The insidious divide
For my first two years of university, I went to a community college. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do (I still fluctuate), so I saved some money in the first couple of years…
…Which I quickly burned through in choosing to go to a private Baptist university for my final two years of undergrad.
This school had plenty of social controls, behavioral restrictions, pledges and contracts on where to go, what to do and how to act. There was no dancing, no public displays of affection, curfews…all that lovely stuff.
So, naturally there was one very strong political affinity there at the school. While there were the scant few rebel Democrats who hid in the shadows, the overwhelming culture of the vast majority of students was militant right-wing Evangelical Conservatism.
Why did I go there? Long story. Not the purpose of the post, but one I’ll be glad to share if you’d like. I’ll need a beer—maybe six.
However, back to it, I initially drank the Kool-Aid. I would listen to the sermons preached every day at chapel (we had mandatory chapel five days a week). I would hear people talk. I would watch current events unfold and hear professors weigh in. I was there during 9/11.
I was surrounded by one side of the political spectrum, isolated from all other influences. I was so far entrenched in this apparatus, that I started to think it was foolishness how anybody could even think another way.
I fell victim to confirmation bias (link). It was inconceivable that people could be against the conservative way of thinking. Conservatism was the only logical explanation for everything.
And liberals were the antithesis of logic. They were idiots. They made no sense. They were dead set against everything the freedom-loving, patriotic conservatives loved.
I’m not trying to be glib. I believed this. I didn’t even think Democrats could be Christian. How could they possibly be reading the same Bible I was? My views were so solid! There was no way—absolutely no way, any of these opposing viewpoints could be true. It wasn’t even worth looking at them. Our fortress of apologetics, our mountain of evidence on everything from the social gospel to free markets was foolproof. There was no refuting any of it.
After college, I went on to help start a film company (link) that featured a then somewhat controversial pastor named Rob Bell. We made these little vignettes called NOOMAs (link). And it was then I started to run across people who thought differently than I did.
Now I wasn’t a zealot. I had chaffed greatly under the repressive culture of my university. I was nearly expelled (that’s another six-beer story). However, I still had been girded with the foolproof armor of my conservative forebears.
And yet, I started to run across very smart people who—shockingly—didn’t agree with me at all. I won’t get into the theological points here. At this time I’m mainly speaking about political affiliations: the role of government, the concepts of laissez-faire government, regulated markets vs. free markets, and the general social responsibility of the church vs. the state.
I would saunter up to these liberals and routinely have my ass handed to me. I would toss all the fact grenades I could find. I would cite all of the supply-side economists I knew and lay out the cause of all of the conservative social commentators I could remember…and would be thoroughly dismantled in my logic and approach. Not all the time (I was a pretty good apologist), but often enough.
How could this be? How could thinking Americans disagree with what I had been brought up to believe? How could logical, smart Americans possibly be liberal? Liberals were all idiots. They were worse than idiots, they were subversive, seditious communists, bent on destroying the family and all that.
But when you actually spoke with some of these liberals, you found they often loved America. I was shocked. Again, I’m not meaning to be glib, but it was a moment in my naive, young life when I realized that not everything spoken to me up to that point was truth.
It seems ridiculous, but I finally started to learn to doubt the words of my elders. Not to disrespect them (I feel I’m taking half of this entry to qualify everything)…but to doubt what many people said.
This doubting would come in handy as I became a journalist. I was taught never to trust anyone—to always verify information with a second source (or at least we should). Only bad journalists wrote one-source stories or didn’t try to get the other side. It was doing a disservice to the audience to not portray the other side.
I learned the value of this other side. They weren’t maniacs (well, most weren’t). These people who had spent a lifetime cultivating a way of thinking opposite of mine were amazing people. As a naive middle-class white boy, it took some time to undo my prejudices and predispositions.
The Army taught me a lot as well. I served with Wiccans, Hindus, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, single dads, former addicts, immigrants who barely spoke English—and hell that was just in my basic training unit.
I slowly learned to appreciate the value of people and their views.
Now this self-aggrandizing has a point. And it’s hardly to ask for some sort pat on back. What I’m saying is it took me considerate effort to break away of the normal bubble I feel a lot of us grow up in.
Every day, when I read about how quickly we demonize our political, social and even spiritual opponents—how quickly Ed and Susan and Anna become “them”…and how we must stop “them” from harming “us”…when we take individual people and apply sweeping generalizations…when that happens, I’m amazed at this often unrecognized insidious divide that has separated us far from each other.
We are now so polarized, having built such magnificent defenses of our opposing ideologies, that what we love most is the lethal splendor of our intellectual armaments. We cheer when our ideological enemies impale themselves on our bulwarks. We all but erupt in song when we win an argument and we can scarcely hold faith in Creation when our righteous cause loses an election.
I think back to when I discovered, scarily late in life, my way of thinking actually had flaws! And I remember that there were smart and intelligent people who opposed me on many intellectual, ideological, political and social fronts—who yet were civil and informative and often logically sound.
I remember turning 20 and feeling like I had just turned 5.
It was liberating. And humbling. And enlightening. And it allowed me to know about what I actually did believe and to stand up for what I actually did hold to be universally true…with respect, even!
I found it was much easier to compromise and discuss differences when I showed respect and saw my opponents as people, instead of demonized caricatures.
I know I’ve written about this before, but in light of recent events, I thought it was worth saying again.
