Friday, June 26, 2009

Who Shouldn't I Like?

At a recent meeting in which I was asked my opinion about a range of individuals, I found myself in the peculiar position of being asked, only quasi-rhetorically: "Who DON'T you like?"

I've always had a relatively easy time getting along with most people. Generally, I find that there is more pleasure to be found in seeking common ground with another than whackin' away at them with my Mighty Mjolnir of Righteousness. Even in those instances where I find myself in diametric opposition to someone on an issue, that quest for common ground is still front and center.

Why? I guess I just have this weird fixation on grace.

It's gratifying to enter into a web ranting contest with a rabidly and profanely aggressive neoatheist and come out the far side with a sense that some mutual respect has been found. It's spiritually uplifting to have a strident fundamentalist start a conversation with you by hurling both scripture and invective, and work your way around to realizing that hating one another isn't necessary. Those conversations smell far more richly of victory than napalm in the morning ever could.

It doesn't always work, though. You can't always get folks to open up. Reason, humor, silliness, gentleness, and appeals to shared values and common humanity sometimes run crashing up against the brick wall of deeply seated hatreds and bias. People who have been so deeply hardened by cynicism and are woven through with negativity that they can't recognize any common value at all. Folks who are relentlessly narcissistic or engage in fetishistic worship of their own groupthink just can't recognize others as children of God.

And there are people like that out there. You just can't get through to them. I'm pretty sure I'd have trouble getting along with Mahmoud Ahmedinajad. He's just going to hate me, no matter what I do and however I approached him. By his standards, I'm monstrous, my wife and kids are the personification of evil, and I'm pretty sure there's nothing I could do to make our time together pleasant.

Maybe we could talk about fashion. He and I seem to have similar incompetence in that area. Or perhaps I could help him learn how to grow a real beard. That'd be a great topic, I'm sure.

Ann Coulter would be equally trying company. I'm progressive, and that means that I am someone to be vilified and mocked in terms that generally embarrass decent company. Like Ahmedinajad, she relies utterly on her ability to polarize communities and condemn those who are different. People who build political or commercial careers by demonizing others tend to be a tad on the hard side to get along with. And Dear Ms. Coulter really has put her heart and soul into making herself a caricature of the ranting, smug, and rigid conservative. That's why Ms. Huffington keeps her on retainer. If she ever showed signs of being pleasant to a leftist, she'd never publish a book again. It would also blow that whole fascist Cruella De Vil schtick she's got goin' on.

I'm also fairly sure ten minutes in the company of Perez Hilton would be nine minutes and forty seven seconds too long. As someone whose entire existence is dedicated to cattily defacing the lives and reputations and images (ew) of others, I'd doubt his soul has escaped unscathed. I could be wrong on that one, but whenever I've gone on his gossip site (research purposes only, mind you), I've felt like Nosferatu sunbathing on the Cote D'Azure. Only the other way around, if such a thing is possible. The absence of light is so intense, it burns.

Any openly gay man who can manage to be so impressively cruel, self absorbed and foul tempered as to draw censure from most of America's gay rights organizations must be a real joy to be around.

That I can't imagine being in close proximity to any of these folks is one thing. Liking them may not be possible.

But though friendship with folks like these might not be possible, hating them is also not necessary. Opposing? Yes. Resisting their influence? Viewing them as enemies of what is good? Absolutely. But hate never serves any purpose.

We are permitted to have folks we just don't like. That we still have to love them is the great challenge of Christian faith.