Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Minor Musing About Comforting The Troubled And Troubling The Comfortable

Recently, Pat Powers used the famous aphorism "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. As first written, the phrase originally described the duty of the newspapers. It has been called "the purpose of all gospel ministry." If memory serves, I first heard the injunction in the early 1980s when now state senator James Bolin told me that it was one the prime duties of an educator.

In 2017 America, the phrase seems more than a bit problematic because apparently everyone is afflicted. If one is unable to buy any gun he wishes, he is afflicted. If a college student is assigned a text written by a dead white male, she is afflicted. Everyone reading this post may be afflicted because the previous sentences contain examples of gender stereotypes.

At the societal level it's nearly impossible to find a group that has not been afflicted: old, young, poor, rich, male, female, trans, straight, gay, Christians, Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists, teetotalers, whiskey connoisseurs, immigrants, and descendants of those who sailed on the Mayflower all claim to be a mistreated and misunderstood community. With all of this affliction being endured, it's doubtful enough people are available to offer comfort.

If being afflicted has become an epidemic, the idea of troubling the comfortable has morphed. In the past it involved speaking truth to power. The practice has distorted into deliberately pissing off people whom one disagrees with just for the hell of it.

It takes neither genius nor prophet to understand the current situation poses two distinct problems. First, all the false claims of affliction cause us to lose sight of who is truly afflicted, and, therefore, who truly needs comfort. Second, angry people seeking to trouble those who are looking for reasons to feel afflicted will produce a violently widening gyre.

Lincoln urged Americans to appeal to the better angels of our nature. Theodore Roosevelt exhorted Americans to channel that energy to stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. Our current political leadership lacks the vision and moral authority to do either. Even if that were not the case, too many people are too busy enjoying their imagined martyrdom to listen.

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