Struggling with Polarization

Over the last year, I have done a lot of thinking about how society is increasingly polarized, and how Christians get caught up in that trend. Two or three of my efforts to build bridges have been clumsy, and I regret the damage that did. But I don’t think ANYONE has this totally figured out; even the smartest, most spiritually mature people I know sometimes blunder in this area. We’re all slightly myopic (I prefer that to the unnecessarily harsh “blind”). Here are some illustrations that I came up with in the process:

I’m trying to work out an explanation for why very intelligent Christian friends — some conservative, and some liberal — are consumed with ultimately trivial matters. I think it has something to do with how they feed their minds and hearts. I’ve been guilty myself! How about you?

This is a big part of the problem. We prefer talking to listening, expressing our own ideas to exploring the ideas of others.

I don’t know which is worse. But I do know that there’s a lot of both going on, and it is a part (perhaps small) of what is driving people to the political extremes. Everyone has a voice nowadays, which inevitably means that there’s a lot of nonsense out there. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” (Proverbs 10:19, in the version I learned as a child)

I made a comment in the wrong context and then removed it. But it’s really how I feel: “I’m getting sick and tired of people liking and sharing every single story that SEEMS to support their side of debates. Reminds me of children in the school yard, yelling “Fight, fight, fight!”” It’s really more sad than anything. I happen to agree with them in some cases, but don’t care to see friends bathing in hatred.

This was for a recent post. The fascinating thing for me is to try to think of what sins I myself might be downplaying because of my allegiance to certain political ideas. Try it for yourself. If you find it repelling to consider what may be prevalent sins on “your side of the aisle” then you may be as snared — or at least influenced — as I am!

I am INFLUENCED. How about you?

I am just about finished reading an EXCELLENT book by Brian Loritts: Insider Outsider: My Journey as a Stranger in White Evangelicalism and My Hope for Us All. I expect to write more about this book later, but here is a graphic that came to mind while reading this morning. In part, the graphic reflects my gratitude for Loritts’ skillful enlightenment, but it also reflects an insistence on probing deeper for the causes of what Loritts describes.

While Loritts hasn’t touched much on polarization yet in the book, I do think polarization is affecting how readily we embrace one sin or another: if “our side” is for it, then we aren’t going to bad-mouth it, are we? If “our side” is unsympathetic to the suffering of others, then maybe we’ll be just fine with an unloving attitude. If “our side” is for downplaying sexual immorality, then maybe we’ll make sure we aren’t the kind of prudes who are repulsed by sexual immorality.

Reflecting on Loritts’ book also prompted this comment to a friend (how the comment relates to the above is something I haven’t worked out yet, but AM working on!):

I’m trying hard to understand the intersection of Kingdom and culture. That is, which kinds of thinking are RIGHT (aligning with the Kingdom of God), which are WRONG (driven by Satan’s purposes), and which are merely DIFFERENT (benign cultural preferences). In this regard, [name] and I have both found Jonathan Haidt very helpful.

– email to a friend

I know this is undeveloped thinking, but I welcome interaction with friends (and not-yet friends) who would like to reflect on their own journey of self-inspection. How are YOU finding yourself influenced by good, evil, and the indifferent benign*?

*Different from Camus’ “benign indifference?” Let’s think about that…