Father Rutler is Pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City. He is the author of twenty-five books and many essays, and has lectured widely at home and abroad.
Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860 with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote and was so loathed that he had to take a night train secretly into Washington for his inauguration. The Salem Advocate in his own state of Illinois editorialized: “…he is no more capable of becoming a statesman, nay, even a moderate one, than the braying ass can become a noble lion. People now marvel how it came to pass that Mr. Lincoln should have been selected as the representative man of any party. His weak, wishy-washy, namby-pamby efforts, imbecile in matter, disgusting in manner, have made us the laughing stock of the whole world.” Two years later, the author Richard Henry Dana reported: “As to the politics of Washington, the most striking thing is the absence of personal loyalty to the President. It does not exist. He has no admirers, no enthusiastic supporters, none to bet on his head.”
Against the rising tide of hate, Lincoln maintained his balance with quiet humor. And humor as the perception of imbalance is a strong defense against irrational people whose defining characteristic is a humorless lack of proportion. There is much hatred in our culture today, which has abandoned self-deprecation and has replaced humor with caustic vulgarity. It is not melodramatic to say that when people abandon Christ, they embrace the Anti-Christ who laughs not with us, but at us.
The viciousness of current politics, perhaps even worse than Lincoln knew in his time, is a dance of despair that logically results from rejecting the logic of Christ who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” When people lose hope in eternal verities, they resort to slander instead of discourse, desperately shouting mockeries from Senate balconies and university platforms. The enemy becomes not the unjust, but the just: “The godless say to themselves: ‘Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us and opposed our way of life…’” (Wisdom 2:12).
As human nature does not change, it is not surprising that Saint James accurately took the moral temperature of our generation back in his own: “Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something, and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force” (James 4:1-2).
When people shout in hate and demonize their opponents, it is because hateful demons are at work. Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost realized that he could not match God’s creation of beautiful man and woman in his image, so he must deface that image by the seductive charm of evil in disguise: “So farewell hope, and with hope, farewell fear, / Farewell remorse! All good to me is lost; / Evil, be thou my good.”