If I wear a shirt or slap a bumper sticker on my car that says "I'm not a fascist," what I am really saying is "the rest of you are."
Despite the fact that it's not a big election year, if you drive along the residential streets of any city or town, you'll notice a growing proliferation of yard signs. Most are variations on a popular theme: Hate Has No Home Here. On the surface, the message seems positive and well-intentioned. But what lurks behind the signs feels an awful lot like judgment and accusation. After all, one who claims to have banished hatred from his own home in such a public way does so by implying that it is alive and well at the homes of the people who live next door or across the street -- in the houses without signs.
I guess what bothers me the most is the fact that a sign posted outside a home, or the lack of one, really doesn't indicate anything about the character of the people who live inside it. But what it does indicate is a willingness to label others by labeling oneself. If I wear a shirt or slap a bumper sticker on my car that says "I'm not a fascist," what I am really saying is "the rest of you are." That's because we live in a culture that trumpets tolerance as the supreme value of civil society and practices next to none of it. The way we interact with each other is full of "virtue signaling," but precious little actual virtue.But why talk about virtue when we can cast accusations instead? It amazes me how casually the words "fascist" and "Nazi" and "hate" are thrown around to describe one category of people: those who don't agree with me. See, for example, the Southern Poverty Law's Center "Hate Map." Its apparent purpose seems to be the equation of religious belief with what our current social elites label "hate."
Now I'm not saying that we who profess faith in Jesus Christ are without sin, or that we are consistently shining examples of loving our enemies, or even our neighbors and friends. But words like "hate," "fascism," and "Nazi" do have actual meaning. And generally speaking, they are inaccurate and unfair descriptions of our citizens. Very few Americans would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a dictator, or come within striking distance of supporting an agenda of genocide or persecution. I'm not saying none. But I am saying that the furor and fear promulgated by what seems to be a growing number of people is certainly disproportionate to the actual "threat." So much so, that those who stir up civil unrest in this way represent a kind of ideological fascism that politicizes every aspect of life, and shames, disenfranchises, and bullies any and all who do not march in step. To me, that kind of behavior constitutes the most serious threat of our day.
As we come to the end of the liturgical year, our readings draw us to consider the final chapters of human history, those that will usher us all to the gates of eternity. We will be encouraged to stay awake, be aware, and read the signs of the times. For many of us, that just means paying a little bit more attention to what is happening in our own neighborhoods, schools, town halls, and district courts. It means listening to the beat of the cultural drum but not following it. It demands that we be willing to stand up against labels of every kind, those that make us feel accepted and comfortable as well as those who marginalize, demonize, or demean us or anyone else. Above all, we're being called to gather beneath, and cling closely to, the greatest sign of all time: the Sign of the Cross of Christ.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.