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C.S. Lewis’ Cure for Our Partisan Venom

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I can tell you right now this is going to be the best post I’ve ever written. Because most of this article comes directly from C.S. Lewis. What follows is from Lewis’ famous preface to the 4th Century church father Athanasius’ book On the Incarnation. That, plus a few words of my own clumsily explaining why Lewis’ words here could cure our hyper-partisan and heavily-jackassed culture.

“Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook… Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides are usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions… None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes… Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

See what I mean? Classic C.S.! Here we are, Clive says, fighting against each other, and assuming that we couldn’t be further apart in our positions. But when given a chance to compare our “polar opposite” positions to an old book, we find that our “opposites” don’t look as far apart by comparison.

C.S. Lewis said we only increase our blindness by reading modern books. Also read old books, he said: “They made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes…”

So what’s the point? That reading books from a different age allows us to see with different eyes. Sure, those “different eyes” are as flawed as our own, but they’re still different. As Lewis says, “They made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.”

Do you see a connection here to the sources of our information? Read 100 Fox News articles and while they’ll differ from each other, they’ll all share many assumptions. Most of them the President will praise and a few he’ll ridicule, but they’re all within a certain stream. If you switch over to CNN, you’ll hear just as many errors. But they’ll be different errors. And they’ll differ from each other but they’ll share common assumptions. You can go a certain length toward healing the wound of one bias by viewing it light of another bias. And it’s exactly here that Clive Staples’ advice would be good to heed. This effect is multiplied when you read material from different cultures and different centuries. All full of mistakes, but the non-overlap of the mistakes helps us get a clearer picture.

Then Lewis says something even more fascinating:

“We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the division of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity… That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then.”

This is the surprising discovery of choosing to leave our echo chambers: we have more in common than we would dare to guess! And it’s small of us to insist that our differences are insurmountable.

And now for my favorite part. Good old C. describes the friendly fire you’ll receive from people in the echo chamber once you start seeing the essential unity we share (he knew this well):

“Once you are well soaked in it [the unity across the ages], if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valley, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.”

Do we all know it’s a good thing to exit our echo chambers and listen to what other voices are telling us? I hope we do. But one thing you can count on: Talk about a Fox News article in front of your CNN friends and you’re in trouble. Quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in front of a Republican and you’d better brace yourself. Mention Richard Rohr to an Evangelical and prepare for a Reformation-centric lecture. Bring up Rob Bell to almost anyone and get ready for an eye roll.

We’re so partisan on so many fronts that we’ve lost the ability to listen to other voices. You have to agree with me that we’re all extremely biased. Right? We are encamped, but there are people traveling all around. Listening doesn’t require the abandonment of convictions. Loving doesn’t mean compromise.

We need to listen to, spend time with, and mutually love and serve people who are different than us. And to Lewis’ specific point, we could all stand to learn from those who came centuries before us. Our differences are more petty, more quixotic, than our small perspectives can imagine.

Jesus Was Conservative (but not in the ways you’d think)

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This is part two to last week’s post: Jesus was a liberal.

This is a more difficult post to write because it’s so on the nose. Many people instantaneously associate Christianity with CONSERVATIVE values and traditional morals.

Conservative is rarely used as an insult in the church. Evangelicals and fundamentalists often wear it as a badge of honor. When liberals want to be demeaning, they tend to use more offensive words like fascist, implying that conservatives are imperialistic and controlling dictators. Heartless and archaic can be used as synonyms for conservative as well, implying that conservatives lack compassion for others and are stuck in the past.

So, was Jesus conservative? Let’s define terms and see exactly what fits and what doesn’t.

Did Jesus hold traditional values?

conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

As we established in the previous post, in terms of religious reform, Jesus was the opposite of conservative. He was literally “the progression” creation had been waiting for—for generations.

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus started a NEW religion. He was actually quite ancient in his teachings. He was very clear to say that he didn’t come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it.

When asked what the greatest commandments are, he didn’t throw everyone for a loop by inventing some new fangled phrasing. He quoted the shema, the traditional Hebrew phrase:

Love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength.

