We Can’t Even Drink Together Anymore

Vitriol has become a contact sport in American politics. Friends who have enjoyed the verbal sparring between democrats and republicans are beginning to grow weary of the hateful and spiteful rhetoric that comes from both sides but clearly more from the right than the left. The left, not to be excused, seem to be too “above it all” to even consider that arguments from the right wing might actually have some merit.

In particular, the hatred of our President amongst republicans is very nasty. I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse than when we had rants from Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh as they referred to “Slick Willie” when they talked about President Clinton. But it has. It’s much worse. I think I’d need to take a shower after producing a right-wing political show these days. Some on the left, lump religion into a type of anti-intellectualism and the rights of the unborn into a “you’ve got to be kidding me” eye-rolling non-consideration these days.

In short, both sides are saying “It’s my way or the highway.”

And frankly, I’m sick of it.

A republican friend of mine, whom I greatly respect and who I love to spar with says that he looks forward to my respectful banter when we converse. In actuality, I suspect that we both lean a bit more to the center than to the extreme right or left. We’re pragmatists at our best. And over a beer we can get quite passionate about our beliefs and convictions, but at the end of the day, neither one of us leaves angry or bitter about the other. In fact, we usually embrace and perhaps even apologize if one has unintentionally or even, intentionally, hurt the other.

But today, it seems people not of a like mind can’t even drink together anymore.

And the church is not far behind Washington.

Michael O’Loughlin has this piece in America Magazine today and it smacks true to me:

Over the past couple of months—it is difficult to pinpoint a date—I have struggled immensely with my own identification as a Catholic. Sure, there are still the usual squabbles about Latin versus English, altar girls versus altar boys, whether bishops x or y are too political or out of touch. But something else is going on; this is deeper. There was that short flash of time several weeks ago when Catholics across the various spectrums seemed united: we did not want our religiously affiliated institutions compelled to break their consciences by providing coverage for contraception. But that wholeness went away nearly as quickly as it arrived, and in its wake we are left with a sort of bitter smugness from the Catholic right whose taste I haven’t been able to wash away.

Some on the Catholic right make it clear that any viewpoints that diverge from their own are not welcome in their church. Speaking or writing about ideas that may challenge church teaching, however gently, removes one from their faith. There is seemingly no mercy on the right. The Catholic left is ailing and will surely continue to diminish as my generation grows into adulthood; the environment is so toxic that progressives find other ways to live their faith, away from the institutional church. Some wish, rightly, that there be no divide between right and left, conservative and liberal, but this is not the church in which we find ourselves today. And often, those who clamor for an end to the divide too often toe the line that often animates Catholic ecumenism: adjust your beliefs, join our tribe, and all will be well.

To those whose lives fit snugly within the constructs the church accepts, this ultimatum might be easy enough to embrace. But in a society where those constructs echo back to a quaint time that never actually existed, where individuals have more choices, where decisions have become mind-bogglingly complex, where women and men can live full lives without the strictures of religious faith, it’s not that simple.

And it’s not that simple when we talk about the left either. While I’ll admit that I don’t like the new liturgical changes some have acted as if the Nazis themselves have come to take over the Sunday mass ritual. For some, anything that strikes them as pious or traditional is referred to as “outdated” or simply stupid. One friend told me that on Ash Wednesday he was asked to give out ashes and got quite a glare from a co-worker when he preferred the older line “Remember that you are dust” instead of the more genteel “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” I know I’ve been called too liberal by conservatives and too conservative by the liberals. An atheist student that I’ve become friends with calls me a “reasonable theist” and I think that’s a nicer comment than I receive from those within the boundaries of my own faith some days.

And I know I too, am at fault from time to time. And I appreciate when others call me on the carpet for when I’m too angry or shortsighted or unfair.

