Last week Jeannie Berg posted an article on Blue Oregon: “Gordon Smith on Iraq — Did the Elders Make Him Do It?” Ms. Berg questioned the recent about-face of Oregon Senator Gordon Smith regarding his position on the war in Iraq. In her article, Ms. Berg wondered if LDS Senator Smith’s “new found opposition to the war” was in some way related to indicators that his spiritual leader, LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, had recently changed his position on the war.
Ms. Berg’s hypothesis was interesting, and was made with supporting evidence. Though she left no doubt as to what conclusion she had reached based on the pertinent data, her article was primarily asking the question.
Beyond the basic idea of how much — or even if — Senator Smith’s political decisions are influenced by his Prophet, the ensuing comments from readers are more interesting still.
Many of the comments left by readers were reasoned responses to the issues raised in the article; but too many others were impulsive, emotional reactions from those who took offense. Consider a few:
- This post appears to be a thinly veiled attack upon Gordon Smith’s religious affiliation.
- Unbelievable! I thought you Democrats were the “party of tolerance” and yet here Jeannie is openly criticizing [sic] Senator Smith’s Mormon faith.
Read her post, and where she says “Senator Smith” put in “Senator Wyden” and where she puts in “Mormon” put in “Jewish”. If a republican had written something like this, every one of you would be outraged and call the author a bigot.
… I think you ought to ban Jeannie from ever posting an original article ever again.
- Ms. Berg… You are ignorant of the Church. You are also a bigot. You are disgusting.
- Come on Jeannie, use your head and get off the “I hate Mormons” bandwagon. I am amazed at just how many well educated generally sophisticated Americans give up all logic when they talk about Mormons.
If you read the article you’ll see that Ms. Berg did not attack Mormons or Mormonism. She did not make any bigoted statements. She did not criticize Mormonism in any way. She even praised Senator Smith’s deep commitment to his faith. Ms. Berg asked a valid question — and brought a firestorm down on her head.
Interestingly, it wasn’t so much that people were upset over the question of Senator Smith’s “new found opposition to the war”; they were upset that Ms. Berg dared to ask whether the LDS Church might have an influence on politics. These readers were offended by the question, and they reacted with resentful indignation.
Is this what we’ve come to? Have we become so uncouth that we can no longer entertain different points of view? Have we lost the ability to present reasoned arguments in an effort to defend or persuade?
Apparently, author Peter Wood thinks so, or he thinks something akin to it. Dr. Wood has recently written a book titled A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. Stanley Kurtz reviewed the book for National Review Online earlier this month. According to the review, the gist of the book is an examination of what the author terms “New Anger,” which, in its definition, is juxtaposed against America’s former model of “Old Anger.”
Here’s an excerpt from the review:
Before we lionized all those angry anti-heroes — from Jack Nicholson in the movies, to John McEnroe on the tennis court — Americans admired the strong silent type: slow to boil, reluctant to fight unless sorely provoked, and disinclined to show anger even then. Gary Cooper in Sargent [sic] York comes to mind. Old Anger was held in check by ideals of self-mastery and reserve. As Wood puts it, “Dignity, manliness, and wisdom called for self-control and coolness of temper.” The angry man, Wood reminds us, was once thought a weak-minded zealot, bereft of good judgment and prey to false clarity.
…There was a time when Americans strove to train themselves away from actually being angry — a time when even the private, inner experience of rage felt shameful and was shunned. Yet in compensation for the inner sacrifice and discipline demanded by the art of self-mastery, Americans experienced a mature pride in “character” achieved. In what Wood calls that “now largely invisible culture” of Old Anger, refusal to be provoked was its own reward.
That was then. America’s New Anger exchanges the modest heroism of Gary Cooper’s Sargent [sic] York for something much closer to the Incredible Hulk. New Anger is everything that Old Anger was not: flamboyant, self-righteous, and proud… The Civil War, and America’s past political campaigns, may have witnessed plenty of anger, yet not until recently, says Wood, have Americans actually congratulated themselves for getting angry.
New Anger is nowhere more at home than in the blogosphere, where so far from being held in check, look-at-me performance anger is the path to quick success.
I think this hits the nail squarely on the head. The times, they are a-changin’. Unfortunately, rather than our culture becoming more refined, we’ve become a people who glory in behaviors which were once rebuked as childish.
The Bible has plenty to say about anger and offense. Most people are familiar with this Proverb:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Here’s another one we’d all do well to keep in mind:
A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. (Proverbs 19:11)