My friend Bill, whom I’ve known since grammar school, is a doctor and a devout Christian. In a letter to me, he laments how he cannot have a cordial conversation on some topics with longtime friends — those in his profession and even those who share his religious beliefs.
It is dumbfounding to Bill that such impasses could occur among highly educated people who share many deep-seated beliefs. Yet, his experience typifies that of other Conservatives today. It is increasingly harder to have a decent political discussion with those who disagree with you even slightly, let alone markedly.
It’s as if people have dug in their heels and decided that what they now believe and know may not be altered by anyone, by any new facts, or by otherwise compelling evidence.
With only a few minor changes for readability, here is Bill’s letter, otherwise verbatim.
A Tale of Three Gentlemen
I have two long-term friends, one of 20 years, the other of 15, with whom I share deep religious beliefs along evangelical lines. We also have a history of being colleagues in the same mission agency. Thus, one would think we share much in common politically because of similar moral compasses.
As for the first gentleman, we’ve met over breakfast at least every two weeks for the past ten years or so. I consider him a confidant and he regards me as the same. Our conversations are broad and wide-ranging and we often accept each other’s opinions at face value without passing judgment.
I think he would certainly identify himself as a political Conservative. However, at several junctures over the past few years, he has made the declaration, “Trump is evil.” When I ask him why he believes this, it usually has something to do with Trump’s demeanor on the stump.
When I ask, what exactly Trump has done to incur my friend’s wrath, his reply is simply that Trump is an evil person, as if Trump is the reincarnation of Hitler. This blanket write-off comes from a former pastor and missionary whose life’s work has been reaching out to people who are spiritually hurting and lost.
As for the second gentleman, our conversations were almost weekly and generally cordial when confined to spiritual topics. Based on our rather infrequent political conversations, I gathered that his primary news source is PBS. He has a similar low opinion of Trump and had a scathing opinion of Trump’s decision to draw down troops in Iraq after ISIS was summarily decimated. Why? Because, “We were abandoning the Kurds who had been our allies for 20 years.” Perhaps he is a Liberal at heart who believes our role in the world is nation-building.
The turning point in our friendship came after January 6. In his mind, that was an insurrection and attempted coup, nothing less. He would brook no amount of contrary facts or alternative explanations. It was an insurrection and that was that. He left for a yearlong assignment in Kurdistan thereafter and did not reach out to me upon his return to the U.S.
Similar stories could be told from interactions with my siblings from blue states, with whom I also share similar religious beliefs. My point is this: something more is afoot here than MSM propaganda, which seems self-evident to us on the Right, as we observe the echo chamber over and over again.
A Deep Refusal
There is a deep refusal to even consider alternative viewpoints. In my opinion, this is an evil, spiritual deception or, at the very least, a mass formation psychosis as articulated by Mattias Desmet, author of The Psychology of Totalitarianism.
Desmet is regarded as a primary authority on the theory of mass formation particularly as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences at Ghent University in Belgium, he is a professor of clinical psychology, and also a practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapist.
If you’re interested in a fascinating examination of this effect in the American Christian community, check out the latest book by Eric Metaxas, entitled Letter to the American Church. Metaxas draws some sobering parallels between the German Lutheran Church during the Nazi era and the segment of today’s American churchgoers who avoid politics for fear of being labeled “Christian nationalists.”
Thanks for reading, Jeff, and for letting me vent.