Small Wonders: A 'heathen' teaches a lesson

My email inbox has been a little light lately. So I thought I’d bring up two things one should never discuss in civilized company: religion and politics.

If you’re still reading, count yourself uncivilized and, I hope, in good company.

It’s also my hope to end up in a place you didn’t expect when you saw such hopelessly divisive subjects introduced. That said, I’d like to share a personal anecdote.

I go to church. A Christian church. And I sometimes differ with the opinions and tactics of others who share my faith. But I embrace them as my brothers and sisters, as I hope they embrace me.

The L.A. Times recently published an article describing how, in the first year of the new healthcare law, 3.6 million people saved $2.1 billion on prescription drugs — the first tangible benefits of the sweeping healthcare overhaul lovingly referred to as “Obamacare.”

I, thinking such savings good news no matter which color state you reside in, shared this on Facebook for all 789 of my closest friends and their friends to see.

Is your blood boiling yet? Mine is starting to. But bear with me.

What I view as an extension of our call to help those who cannot help themselves, others see as entitlement that only makes the needy dependent. Justifiable arguments can be made to support both opinions.

A fellow churchgoer responded with a comment indicating he did not think this, nor the new healthcare law in general, was good news at all. I did not agree with him, and commented back letting him know. He did not agree with me and let me know.

I, unwilling to let his accusations go unanswered, answered.

He, with ready reply disabusing me my foolish optimism, replied.

To which I took issue, and let him know.

And he took issue with me, so there.

Then I with him.

And he with me.

And I again with him.

And he again with me....

Until I, stone in hand, angrily ended the downward-spiraling squabble with sarcastic eloquence, forbidding any further remarks.


I sat in my warm glass house, fixing my self-righteous anger upon the computer screen, rereading each comment to find more holes in his argument, calculating, then recalculating, more biting and cutting responses in my mind, scouring websites for factoids to back me up.

That’s when I got a private message from another friend. He’d read all the posted comments and sensed my frustration. He didn’t want to correct my opinions, or even to agree with them. He just wanted to tell me that I wasn’t alone. That he’d been involved in nasty online exchanges that had even resulted in childish name-calling.

But no one ever changed their mind from anything said in opposition in these virtual conversations. Both sides only become more resolute in their self-satisfaction. Ultimately, this type of behavior helps no one.

I felt someone drape that heavy coat of embarrassment over my shoulders; the one that brings not warmth, but the clarifying coldness of humility.

I was ashamed. And guilty

Ashamed that I let this happen, that I engaged in such uncivil, pointless public discourse with anyone, let alone my brother. And guilty of self-righteousness befitting a Pharisee.

Nothing is ever — and I mean ever — resolved in a Facebook comment thread, nor in any other faceless menu of opinions and snide retorts posted online. It serves no one, least of all two grown men who take upon themselves the call to be light unto the world.

And we just gave very good reason for those who don’t share our faith to mock, condemn and rebuke us for the hypocrisy, spite and myopia that is a cancer among the so-called faithful.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you now get that this isn’t about healthcare reform, big vs. small government, political or religious dogmas and ideology. This is about civil discourse — rational dialogue with open minds and hearts, and a willingness to walk for a moment in someone else’s well-worn sandals.

It’s about the duplicity of those who profess faith in Jesus, yet too often don’t act like him.

Tolerance, though many disagree with me, is not a bad word.

By the way, my friend, the one who reached out privately with kind words and support, he’s an atheist. And gay. Traits that make him undesirable in too many religious circles.

But that “heathen” has a lot to teach a bunch of chest-thumping, saber-rattling, pious Christians about the savior they revere.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human” available in paperback and Kindle. Contact him at Read more at

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