We live in a world of deep divisions. Everywhere we see polarisation, people bitterly divided from each other by ideology, politics, economic theory, moral beliefs and theology. We tend to use over-simplistic categories within which to understand these divisions: the left and the right opposing each other, liberals and conservatives at odds, pro-life vying with pro-choice.
Virtually every social and moral issue is a war zone: the status of women, climate change, gender roles, sexuality, marriage and family as institutions, the role of government and how the LGBTQ community is to be understood, among other issues.
And our churches aren’t exempt: too often we cannot agree on anything. Civility has disappeared from public discourse even within churches, where there is now as much division and hostility within each denomination as there is between them. More and more, we cannot discuss openly any sensitive matter, even within our own families. Instead we discuss politics, religion and values only within our own ideological circles; and there, rather than challenging each other, we mostly end up feeding each other in our biases and indignation, thus becoming even more intolerant, bitter and judgmental.
Scripture calls this enmity hatred – and indeed that’s its proper name. We are becoming hate-filled people who both fuel and justify our hatred on religious and moral grounds. We need only to watch the news on any night to see this.
How is this to be overcome? At the more macro level in politics and religion, it’s hard to see how these bitter divides will ever be bridged, especially when so much of our public discourse is feeding and widening the division. What’s needed is nothing short of religious conversion, a religious change of heart, and that’s contingent on the individual. The collective heart will change only when individual hearts first do. We help save the sanity of the world by first safeguarding our own sanity, but that’s no easy task.
It’s not as simple as everyone simply agreeing to think nicer thoughts. Nor, it seems, will we find much common ground in our public dialogues. The dialogue that’s needed isn’t easily come by; certainly we haven’t come by it yet. Many groups are trying for it, but without much success. Generally what happens is that even the most well-intended dialogue quickly degenerates into an attempt by each side to score its own ideological points rather than genuinely try to understand each other.
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