“Hope for a Culture of Contempt”
Noted marriage therapist John Gottman, who has observed thousands of couples in his Love Lab at the University of Washington claims he can predict with 94% accuracy which relationships are headed for divorce.
What is the number one predictor? Gottman votes for contempt.
Contempt is anger mingled with disgust-the settled conviction of someone else’s worthlessness. The telltale signs are sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and the ultimate giveaway, eye-rolling. When Gottman sees partners react to each other by rolling their eyes, he has come to have a high degree of confidence that apart from powerful course corrections, disintegration is on the way.
In his book Forgive Your Enemies, columnist Arthur Brooks suggests that our nation’s greatest challenge is navigating through a “culture of contempt.” According to a 2017 Reuters poll, one in six Americans stopped talking to a friend or family member because of politics. Contempt springs from the assumption that there is no possibility of finding common ground. “My motives are based in love. Your motives are based in hate. Only a selfish and immoral person could believe what you believe. And don’t throw your facts in my face. Your news is fake news.”
Contempt goes beyond anger. Anger says, “I care enough about these issues to get emotionally involved.” Contempt says, “You aren’t even worth caring about.” In anger, I may want to hurt someone. In contempt, I don’t care if you get hurt or not.
The good news is that we don’t have to act this way. There is hope for our culture-especially when we come to grips with the good reasons for leaving contempt behind. Contempt isn’t just bad for those we are rejecting. It’s seriously bad for US. Contempt makes us unhappy, unhealthy, and unattractive even to those who agree with us.
Jesus doesn’t hesitate to address anger and contempt in his Sermon on the Mount. He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister,”Raca”. Is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell”. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Words are serious things. Words can wound and kill. “Raca” is one of about 20 Aramaic words that appear in the New Testament. Many of them have come into common English usage without being translated. Think of “amen,” “hosanna,” and “abba.”
“Raca,” however, is a singularly fierce word. It is an expression of contempt and is stronger than the “you idiot” that some translations prefer. It is meant to represent the gathering of spit at the back of the throat-spit that I intend to hurt someone I consider worthless.
Jesus makes it clear that there will be serious consequences for people who unrepentantly set out to hurt other people. Bible scholar Dale Brunner comments, “Anger carried and vented, according to Jesus’ astonishing assessment, is Last-Judgment-and-hell-deserving crime.”
Nobody ever said that loving real people would be easy. And it may be that God intends to deploy us on the front lines of his efforts to transform our culture of contempt into a culture of his grace.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain