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How You Can Subvert Our Pervasive Culture of Contempt

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How can we subvert the “culture of contempt” so evident in the U.S. presidential impeachment hearings that took place before the holidays?

The message of Advent (and Christmas) that we just celebrated is hope, peace, love and joy.

How we need this message in the U.S. where the culture of contempt is so prevalent – and yes, so contemptible.

Arthur C. Brooks, the Washington Post columnist and professor of public leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, is the author of a book published in March 2019.

You have previously heard the words of the title of that book: “Love Your Enemies.”

That is certainly not an original title, but the subtitle is “How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.”

Brooks is a political conservative, and I disagree with many of his political positions.

However, I fully agree with what he writes in his new book – and with Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who is quoted on the back cover of the book:

“If you are satisfied with our toxic ideological climate, then don’t bother reading this book. But if you’d like to rebel against the present nonsense, Arthur Brooks can show you how to do it with joy and confidence – regardless of your political preferences. If we follow the lessons in ‘Love Your Enemies,’ better times lie ahead for America.”

In the conclusion, Brooks advocates “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt.” Rather than repeating his five rules, I am sharing a helpful statement about each one.

  1. “Stand up to people on your own side who trash people on the other side.” Because contempt is destructive, whenever we read or hear words of contempt, to subvert the culture of contempt we need to speak up, kindly, in opposition to those words.
  2. “Seeking out what those on the other side have to say will help you understand others better.” Whenever we read or hear words with which we strongly disagree, we first need to seek to understand why the writer or speaker wrote or spoke such words.
  3. Here is a point that Brooks makes repeatedly: “Never treat others with contempt, even if you believe they deserve it.” Contempt never causes others to change for the better and is “always harmful for the contemptor.”
  4. Brooks also encourages his readers to “disagree better” and to “be part of a healthy competition of ideas.” He writes, “The single biggest way a subversive can change America is not by disagreeing less, but by disagreeing better – engaging in earnest debate while still treating everyone with love and respect.”
  5. Finally, Brooks advocates tuning out, disconnecting more from unproductive debates. “Unfollow public figures [and social media ‘friends’] who foment contempt, even if you agree with them.”

Partly because of Brooks’ book, I have been reading, and trying to understand without contempt, two books with which I have strong disagreements.

“Dark Agenda: The Way to Destroy Christian America” (2018) was written by David Horowitz, the son of Jewish parents who in 2015 identified as an agnostic.

Even though Jewish, Horowitz dedicated his book to his wife and to three “Christian buddies.”

And on the back cover, Horowitz’s book receives praise from the ultra-conservative Christian politician Mike Huckabee.

Reading some of that book with the desire to subvert the culture of contempt helped me understand why Horowitz – and many religious and political conservatives – think the way they do.

Although the book contains much I strongly disagree with, reading it with the goal of gaining deeper insight into why conservatives think the way they do was beneficial.

And I realize afresh that I can view Horowitz as a good and honorable man – even though wrong in many of his ideas! – without having contempt for him.

The same goes for Star Parker, author of “Necessary Noise: How Donald Trump Inflames the Culture War and Why This is Good News for America” (2019).

Parker is an active Christian as well as an African American woman who has been a strong supporter of President Trump.

Throughout the new year, let’s work together to subvert the culture of contempt, for the good of the country and the world.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Seat’s blog, The View from This Seat. It is used with permission.

Leroy Seat

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church.