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Thursday, August 25, 2011

And They'll Know We are Christians by our.....Vitriol?

  My apologies for the lateness of this week's post. I have been somewhat overwhelmed because I got a new job this week (cheers all 'round) and have been so busy celebrating that I haven't been able to sit down and put my thoughts to keyboard.

  Last week I got my first-ever topic recommendation from a reader. I suspect that the particular observations in the e-mail I received were a result of our having officially (because I said so) entered election season 2013. At least we have on the republican side of the aisle. No, No! don't go away. I promise this is not going to be a post on politics; or at least not exactly. My correspondent commented that he has a number of Christian friends on different sides of the political spectrum - so far so good and a lot more than I could say back when I lived in the Bible belt. I, for one am hugely in favor of Christians not being tied to any particular political ideology, I have my own political opinions and I would hope that each of you have yours but I don't think that good things come from a giant, conglomerate, homogeneous, religious-political-moralist group think.
  Unfortunately, things go downhill from there. It seems that these politically heterogeneous Christians are engaging the political world with all the vitriol, and blinders we have come to expect from [insert your least favorite media outlet here]. Or maybe more. Each group seems to have chosen a favored demagogue or two and will defend that demagogue with all the loyalty and ardor we might hope to see directed towards the rest of the Kingdom of Heaven.
  Of course it needs to be pointed out that this attitude is not restricted to the Church. Nearly all media outlets seems to have spent the last few years lamenting the lack of civil political discourse in this country (not that I think we ever had much of a hold on it). So yes, Christians are not the only ones who can be downright hateful and nasty when it comes to talking about politics. But I seem to recall something about "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another" and somehow political, rhetorical venom doesn't seem to fit into this description. It has also been observed that this sort of approach to political discussion doesn't really reflect any of the improvements we are supposed to look for in people who have asked the Holy Spirit to start working on them. Putting aside love for a second, when was the last time you heard a political conversation between two Christians on opposite sides of the aisle which was just brimming full of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?
  Now maybe this just has to do with our culture's loss of ability to engage in any sort of discussion or disagreement. But even if it is, shouldn't Christians at least try to correct the error?
  But I suspect that the real problem for Christians in this arena is how clear it always is that the other side is not just mistaken, they are nearly always disastrously mistaken and quite possibly thoroughly evil. After all those people can't possibly be "real Christians" - never mind that we are under even more stringent orders to love people who aren't part of the family yet - why "they" want to rob the poor, or destroy the family, or kill babies, or institute anarchy, or create a dictatorship or, or, or, or.....
 Or maybe, just maybe it really is more important to love one another than it is to be vindicated in our opinions, even if those opinions are true. So let me end by pointing to a couple of role models. One of the things I have noticed recently about my hero, C.S. Lewis and his best disciple Peter Kreeft is that both  engage in fierce dialogue and dispute without once giving the impression of disrespect or ill-will for their opponents.
  Maybe we ought to take a lesson from Pascal; a friend of mine recently drew my attention to the following:
  "When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true." - Blaise Pascal, Pensees

Have you found an effective way to enter into genuinely courteous dialogue with other people on political subjects? Do you just avoid talking about politics because it "always gets ugly"? What is your strategy?


  1. Strategies, huh? Well, let me turn to C.S. Lewis too--a kind of paraphrase from his "Weight of Glory" essay. I remind myself that my encounter with the person in front of me is helping to move that person either towards glory or horror. Then I ask myself what will REALLY help move him/her towards glory? Forget politics, what's the heart issue? Then, if any insight comes, I try to ask an unusual question like, "Were you ever lost in a grocery store and weren't sure whether you should cry, scream, ask a stranger or stay in the toy section until your mother found you?" You'll have to work out for yourself how the answer to such a question can open a person up and make them willing to see a different side.

  2. Hey Bill:
    I used to be involved in politics, big time. Then I literally had a come to Jesus moment. I think where followers of Jesus have lost our way, is that we have focused more on ends instead of means. Since then, I have come to the conclusion that "the process," rather than being the means, is really the ends.

    In my younger days, my views were pretty black and white. Now, my political views are so everywhere and all over the place, I could talk to about 60% of the people, and at the very least empathize with them.

    It's like the character Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" when his friends, the Communist Perchik and Mordcha are arguing with one another and he tells each of them that they are right. Avram, the rabbinical student tells Tevye, "They can't be both right." Tevye's response, "You know, You're also right."
    DB Beem