Contrary to things I’ve read lately – mostly on social media and right-wing “news” sites – my liberal-arts education does not make me weak, feeble-minded, a slave to “triggers,” or ignorant of fact. I am not a thin-skinned child. I’m not particularly gullible. I like to think I’m not what you’d call elitist. I am simply a person privileged and motivated enough to attend college, and I happen to be thriving here.
In my admittedly limited experience (I’m not quite through with my bachelor’s degree), my studies have allowed me to engage with empathy; to undergo moments of ideological discomfort and mold my worldview accordingly to fit within a greater moralistic perspective. Not everyone ends up on the same “side” as I have, or has reached the same conclusions, but I’ve come to believe that critical thinking skills acquired through education tend to enrich any perspective – spiritual, political, ideological, or otherwise.
I have been taught my whole life that furthering my education in any way I can is good, even necessary, and I think I have seen evidence of that. It’s a shame to see so many deny and villainize education like they have – college is not for everyone, but we should all be seeking new opportunities to learn.
As an English major, I am challenged with confronting the history of humanity from fifth-century England all the way to modern, race-torn America. I’ve read stories of peasants, aristocrats, slaves, rulers, urbanites, country folk, radicals. Stories that make me hurt, feel whole, learn both of God and godlessness. I am young and perhaps lacking wisdom, but my college experience has provided me with knowledge of the beauty, struggle, even sacredness found in all of human experience throughout the history of the English written word.
Studying literature is about drawing meaning from the art form – the story, the poem, the manifesto – and learning to understand others of different times, different classes, different backgrounds, to apply those understandings to the way one approaches society. It has made me a better person. Recent studies even show that reading fiction has been proven to increase empathy. I couldn’t have known that when I decided on my major three years ago, but I have noted the benefits; all good things.
But lately, I’ve been challenged to show empathy for fellow Americans who belittle college education, who do not understand why anyone would devote time and money to learning about words written hundreds of years ago when there is useful work to be done in this world. People who voted for someone who doesn’t read books, a man who refuses to foster empathy of his own. A man so self-obsessed that he cannot will himself toward honesty or acceptance of fault when faced with a reality that doesn’t necessarily appeal to his ego. I’m asked to show empathy for people who meet objectively factual statements with accusations that I’ve been brainwashed by the malignant mainstream media – these powerful contemporary voices of journalists whom I value, who foster charity and empathy, who certainly matter as individuals with worthwhile opinions, all disregarded as evil, manipulative leftists.
As a Christian, it’s easy for me to acknowledge that no human is perfect. We’re all sinners, liable to mess up in unique ways, to make choices that do not best reflect who we should be as disciples. In acknowledging these human shortcomings, we believe in a Redeemer who atoned for them.
But I haven’t had to face human imperfection like this before in my relatively comfortable, privileged life. I watch in horror as people validate a man who does not know the definition of meekness, who finds power in belittling those different from him. He does not mourn with those that mourn, and is regularly proven incapable of honoring his imperfections like a proper Christian should. He is driven by his own toxic version of masculinity, treating women and children as objects to fulfill desire and nourish narcissistic tendencies.
Further, I have been asked to turn the other cheek. To respond to this puzzling turn of events not with righteous indignation, but with compassion. To understand why these people who chose to look evil in the face and encourage it – perhaps without ever reaching awareness of the ramifications – might have done so. I have been asked, as a Christian, to not only find empathy for the man left bleeding on the side of the road, but also for those who beat him and left him to die, along with those who willfully chose to ignore him as they passed him by. I see in this struggle my own flaws as a Christian, weaknesses that show the limits of my empathy. My inability to accept the unaccepting; to offer charity to those so unwilling to show charity through a vote – any vote – against hatred.
How many times, after all, have I pointed out that Jesus spent his ministry communing with murderers, prostitutes, the mentally ill, tax collectors, the poorest of the poor, when trying to convince fellow Christians to show real love for LGBT brothers and sisters, people of color, or the homeless – a comparatively easy task? How often have I sought to evoke Christ’s inclusivity to further my own social and political goals? As it turns out, I need to take my own advice. Jesus said, “Love everyone,” and that does not exclude people unable to do so themselves.
I have learned through all this that it is my responsibility to find Christian compassion not only for the downtrodden and the easily-pitiable, but for those who make a mockery of Christian behavior, those who are able to disregard evils, and even align individuals practicing such behaviors with our Savior. This baffles me, but I must accept the challenge.
I have also learned how hard it is to stand as a witness for virtue, charity, and morality when doing so is met with scolding for “creating contention” and being “of the devil.” It’s a difficult position to be in. I believe in the Book of Mormon and the things it says about contention; I also believe in Jesus Christ, who probably, sometimes, hurt people’s feelings when he asked them to forsake evil. I’m not Jesus, but it’s also not my fault when people hear me slamming our president-elect for racism, misogyny, and prejudice and assume my choice of adjectives applies to every one of his supporters. Perhaps that’s a connection people need to make. Perhaps I need to learn when to shut up. As it stands, I don’t regret vocally opposing disgusting behaviors of our president-elect.
Friday night, I found myself in a dark place. After spending the day awkwardly holding back tears in public, receiving pointed criticism from family members unable to understand my turmoil, and finally reaching sadness after working through disbelief and anger, I felt broken. Coming to terms with the fact that I cannot rely on my country to support the values I hold most dearly has been deeply painful. This is not a matter of “my side” not winning; I’ve never seen a presidential candidate I support win. This is my realization that integrity has failed us – that evil has succeeded in disguising itself as good through manipulation and lies. Such twisting of reality terrifies me, and has forced me to accept a new level of vulnerability as a citizen of the United States. As a white Christian, I cannot begin to imagine what religious and racial minorities must be feeling right now, but I reserve empathy for them, and will strive to help their voices be heard.
After I spent most of the day alternating between crying and sleeping, my brother came to my apartment to offer me a priesthood blessing of comfort. His words touched my spirit, tired and broken, and reminded me that it is indeed my duty to stand up for truth and righteousness, just as I had always been taught.That Christ himself suffered persecution and rejection after speaking truths and ideas that caused widely-felt discomfort. That I am fulfilling my duty as a Christian, and should never feel guilty in doing so. That I should remember the beatitudes; to turn the other cheek, and give unto those who have taken from me – not in order to abandon the fight, but to fortify my soul to fight all the better. To find strength in charity and love for my fellow man, without backing down from my worthy convictions. I heard words I needed to hear in my time of great need, without any hint of chastisement. I found hope and love even when both appeared so very lost. I allowed myself to be served, and felt my brother’s love for me as he lay his hands on my head. This is the very heart of grace – the reason I can believe in a God who finds grace even for people like Donald J. Trump.
This morning, as I pondered the hymn, Be Still, My Soul, it occurred to me that “The Lord is on thy side,” is not, in the end, a conditional statement. God truly, emphatically loves us all. He might not love all of our choices, and He might weep when we cannot treat each other using the doctrine and examples He has given us. I have no doubt that it pains Him to see us hurt one another, to promote evil, to make light of our fellow man’s very real feelings of fear and sorrow – all behaviors I have observed, in excess, during this past week.
But, unlike most Americans today, God does not view us as people on different “sides” of the culture wars. I think He sees most of us as vulnerable, hurting spirits, each doing our best to stand up for what we know to be right, while remaining humanly liable to judge, taunt, and sin. We approach the world in such wildly varying ways, ways that I might never understand, but that He can understand, for He knows the desires of our hearts. If our desires be good, we have nothing to fear. If our desires be reprehensible and we intentionally seek to hurt and profit off of those around us, He feels anguish and has the ultimate responsibility of holding us accountable, but I know that He loves us anyway.
This isn’t easy doctrine. It’s difficult to know that God loves Hitler, Genghis Khan, Osama Bin Laden. But the truth remains – He loves us all.
And so in the coming months, when our country inaugurates a president who is so marked, in my mind, by hatred – someone who disgusts me to the same degree that homosexuality disgusts Mike Pence – I will feel pain. I might cry some more. I might disparage whatever series of events that kept “the real Trump” so blindingly out of the conservative public’s view. I will continue standing up for my fellow women, doing all that I can to educate myself and abolish rape culture, which includes men like Trump who feel entitled to our bodies. I will speak out for Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and other people of color, and acknowledge that racism is a real problem that I need to vocally oppose as a privileged individual. I will pray that more Americans learn to partake of evil and biased mainstream leftist media, that more of us will get the education this country needs its citizens to get in order to make any progress at all.
It seems impossible now, but we will move forward. No one can say where the next four years might take us. It’s okay to be freaking out, but we’re not alone in this. The Lord is on our side, not necessarily because He’s a Democrat (though your guess is as good as mine), but because He’s always on our side – He must be. This is ridiculously hard, but we can do this, together.
Damn my liberal arts education.