The opposite of love might not be hate, but contempt. I once heard a marriage therapist say that once she sees a couple treat each other contemptuously, she knows their marriage is over. That’s some pretty serious stuff, right there. And I don’t think we as a society really understand how to avoid doing that. Today, I want to show you why contempt is disastrous for a marriage–and how Christian rules for marriage all but guarantee that it will develop.
Hemant Mehta, the owner of the popular atheist blog The Friendly Atheist, recently came out with a new YouTube video for mixed-faith couples. In it, he offers good advice all the way around! Much of it focuses on parenting, but a lot about how to interact personally with one’s partner. I’d say this is actually wonderful advice for Christians in general for how to treat non-Christians. Ultimately, he’s trying to tell both partners not to become contemptuous of each other.
A person feeling contempt assumes a condescending, parental tone. Their rolled eyes and impatient demeanor declares that they think their partner is an idiot or a child. They may display a sneer or curled lip.
Contempt appears as a combination of anger and disgust. Contemptuous people feel anger at being constantly frustrated. And they feel disgust at the person causing so much frustration.
If you’ve ever heard of mansplaining, that sort of behavior comes from contempt. (Splainers go to great lengths to explain something to someone who probably already knows the facts being explained–maybe even better than the splainer does!) A contemptuous person may employ sarcasm, belittlement, or aggressive “joking,” as well.
Even worse, contemptuous people often withhold important information or even lie. They do it because they think that other person just won’t understand or get what’s going on.
Why Contempt Destroys Love.
Contempt lives for the momentary high of slamming another person. It gloats in smug superiority–it doesn’t really matter either way if the superiority is real or imagined, either. It coils around its treasure like a dragon and awaits intruders. And like those mythical beasts, contempt seeks to wound, and wound, and wound.
Because of its delight in destruction, contempt is not only incompatible with love, but actively destroys it.
In that light, one might wonder why so many Christians display contempt as often–and as gleefully–as they do.
I tangled with yet another internet Christian this week. I was reminded anew of how contempt destroys love when I saw how this person behaved toward those who disagreed with him. What’s hilarious is that he was contemptuous about something he was simply objectively wrong about–no, sorry, American Christians experience no real persecution, only perhaps a little bit of their privilege getting peeled back.
When he called me “moronic” for correcting him on that point, I told him I felt very, very loved. You can guess how that went over! He whined in response about how he was “only human”, as if that excused everything.
I’m still not sure if he was just a Poe, or if he was totally for real. But his contempt definitely seemed real.
Why Contempt Violates Christians’ Own Rules.
Contempt also runs entirely counter to the definition of love as provided in the Bible’s so-called love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. It is not meek or humble. It does not care about those it hurts. At heart, it just wants to win. That’s all it wants. It gets frustrated and it lashes out when it doesn’t get its way.
I wish I could say I have always been immune to contempt, but I am as human as the Christian I mentioned above. Indeed, I knew my relationship with one of my past boyfriends was over when I caught myself rolling my eyes at something he said that annoyed me. We were bickering; both of us acted contemptuous in a variety of ways. Thus, we did not respect each other anymore or consider each other important enough to treat well. We were both growing frustrated by the tiniest little things. Our communication was shot in a number of ways.
Somewhere along the way we had fallen out of love; neither of us knew exactly when. One rebuff too many; one rejection too far; one argument that’d spiralled out of control too quickly.
It all seems like it happens so subtly, doesn’t it? One day you wake up and what you had once is simply gone. It’s like it never existed at all.
The Real Foundation of This Religion of “Love.”
I guess that’s why Christianity is failing as hard as it is. It claims to be built upon a foundation of love, but a vast number of its members live only to express sheer contempt toward outsiders. Like this Christian I interacted with this week, they use imagined superiority as part of their self-image. They derive much of their self-worth from being on the ground floor of this great massive truth that they know that everybody else does not.
But there’s no love in that “truth” they think they have any more than there is objective truth to it.
Worse still for them, we outsiders can tell that there isn’t.
Contempt we know well. We’re good at contempt. In this age of reality TV and talk shows, we can spot contempt pretty quickly. Even children know how to perfectly express contempt–and can spot it too.
Christians are not immune from showing it either, especially toward those they are increasingly disgusted by and frustrated with. Jesus sure doesn’t stop them from acting contemptuous!
This insidious emotion fast becomes Christians’ go-to method of dealing with opposition.
Every hurled “libtard” and similar epithet, every nasty comment about someone’s tribal enemies, every contemptuous statement about how non-Christians all secretly believe or how we’re all childish brats throwing tantrums… they are all part and parcel of Christianity’s decline.
And we know well how to respond to such behavior.
A Confusing Emotion.
But I’ll tell you what confuses people–us, Christians, everybody.
Love confuses people.
People don’t know how to deal with it. It comes out of nowhere and hits us on the noggins and embraces us instead of trying to zing us. Love holds out its hand instead of slapping at us. Love asks instead of tells; it seeks to understand instead of putting down the other. It tries to find a way forward instead of closing the door. At the end of the adventure, love shares the gold instead of curling up around it.
What an amazing world it would be if Christians actually showed love. That’s just about worth basing a religion off of, isn’t it?
For my money, that’s about all there is in this world–how we interact, and how we treat each other. We’re all in this world together, and not a single one of us really knows what, if anything, comes after this life. Seems awfully wasteful to spend the one life we know for sure we’re getting trying to one-up the other hairless apes sharing this tiny ball of rock whizzing along the outer arm of a tiny galaxy in a tiny corner of the universe, doesn’t it?
My friends, please don’t treat the people you love with contempt. If you find yourself doing it, stop and ask yourself what’s causing it, and see if there’s some other way of handling whatever the irritant is. The rolled eyes and curled lips are the symptom of a very sad disease, and whether they’re being expressed toward someone of differing religious beliefs on a movie review’s comment thread or toward the person we thought we were spending the rest of our lives with, it’s just not going to accomplish much that is constructive or productive.
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(This post was tidied up by Cas on February 14, 2019. I removed some whataboutism and both-camps-ism.)