It was our first visit to New York. We were only there for 24 hours—but my wife and I were determined to make the most of it. Naturally, we ended up at the World Trade Centre site, where, on September 11, 2001, two titans of the NYC skyline came crashing down, changing the world forever. We weren’t sure how we would feel about visiting the monument.
In the ground, where the buildings once stood, are two dark squares. If you approach the edge and look over, you see a pool of water, which flows into an inner square, forming a waterfall in the middle. It has the appearance of flowing into nothing. Around the square, the names of the fallen are written. As you read the names some have flowers stuck into them, but most are alike, too many to comprehend, engraved on the face of the monument. Yet one especially stood out to me. It said: “Renee and her unborn child.” We found two or three like this. For some reason those names moved me more than the others.
" . . . as Christians we have lost our social licence."
Most of us can remember where we were on that day. Two towers, two monuments to man’s endeavour and enterprise, came down. However, it was not just lives that were ended and bricks and mortar destroyed that day. Since then attitudes have adapted, morals have moved and there is a new normal. Society, especially Western society, seems to have changed in a fundamental way.
Two words: conceit and contempt. These twin towers have become natural reactions to anything we disagree with or oppose. They have been incubated by the internet, fed by the media and fostered by our own innate sense of insecurity and comparison. From the height of these towers it’s easy to sling stones and mud.
This was brought home to me by another 9/11—this time, this year—the day Donald Trump won the presidential election.1 I am not going to comment on the outcome. But I need to comment on the reactions surrounding the presidential campaign.
Conceit is a feeling that I am better than you and contempt follows: a feeling of disgust and dismissal. Why are they such a problem?
They shut down discussion, debate and disagreement. They create an “us versus them” paradigm. They cause us to treat people as less than human.
Conceit is wrapped up in the sin of pride. The media didn’t take Trump seriously. He was a walking, talking meme. A joke. It meant that they underestimated him. It gave his campaign energy as those disillusioned with the status quo silently supported his strategy of disruption.
Contempt is poisonous because it represents loss of respect. Marriage expert John Gottman lists contempt as one of the greatest dangers to a marriage. It’s the very mindset that is now commonly displayed against Christians. Karl Faase, pastor and social commentator, says that as Christians we have lost our social licence. In other words the influence we used to have on society is gone.
Worse, if we speak up or have an opinion on anything, we are treated with contempt. And so faith in a Creator God, support of traditional marriage or opposition to abortion are not taken on their merits or able to be rationally discussed. Conversation is shut down. We are labelled.
And yet Christians too are playing the conceit and contempt game. My news feed was filled with the voices of Christians who had fallen into the contempt trap, blaming white men for the US election result and falling into the hatred and prejudice that they are supposed to stand against. Proverbs 18:3 says, “when wickedness comes, so does contempt . . .”
As Christians, we must put thought into how we respond to situations (especially those we don’t like), what we share online and our attitudes, because of Who we represent.
We should: 1) question everything 2) take our time before jumping to conclusions or judgements 3) try to see the image of God in every human being, and 4) disagree with ideas and policies, not people.
Jesus showed us how to deal with conceit and contempt. He called out conceit and He prayed for His enemies who showed Him contempt. May we do the same.
- Yes, I am aware Americans do dates backwards. Bear with me.