On late-night television, it was once understood that David Letterman was beloved by coastal liberals and Jay Leno more of a Middle American taste. But neither man was prone to delivering hectoring monologues in the style of the “Daily Show” alums who now dominate late night. Fallon’s apolitical shtick increasingly makes him an outlier among his peers, many of whom are less comics than propagandists — liberal “explanatory journalists” with laugh lines.
Apparently the Left is starting to see the wisdom of what Douthat was saying. The Atlantic has a piece in its May issue that makes essentially the same point, but there is one major difference. The Atlantic piece is so biting in its tone that one cannot help but wonder if the author was reaching for irony or cannot really tell the difference between their biting tone and the snarky smugness of those they wish to correct. That set me wondering about the Left’s oft-mentioned inability to do any sort of self-examination. Moreover, anybody in the working world knows that among young people and the left-leaning generally there is a huge problem with criticism – they don’t hear it, they won’t accept it, and offering it in even the gentlest of terms turns you into some sort of monster. They don’t just have a problem with self-examination, they have a problem with being examined at all.
Into this thought stream stepped a very profane piece from The Onion in which the author describes his inability to learn any lessons from his recent bout with cancer. I believe the author is attempting to use the satirical tone of The Onion to point out that in modern times cancer is not always that big a deal and is often no longer life threatening, but in the effort he simply sounds angry and mean – mean towards those whose cancer is a big deal either emotionally or physically. Moreover, he betrays a personal effort to gloss over (i.e. not engage in self-examination) the most frightening diagnosis anyone can hear, even if things turn out well in the end.
Have you ever met anyone that was really struggling with depression? More often than not there is at least a stage where such people deny the problem and are aggressive in that denial. The problem is not them, the problem is their circumstance, or if you press too hard the problem is you and your constant badgering of them. They become sarcastic, but not the good and funny sarcastic, cynical and angry sarcastic. Is that beginning to sound familiar?
I am beginning to think that that place – cynical and angry sarcastic, using that sarcasm as shield against examining how really unhappy they actually are – is where a significant portion of the nation currently resides.
As a Christian that recognition makes me 1) very sad for anybody that actually is in that place, 2) ashamed of a church universal that seems unable to minister to this problem, and 3) wanting to confess my role in the church’s failure. Having said that, and having made that confession (though such confession probably should be made on a daily basis), I am still uncertain how to reach through to such people. Their defenses are very high and any effort to breach them is met with extraordinary force, even if it is dipped in humor, generally accompanied by condescension.
But this I do know, the fundamental problems that face the nation – the divisiveness, the inability to communicate across the divide, the intransigence – are not political problems. These are problems that come from someplace much deeper and much more profound that politics. The solutions will not come in media or from capital buildings. The solutions to the fundamental problems we face are going to come from small interactions and houses of worship.
Self-examination is hard. Truthful self-examination is confession in the Christian sense of that word. And only the Christian can actually engage in it, for only the Christian has someone to catch them as they fall into that abyss. I do not know if the problem is we fail to adequately communicate the love of Christ which is what prevents the abyss from swallowing us whole or if we fail to confront people with their issues adequately enough to push them into those loving arms. It is probably some of each and highly individualized. But regardless it is the only thing that can fundamentally fix the problems we face right now. It is high time we rededicate ourselves to it.