There was almost nothing traditional about the methods Jesus used for ministry or his support for the existing religious institution, but there was something incredibly traditional, time-tested, and foundational about his purpose. He wasn’t around to teach something new, he was around to remind his followers of something very very old, to fulfill promises that were very very old. He fought for something that had gotten lost along the way. In this way, I’m proud to be conservative like Jesus.

For heaven’s sake, let us “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and let’s “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Was Jesus Conventional in his Dress?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: (of dress or taste) 2. sober and conventional: a conservative suit.

Was Jesus conservative in dress? Who knows. This one is stupid. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, he was just a few locusts away from homeless.

Was Jesus Financially Conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv |adjective: (of an estimate) 3. purposely low for the sake of caution: “the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.

No. He wasn’t.

Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus strongly cautions against burying our money for fear of loosing it. He wants a healthy return. Now to be fair, Jesus is using a fiscal parable to illustrate a spiritual reality, but the concept is the same. Jesus doesn’t tend to be cautious when it comes to the use of our material resources, our talents, or our time. He’s looking for investments that multiply, which inherently requires risk.

When specifically talking about money, he challenges his followers not to build bigger and bigger barns to store up wealth on earth. By contrast, storing up wealth is sort of the mantra of a conservative.

On top of this, he has the “sell all” and “leave behind” clauses in the gospels. Those are not cautious approaches. So my take here: Jesus was not fiscally conservative. He would be an FPU drop out.

Was Jesus politically conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: 4. (Conservative) relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party in another country.

No. In the last post we discussed that Jesus did not seem interested in political debate. If Jesus was going to engage in politics in our time, I’m nearly certain he wouldn’t just choose to be a republican or democrat. His citizenship is in heaven. His kingship is over all.

Remember, Jesus isn’t a US citizen, he couldn’t vote. When he does return, he’s coming illegally anyway, ain’t no immigration lines guarding the heavenlies.

Words Don’t Mean, People Do

Look, the reality is that nobody is going to the dictionary before they use these terms. When somebody is accusing someone of being too liberal or too conservative, they have something specific in their mind they are addressing. But in our fight for dignity, understanding, and unity, wherever it can be preserved, it might be good to be a little more nuanced in our speech.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative? The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?”

Maybe it could be healthy for us to realize that, like Jesus, we are all a little liberal and all a little conservative. It simply depends what is being discussed and who we are comparing ourselves to.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative?

The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?

Stop Equating Peacemaking with Compromising

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Somewhere along the line, we as Christians collectively decided that peace is no longer worth fighting for. In fact, we’ve decided that it’s dangerous because it can only be achieved by betraying the truth. You may think I’m being overdramatic in saying this, but I don’t believe I’m exaggerating at all. I had this realization when I posted Matthew 5:9 on Twitter: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” In response, our Twitter friend @Phoenixfoxy said, “I fear that instead of valuing peacemaking, our rightfighterness makes us see the peacemakers among us as compromisers, and thus dangerous.”

I love the term “rightfighterness.” We’re so busy being watchdogs and finding reasons to disagree with and oppose each other that we spend our energy fighting for what’s right. And I’m not just talking about doctrine (though that’s a huge piece of the pie). I’m also talking about public policy, democrats vs. republicans (and vice versa), anything-on-Fox-News-is-right-and-everything-on-CNN-is-from-Satan (and vice versa), complementarian vs. egalitarian, etc.

When this rightfighterness becomes our focus—and it has—then the people who step in to try to bridge divides and moderate between warring groups get labelled as compromisers and are viewed as dangerous. Peace is for pansies, nuanced positions are for politicians, and a willingness to maintain relationships with people who disagree on significant issues is for the spineless.

Unless that’s exactly wrong. Unless Jesus taught us and showed us how to make peace. Unless being willing to be wronged is noble (1 Cor. 6:7). Unless loving and forgiving even those who try to make themselves our enemies is what it means to follow Jesus (Matt. 5:43–48). Unless peace and love are actually FRUITS that demonstrate that THE SPIRIT OF GOD is living and working within us (Gal. 5:22–23).

