We’re living in a day of heightened animus, meaning heightened ill-will that can be spiteful and malevolent. It’s the base word for animosity and we see it expressed broadly and individually, in our social and political discourse and in one-on-one interactions, whether associated with Covid protocols, the 2020 Presidential election, the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2020, responses to Black Lives Matter protests, views on the 2nd amendment, or in road-rage incidents (These examples are limited to the U.S. The list would be unwieldly if examples from other nations were included).
I don’t think this heightened animus is ex nihilo (from or out of nothing). I think it’s like the spaghetti sauce commercial of a few year ago; “it’s in there”; it’s been in all of us all along. It just needs to a catalyst to set it in motion. The potential for animus is in all of us and we have seen flashes of it across history, sometimes in striking and horrifying ways. What makes animus especially relevant to me now is that there have been so many catalysts for animosity operating across a broad front in a relatively compressed timeframe. We are being buffeted by it. Buttons are being pushed all over the place and one of the results is the outward expressions of latent anger, resentment, and bias. These expressions are presented as both emotional reactions and in what is represented as justified, reasoned responses. Even in the latter case, animus is often detectable in these well-worded, seemingly calm discourses.
If you’ve been reading me for any length of time, you know that I believe all things seen are influenced by things not seen. I don’t mean this in a platonic way involving unseen, non-personal influences. I believe there are spiritual realms, spiritual personalities, and spiritual hierarchies which/who influence human thinking, human behavior and human affairs.
While this belief flies in the face of cold, hard acceptance of beliefs which conflates spirituality with ignorant superstition and which elevates human reason above all else, I could not be a Christian if I didn’t believe as I do. After all, God is spirit (John 4:24). And while I believe God’s cry for us is unity in Him throughout His creation, made possible through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, I believe the desire of the adversary, the one we call Satan (literally, Accuser) is division. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jesus speaking in John 10:10).
Animus has an aim. It is disunity, confusion, and chaos in the form of division, discord, factions, and, left unchecked, hatred. Not only are we seeing more occasions where these things are manifest, we are also seeing how some may actually encourage animus between people and groups and manipulate it for gain. It reminds me of the avatar for the first Godfather film in which a disembodied hand is holding a set of puppet strings.1 Whatever part of this is intentional, it is sin.
Try as we might (and humanity has been trying for a long, long time), we have proven totally incapable in our own strength of effectively combating animus run amok. For example, how many years passed between the end of “the war to end all wars” (World War I) and the beginning of World War II? It was only 21 years, just enough time to raise the next generation of soldiers. I’m sorely tempted to cite other examples, but I won’t; I think the point is clear. We don’t seem to be able to help ourselves despite vast increases in knowledge and technological gains, pleas, slogans, protests, expert testimonies, a myriad of books and articles, political action committees and so forth and so on (Anyone want to make an argument about the dominating power of inbred sin?).
The challenge for people of good will (that is, those whos’ good will are not restricted to selected people or groups) is to navigate through the animus that can so easily penetrate our souls, to keep it external to us and not internal. Of course, we can and should speak and act against it at every opportunity while being careful not to be trapped by any animosity hidden in the force of our words and actions. For me, that carefulness is nurtured by my devotional life. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord says to a beleaguered Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in [your] weakness…” Humanity, on the whole, is spiritually weak, although pride and spiritual blindness keeps us from recognizing our weakness. Like the writer of Psalm 91:14, I want to set my love wholly on God and trust that His grace will me guide me through these all-too-common rough waters.
1 The Godfather released by Paramount Pictures (March 1972). Directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the novel written by Mario Puzo, published in 1969.
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