I will comment briefly.

  • Learning to fear: Since the early 2000s, Americans have said in polls that crime has increased since the previous year, despite the fact that the national crime rate is about half of what it was in 1991, the peak year. There were, on average, 20,377 murders per year during the Reagan administration. In 2014 there were 14,249 murders. In the meantime, the population has increased 35 percent, driving the per capita rate of murder way down. The perception that crime is on the increase is likely fed by the media coverage, the entertainment industry, and by political rhetoric that plays on people’s fears (New York Magazine, July 19).

As we have noted earlier, the US still has the highest crime rate among our peer nations. Thus we should not be overly proud of the falling murder rate. But we must be cognizant of the facts and not give in to the fear-mongering that too often colors our national discussions.

  • Toxic males: Nearly all mass murderers are men – 98 percent by one count. Gender is the most common feature among mass murderers, not race, religion, nationality, political persuasion, or history of mental illness. Toxic masculinity, when faced with disappointment, can turn to hostility and violence toward others. Collecting and using guns is a way for men with grievances to show their dominance over others. While women tend to blame themselves for failure, men tend to project their failures onto others (Atlantic, June 16).

Obviously most men in the world are not inherently violent; and of course some women are. What is important here is that, to reduce violence, we need to ensure that our culture makes it unacceptable for men to be violent. This gets to the myriad of social justice issues that have long been discussed: parenting boy children in a balanced manner that brings out their nurturing, empathetic sides; providing well-paying and fulfilling jobs and job training; fighting and preventing all forms of domestic violence; ensuring pay equality between men and women; removing the stigma of being gay or transgendered. (It is also, in the opinion of the vast majority of Americans, imperative that we find every way possible to reduce gun violence.)

  • Telling the truth: PolitiFact is an independent fact-checking website. Since 2007 it has fact-checked major national politicians at least 50 times. By its measurement, the least truthful politicians are (in this order): Donald Trump, Michelle Bachman, and Ted Cruz. The most truthful are (in this order): President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Jeb Bush. However, Clinton remains in many people’s minds one of the most dishonest political figures. One explanation for this disparity is the prevalence of a misogynistic notion that women aren’t to be believed, even in cases of rape (Mormon Press, July 17).

It is a tragic phenomenon in our nation not only that prominent politicians lie and that politicians and leaders who generally tell the truth are maligned. It may be even more tragic that extremely important decisions are made by citizens every day, and at the ballot box, based upon lies. Are we in the United States going to persist in being led woefully astray by lies and the twisting of facts, thereby being governed by our lowest and basest instincts? Or are we going to seek the truth on our most vital issues and rise to the greatness that we know we are capable of?