As I was driving around town the other day, I saw an interesting bumper sticker. It read, “My Religion is Simple. My Religion is Kindness.” At first glance, this would seem to be a benignly beautiful sentiment. But, as a teacher, my first instinct would be to say (as I would reply to one of my students), “Define ‘kindness’”.
This is where such sentiment can quickly become dangerous. In today’s society, ‘kindness’ would often be defined as, “saying nice things to others, which would include little white lies, and avoiding saying anything which might offend another, even if their very lives depended on needing correction”. What is the dictionary definition, though? In the Collins Dictionary, ‘kindness’ is defined thusly, “the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful.” On the point of ‘gentle’, these 2 definitions find common ground. However, on those last 2 words – caring and helpful – we find a much different meaning and result.
So, why is this ‘religion of kindness’ a dangerously misguided notion? What’s wrong with ‘little, white lies’ or avoiding saying something which might offend? First, it’s important to remember that old axiom about speaking the truth. It helps to ask a few questions to know when to speak up and when to be silent. Ask yourself:
- Is it actually true?
- Is it helpful?
- Is it necessary?
- Is it kind?
Note the order in which these questions are asked. That order matters. Make no mistake, though, even when the first 3 criteria are met, there’s always a kind or diplomatic way to say something. For instance, if someone thinks they are a wonderful singer and they plan to sell their car, quit their job, and go to New York to pursue a singing career, but they’re really awful at singing – what would you do? The first 3 of the 4 criteria above would demand that you say something to stop this person from making a big mistake. Saying something actually IS the “kind” thing to do (based on the Collins Dictionary definition). But do you say, “You’re awful at singing and I can’t believe you’d think you could make a living at that”? Or, could you put it more diplomatically and say something like, “It is great that you love to sing. I can tell you’re really passionate about it. However, I’m just not sure that’s really what God has planned for you and I’d hate to see you disappointed or hurt. Have you ever considered (such and such) as a career? I’ll bet you’d be awesome at that!”
So many people today think ‘kindness’ involves just letting that person drive right over the proverbial cliff while we stand by and say nothing or even condone their actions. Is that caring or helpful, though? Of course not. For example, if a friend was significantly overweight, and became bulimic as a way to deal with this, would you ‘support’ them in this lifestyle? After all, it’s their choice, so who are you to judge? Or, would the truly kind thing be to have that difficult conversation with them, so as to lovingly guide them down a healthier path?
Our society has now taken this false notion of kindness to the extreme. We have people who are confused about their gender identity and the popular response is to actually encourage them to ‘be’ a gender that defies their DNA. Yes, some will argue that there are biological exceptions which skew genetically assigned sex, but these are extremely rare mutations and often result in the death of the zygote at very early stages of development. In other words, this argument is a red herring. The real issue here is people who are struggling with a psychological disorder known as ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘gender identity disorder’ (GID). Genuine kindness in this case would involve unconditional love and compassion for the person – no doubt that is needed. But it also involves speaking the truth as guidance is provided to help them find the counseling they need from those who won’t lie to them just to protect their feelings. Is it really healthy to encourage someone to ‘embrace’ an identity that is objectively unhealthy? Those who are struggling with their gender identity are about 10 times more likely to attempt suicide and engage in self-injury. They’re also far more likely to commit suicide (25x more likely, though this figure is higher in some studies).
GID is also connected to same-sex attraction. Very young children who struggle with this can be helped, often by the way their parents engage with the child. Absent, hostile, or overly-meek fathers combined with domineering or attachment issues with mothers are frequent factors when GID is present, as is sexual abuse. So, should a young child then be encouraged to ‘embrace’ feelings of same-sex attraction, or should they get the love and guidance that might be genuinely helpful and address the root issue? Might it be worth noting that 70-75% of adolescents who indicate they’ve experienced same-sex attraction have no such feelings by the age of 25? Shouldn’t we start asking questions about why those who act on same-sex attraction experience significantly higher rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in relationships, as well as higher rates of suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse? To say such increased rates are simply because of a societal stigma doesn’t hold water, as similar rates exist in the Netherlands where ‘gay marriage’ has long been accepted. (A wonderful apostolate known as “Courage” can provide help in this area. www.couragerc.org. Also, check out the online movie, “The Desire of the Everlasting Hills”.)
This honesty shouldn’t be reserved for those with GID or same-sex attraction, though. Cohabitation, contraception, and pre-marital sex among heterosexual couples all have significant, damaging side effects. We should study these and be familiar with them so we can fully love those who are considering or are in the midst of such lifestyles.
To fail to love someone in any of these situations is failing in kindness. But, to say nothing or to not be honest with people is false kindness. In some cases, we may literally be killing them with kindness of this sort. Jesus told us not to judge (people). But, he also obligated us to address harmful behaviors and told us that “The Truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Let’s practice a religion of kindness that is the real deal. Gentle. Caring. Helpful.