Murder as the antithesis of our created purpose
A couple of weeks ago I started a post on Facebook, asking people to give me some possible blog topics.
The responses ranged from unicorns to the national debt to murder. In fact, the friend of mine who suggested murder simply wrote it. Murder. There in the list of other serious and funny suggestions.
Don’t know why it stood out, but it did. So this will be a post about murder. Macabre, I know, but let’s see how it goes.
It’s not going to be a post about guns…or video games…or certain countries and their propensities for violence.
No, this post is going to try and speak to the core of ourselves, our purpose and why murder is so damned destructive.
As many of you know (or don’t), I’m a Christian guy. My thinking springs from this background and heritage, both the good and the bad, and the ongoing story of humanity as one of love and reconciliation between God and man. I believe in truth, justice and love.
As it is, I believe that a higher power that created us. I believe we are created beings…attach millions, hundred thousands, thousands of years to that overall process–let’s not get into that here. But there’s the persistent idea for me that we are created beings.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures talk about how we were created in God’s image. This is a topic of great discussion and is the basis for much of the urgings for us to treat others with respect and kindness. As we are each cast in the image of the creator, we should strive to respect and defend the lives of others. But being an image of God is not just physical, it speaks to who we are and how we are made up.
We were born with the biological ability to create. We can make more. We can add to the world. In fact, we were asked to do this. We were asked to participate in the ongoing creation of Creation. We can fill the Earth with others like ourselves. We are created beings who can create.
This yearning to create doesn’t stop with procreation. What separates us from nearly all animals is our ability to create other things as well. We can make tools like some other animals, sure, but also sonnets, poetry, buildings, statues, canvases. We celebrate artists and musicians, architects and builders–men and women who create and carve and sculpt. We are created beings, made in the image of the creator, who want to create.
But the world has evil, which corrupts and detracts from the goodness that is there. We can see it in the earliest examples of family. The first brothers, Cain and Abel, killed each other. The first family was dysfunctional. The very first. Killing and violence has been with us from nearly the beginning.
Killing itself is deconstruction. It is the ending of life. It is the termination of the ongoing creative process of the cells, thoughts and experiences of an organism. Killing is a violent and disruptive act.
However, murder is worse. It is the insidious evil intent that drives a thought-filled being to willfully conduct violence to end another’s life.
It is the opposite reason we were made. It is more than an act. Murder is the willful rejection of every purpose set in our hearts by God. It is a fusing of our minds and souls with violent hate–the most “unnatural” of mindsets. Remember, we were made in love, our souls forged from the wellspring of Godly love. We were carried and birthed into the world with great pain and sacrifice by our mothers. In living out our purpose, we create.
No wonder war is so damaging to the psyche. No wonder it fractures and ravages the mind. Have you ever thought about it?
It is because in order to conduct war (unfortunately necessary as it might be), those who would throw themselves into the maw of violence must steel themselves and kill off portions of their heart. Those who serve in uniform must take the natural divinely inspired respectful regard for other humans and replace it with an non-human image of those people.
In examining battle reports after WWII, it was discovered that roughly half of soldiers involved in combat never fired their rifles. They trained by shooting at circle targets, but when faced with the image of another human, they froze. They couldn’t bring themselves to kill. As a response, human-shaped silhouettes were later used, desensitizing soldiers to the idea of shooting someone in their (and God’s) image.
We talk about “them” in hateful terms. We stir anger and hatred in our hearts, cultivate it, nurture it, spread it. After a while, we are less uncomfortable with killing others.
In the end you have those “rough men who stand ready to do violence on their behalf” as George Orwell said. And we celebrate those men and women for their sacrifice to safeguard us all. But it sheds some light as to why so many are haunted by what they’ve experienced. Coping with this season of violence and death is, at its core, the antithesis for how we were created to live. It is why these men and women need our support even as they leave those chapters of their lives behind.
However, this process of becoming more comfortable with the destruction of others is not just something that happens in war or by deranged lunatics in our midst. This process of degrading someone’s humanity can happen within us every day.
From pangs of hate cultivated through our conversations come racism, oppression…anything that allows us to greet our brothers and sisters not with compassion and respect, but with disdain.
“They” are good for nothing. “They” take our jobs. “They” don’t believe what I believe. “They” do things that I don’t like.
Never mind God loves “them.” Every one of them. Never mind that, right?
We can choose to either build others up or, through malicious talk, work toward the end goal of reducing another person to a non-human. People often say “you shouldn’t use bad words…it’s in the Bible.” Sort of. The admonition against saying words in anger to curse (and thus make worthless) other humans is in the Bible. Those curses and angry words usually involve profane words. However the spirit behind this command is not to keep us from saying naughty words. It is the urging for us to not tear each other down in what we say–to not degrade the humanity of others by de-valuing them.
In small ways every day, we move away from the ideals of compassion and toward murderous intent. We may not think we’re cultivating murderous intent, but the movements are subtle.
Instead of rushing to the aid of those hurting, we grow complacent to let them suffer. Eventually we say we’d be better off without them. And if someone shipped them off…or shot them, that’d be fine too for all we’re concerned.
I think we can choose to see people as people. Bums, immigrants, people of other faiths, of other orientations. They are people. They are created in the image of God to create. They are loved.
Truth should not be compromised. And neither should love.
Don’t cultivate murderous intent, no matter how small.