If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous. The rest of the world will do what it thinks it needs to do to accomplish what it wants to accomplish. But if we’re following Jesus, who allowed himself to be spit upon, beaten, and killed out of love for those who tried to make themselves his enemies, we can’t simply decide that peacemaking is dangerous. Do we have to throw away truth if we’re going to allow for disagreements? Honestly, why would we think that? That’s not rational. Jesus IS truth, yet he spent time with, lovingly interacted with, and even sacrificed his life for people who were totally ignorant of the truth and even actively opposing it (yes, I’m talking about you and I (see Rom. 5:8) among many other shady characters in his day).

“If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous.”

Sure, Jesus said he came to bring a sword rather than peace. I’m bringing this up now because I’ve heard this response often as we’ve called for people to love each other. But let me just ask you, when Jesus said this, do you honestly believe he meant: “Just to be clear, I don’t want you going around loving the people who disagree with you like some kind of pansy! The mere thought of it disgusts me! What I really want you to do is make sure you’re angry and disagreeable and whenever someone offers a different view, I want to make sure you put them in their place.”

Ridiculous as that sounds, I honestly think that if this verse were in the Bible, it would better account for what I see in many of the corners of Twitter and Facebook I’ve been in. Maybe I just need to find some new corners? Perhaps. But I’m nervous that this is indicative of Christianity in the West right now. Here’s what Jesus actually said in that passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– MATTHEW 10:34–39

Those are strong words! He’s going to rip families apart! But what are the dynamics he’s describing? Look carefully. Jesus is NOT saying, “By getting my followers to turn against their families and fight against them on matters of doctrine, I will destroy families—and have fun doing it!” Look at it; he’s not saying that. Look at the second half, Jesus is saying that HE has to be our first love. The call is not to treat others poorly, it’s to love him fully. If we’re not willing to lay down our lives, we’re not really following him. If we choose anyone over Jesus, we’re not really following. It’s not us ostracizing our families, it’s the potential for our families to ostracize us.

“Who are the wolves Jesus warned would try to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are bent on driving wedges through the flock?”

I hear Christians citing this verse to justify the harsh things they say to other Christians. But Jesus is saying, “Follow me, be like me, and if others disown you for being like me, you have to be willing to let them go.” If someone gets mad at you for being a jackass, that’s on you. If someone walks away from you because you’re too compassionate, loving, forgiving, self-sacrificing, or too much like Jesus in any other way, then that’s a price Jesus asks you to pay.

Meanwhile Jesus always has and always will embody grace and truth. He absorbs animosity and disagreement. He leaves the 99 orthodox sheep to lovingly re-gather the one wayward sheep back into the fold. Yes, he fights off the wolves that seek to devour the sheep, but let me ask you this: who is trying to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are finding every opportunity to drive a wedge through the flock?

Why Are Christians Being Jackasses about Immigration?

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This is a guest post from Kerry Ham, Director of World Relief Sacramento.

Immigration. I can already feel your blood pressure rising at the mention of this politically charged word. Here’s a question you may not have considered: In the midst of the news, stories, and social media posts, are we more like Jesus or are we jackasses? How can you even tell? One way is to examine the questions we are asking about this issue. Regardless of our answers, the questions we ask will reveal if we are prioritizing our position over the people involved.

Immigration and immigration law are complicated. It takes a lot to understand the rules and implications of our laws (saying it’s not complicated only shows you haven’t educated yourself on the matter). We’re going to have disagreements here, but as I watch the news and follow social media, I am deeply grieved with everything that is happening related to immigration.

It isn’t just the stories that cause me distress, although they are very real and heart-wrenching. The images of Angie Valeria and her father Oscar are difficult to look at. The firsthand accounts of the very real fears I heard on a recent trip to Tijuana are difficult to hear.

What disturbs me the most is how immigration and the results of inaction are being discussed among my fellow Christ followers.  I hear a lot of callousness in the midst of intense suffering. What I hear is a lot of people taking sides, taking positions, and defending those positions, instead of seeing the problem and the real human beings involved. When the questions we ask are meant only to justify our own position, we are being jackasses. Families are being separated, children are kept in dirty, jail-like facilities without basic sanitation. How we respond is important. What questions do we ask in the face of this tragedy?   