O’Loughlin’s article rings true to me that indeed we are looking at a church where it is harder and harder for us to get along. We’ve become more polarized and whenever we look for places to unite someone will come along and find a way to divide us. If you love the fact that Mary was obedient to God’s call some liberal will claim that she was a rebel, who lived as a single mother in challenging times and more importantly, chide you for not thinking that too. If you love what the Pope or Bishops have written about a Catholic stance on caring for the environment the more conservative person will come along and point to scripture and say humans have dominion over the earth and then call you a dolt for not “getting in line.” The Catholic position on the death penalty? We’ll be told about the sacredness of life and then get reminded of a loophole that barely exists in the rarest of circumstances. Nobody wants to budge an inch and finding wisdom in a way that compromises and honors one another has made way for rudeness and one-upmanship.

It all strikes me of “the need to be right” over and against any kind of moral integrity.

My image of God has become one of a sad grandparent, who looks at a family that they started and watched it grow but now, divisions have split the family into factions that no longer speak, not even at Christmas or Easter. It takes someone to die for people to notice the hardness of their hearts and even then they sit on opposite sides of the funeral parlor.

Perhaps this indeed is why we need lent? Maybe we all have something that prevents us from listening to even those we consider friends, nay brothers and sisters, never mind our enemies? Lent indeed calls us beyond the factions of polarization into a newness of life where we can indeed live with each other in disharmonious situations and despite the differences of opinions, we are still church together.

Both governing and theologizing means choosing one good over another good. It’s compromising at times to accept the goodness of another’s intention, despite what we think may be a wrong approach. It vows to not quit but rather commits to working through to the end no matter what happens and leads us to trust each other especially on matters of importance.

And moreover they deserve our respect. It reminds me of this moment of on the West Wing where Republican Ainsley Hayes (no relation, hah!) is being asked to join the White House council despite her party’s affiliation. Listen to what she is met with from members of her party:

Amen. May our divisions cease to divide further than they need to and may we be able to see the good in one another and not let our passions move us into dangerous factions too far to return back to a more polite time where we long to live together not in total harmony but to at least civil discourse.

And may our church preach that kind of discourse. Where we stop blaming and name calling both others outside of our church and each other as well.

And where we can once again, drink heartily while disagreeing and still shake each other’s hand at the end of the night.

Join the Conversation


  1. You lost me when you made the claim in the first paragraph that the “right” spews more hatred than the “left.” I’m calling complete BS on that one. Do you remember any of the George Bush years? Nothing but hateful rhetoric from some circles for his entire presidency. I remember vile hateful graffiti at Harvard of all places concerning his father’s decision to liberate Kuwait in Gulf War I. Where are all the war protestors during Obama’s presidency? They’re silent. Because it never has been about the war it’s always been about the political party of the President. The Tea Party has been vilified and called sexual slurs (Tea-baggers) but the Occupy Wall Street protestors have been praised as heroes. Which movement was more violent, which had more sexual assaults, more criminal activity? The left has nothing but complete contempt for anyone who disagrees with their liberal orthodoxy.


  2. I could not agree more Mike. It is truly awful all the way around and I mourn the day when the exchanges could happen with more civility. It is all sadly ugly – and on all sides. This is a sign of hurt and and a sign of real anger to me… how can we lay down our arms? Rhetorical question, I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

    BTW, one can use either phrase on Ash Wednesday as I understand it. I know that we discussed this back then. Who knows, I could be wrong.


  3. Mike, by adding the statement about the right clearly being more hateful and spiteful than the left, you are actually becoming what you intend to criticize. I’m not saying this to be “right,” but rather asking you in good faith to prayerfully reflect upon this point.


  4. Perception. I applaud your attempt to consider what this is doing to the concept “That all may be one.” But I am going to encourage you to continue to neutralise your position even further. When you say the right is more hateful… you lose the goodwill of peacemaking. Those on the right and left can equally point out the “vitriol” of the other. To say one is more so than the other is disingenuous. Both right and left of sincere good will want to feed the hungry and provide a way out of poverty, or worship that honors our Godhead. The next time we break bread or have that drink, remember to point out our own faults first, removing the plank before attempting to point out a splinter in in the eye of your counter viewpoint. For you and them, perception is reality. As it is for me.


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