We are such a polarized society -- rich versus poor, Democrat versus Republican, white versus black/brown/red/yellow; believers versus atheists. If you're not one, you must be the other right?
But polarization is at least as much of a habit of mind as it is a description of reality.
In the world of religion, we see this habit in the way we approach topics like the Bible, abortion and creation. I often see it on Facebook on posts from friends who are science-minded or deeply religious. If you believe in evolution, natural selection, the mutability of genes, the randomness of genetic change, the seeming fact that weather and natural disasters are not sent to punish the wicked, then you must be anti-religion. If you believe in God or that fetal life is sacred, then you must be a fundamentalist. If you think that the Bible reflects the truths and biases of the writers, then you can't belong to a Church.
Weirdly, this reflect reality, since many people have difficulty holding beliefs that fall into two political categories. They seem to find the one or two issues that matter to them, gravitate to that pole, then accept whatever other beliefs are associated with that pole -- whether they cared about them before or not. In the book "What's the Matter with Kansas," Thomas Frank argues that this need to aggregate at poles is what has driven the popularity of conservative politics in America, even when tenets of that belief may harm the economic interests of its supporters. The formula goes like this: identify a wedge issue -- abortions, gay marriage, illegal aliens, whatever -- that a segment of the voting population cares about. Label that view "conservative." Then, watch as people cluster to that pole of the political spectrum and adopt other "conservative" beliefs -- like trickle-down economics, or union-busting, or lowering taxes. Voila, instant "conservatives," who will vote their social conscience, while getting robbed on the economic issues.
The true work of democracy lies in helping citizens to recognize that their beliefs are getting in the way of their well-being. It is in helping them to recognize the flimsy barriers that separate "us" from "them." As John Kennedy said, at the height of then Cold War, in relation to Soviet citizens, our enemies:
For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal.
Speech at The American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963
Finding the common ground that unites us, that makes us
should be the goal of the our leaders -- whether government or religious. It's what leads to peace, amity and cooperation. Splitting the community into self-interested factions is the work of
, the Splitter, the Divider, who constantly whispers in our ears that the other guy is getting a better deal, that we are being screwed, victimized, robbed -- even when we might enjoy the lion's share of our
The first step must be to remove the blinders that Diabolo invites us to wear, and they we don willingly. The blinders to others' pain, to others' value, to others' dignity.
The blinders to our own entrapment in the illogic that allows us to condemn the breaks that others get without admitting to the breaks that we have enjoyed.
Saying "no" to the accepted wisdom of our culture is hard. In this Advent season, it makes us a voice that cries out in the wilderness. But if the stories of the prophets, culminating in John the Baptist, are indicative, even the lonely voice crying truth will bear fruit, pointing to the birth of what will free.
No voice, no sacrifice, no freedom.
Be that voice.