We could ask questions that connect us to the human beings involved, such as, “How scared must someone be to risk this?” or “What do we have to fix in our laws to show more compassion?”

Instead, I’m hearing a lot of questions like, “Were they crossing illegally?” or “You know how not to be detained? Don’t cross a border without permission.” or “Obama did this too. Were you complaining then?” or “If we can’t afford to take care of veterans, how can we care for those people who aren’t from here?”

“I keep hearing callousness in the midst of intense suffering; people taking sides, taking positions, and defending those positions, instead of seeing the real human beings involved.”

I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about the law or the care of Americans. But I am saying that when we refuse to even acknowledge the suffering and need of other people, we are being jackasses. While my organization, World Relief, spends time addressing the facts and trying to help people understand complicated issues like this, these are the wrong questions. Each of those questions has a good answer, but it isn’t the point. We Christ-followers should be different. People mattered to Jesus, not positions about issues or justifications for inaction.

Jesus encountered jackasses, too. In Luke 10:25-37, he encountered a lawyer who, after correctly answering Jesus’ question about how to inherit eternal life—”you love your neighbor as yourself”—did what jackasses do. He asked a question that revealed his motives and positions. “Who is my neighbor?” This expert in the law was looking for limits and loopholes to WHO his neighbor was. He wasn’t concerned about WHAT his neighbor needed. Our questions reveal our character. 

Jesus answers the question with the story of the Good Samaritan. He turned someone from across a border, from a different and despised culture, into the example of how we are supposed to treat others.  When the Samaritan hero came across someone beaten up on the side of the road, he didn’t ask “What is he doing here in the first place?” or “Why wasn’t he taking precautions to avoid being beaten up?” or “I have other expenses, how can I be expected to pay for this man’s care?” His only question was, “My neighbor is in need—how can I help him?”

Through World Relief, I have given my life to serving not only vulnerable refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants, but also to empowering the local church by educating Christians and providing avenues for engagement. We try to answer questions in three ways:

1. Biblically– The Bible doesn’t specifically address the southern border, Syrian civil war, or gang activity. It is replete, however, with commands and statements regarding God’s heart for the vulnerable.

2. Factually– Facts do matter. With complicated matters such as modern immigration and borders, taking time to understand beyond partisan politics is critical to understand the complexity of why and how people choose to flee. It’s important to know our laws and our nation’s history as well as the economic value of immigrants and the realities of our current level of security. There are good answers as to why this is happening, but this is still not the most critical category of question. 

3. Relationally– This is the critical type of question if we are to avoid jackassery. “Who is this affecting and can I put myself in their shoes?”  We cannot do what Jesus would without seeing people the way he saw them. Matthew 9:36 tells us that “He looked at the people and had compassion.” We must not come to our position without first seeing and valuing the real people involved.

As we develop hearts of compassion, we will need to take meaningful action. And we will disagree on the best way to act. Christians have always disagreed on the most important matters. We will have to offer grace and dignity to those we disagree with. But we must act in compassion, not dismissal; in love, not vilification. 

The immigration topic isn’t going away. The stories are horrific and the images are worse. We can be different, though. God, help us have the courage to not turn away. Help us to see people as you see them. Help us ask questions—the right questions. And then empower us to do something.  

Kerry is the Director of World Relief in Sacramento (and an admitted jackass). World Relief Sacramento office is the largest refugee resettlement office in the nation where they provide initial resettlement, English instruction, employment services, children and youth programs, as well as legal services for over a thousand refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in the Sacramento area annually.  www.worldreliefsacramento.org

Have Fewer Opinions

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You have too many. That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’m serious about it. I know because I have too many opinions. I actually feel obligated to have more opinions than I do.

Do you ever feel this pull to be more opinionated about more topics?

In their dated but insightful book How to Watch TV News, Neil Postman and Steve Powers landed a thought that felt so freeing to read:

“Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel under pressure to have an opinion about almost everything.”

– Neil Postman & Steve Powers, How to Watch TV News, 1993

Depending on your age, you may need to swap out “social media” for “TV news,” but the point works either way.

I have read so many stinking articles on the Mueller report: what he’s trying to say in it, why he said what he did and why he left out what he left out, whether or not Barr was accurate in his summary, and why every single writer’s take on it is the most important thing in the world. I keep feeling this pressure like I need to know! But I don’t.

The problem is bigger than social media. As a pastor, whenever I’m talking to someone in a struggling marriage or in a difficult parenting situation, or even when I’m talking to a recent high school or college graduate, I warn them: Listen, you’re going to have to figure out what God is calling you to do here. But you should also know that a lot of people are going to share their opinions with you about what you should do. Most of them mean well, but most of these opinions will not be helpful.

What is it that makes us feel like we have to have an opinion about what other people should be doing? What do you think about the Mueller report? What’s your cap for how much a pastor should spend on shoes? Who should be watching Game of Thrones? And coming soon to everything you’ll see, hear, read, and watch for an entire year: who should become (or stay) the next President?

“Can I ask you to give up the opinions you’ve done almost zero research on or to stop posting on the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook?”

It’s not uncommon for me to scroll through Twitter and see several statements like, “If you’re a pastor and you don’t speak out on ______ this week, then you’re part of the problem.” Or some variation thereof. It’s hard to read that and not think, Oh shoot, yeah, maybe I should say something about that. But I don’t know a ton about that thing. I’d better learn about it real quick so I can share my opinion.

What if we really did try to hold 33% fewer opinions? Honestly, think of how many opinions you find yourself expressing that you’ve done almost zero research on. Think of the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook. Think of the people you don’t know very well but about whom you have a pretty strong opinion. Maybe we could let all of those opinions go.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the only opinions we held were hard-earned? If we tried to use phrases like “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t looked into that” or “I could be wrong here” when speaking about issues where we haven’t sought out multiple voices and read multiple articles and done some real soul-searching and engaged in some respectful dialogue? You’ll all be fine—better, actually—without my lazy, ill-informed take on the Mueller report. What opinions could you spare your friends, family, and the online community?

I fully acknowledge that there is such a thing as a Silent Jackass, and I am often that guy. Sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves and learn about someone else’s struggle so we can help. Don’t let some vague pressure force you into these opinions, let love for real people pull you in. Loving your neighbor will mean understanding what her experience is like. And that takes time. But if it’s time you’re invested in loving someone, it’s worth it.

Can we give this a try? It might help with how awful and heated and shallowly divisive things have been lately. But truly, that’s just my opinion.

The Political Jackass

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Here’s a perfect way to get everyone hot and bothered: talk about politics on a religion website. But we’re talking about the things that make us act like jackasses, so we can’t skip politics.

The Political Jackass is not the person who votes for a specific candidate. Nor is it the person who cares deeply about politics. It’s the person who is rigid in their adherence to some political view, party, or official. Is this you? I’ll confess that it’s been me.

The problem with the Political Jackass is rigidity. When something is overly rigid, it will not bend. When pressure is applied, it can’t bend, so instead it cracks. This is exactly what has happened in our political landscape, and that includes within the Church.

“Many people in our churches are discipled more by Fox News or CNN than by Jesus. And that’s a major problem.”

Right now, we are politically polarized. Mention Donald Trump at a dinner party and the only guarantee is that you won’t hear an apathetic response. Identify yourself as a Republican or a Democrat and the people around you won’t be indifferent. Ryan and I have become convinced that many people in our churches are discipled more by Fox News or CNN than by Jesus. And that’s a major problem.

You might think that rigidity lies at the heart of Christianity. But you’d be wrong. Sure, there are concrete truths and unchanging realities. But over the last 2,000 years, Christianity has thrived in a shocking variety of settings, cultures, continents, political regimes, and time periods. Christianity thrived while ancient Rome tried to stamp it out. It adapted when it was legalized under Constantine (and later became the official religion). When the “barbarians” destroyed Rome, Christianity was flexible enough to transform the new rulers. Christianity was at home in Charlemagne’s empire even while it flourished in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. It has found a way to make people feel at home in fundamentalist churches, modern megachurches, pentecostal churches, and tiny house church gatherings.

As much as we think of Christianity as unyielding and rigid, the gospel has always found a way to grow in many different types of soils.

“As much as we think of Christianity as unyielding and rigid, the gospel has always found a way to grow in many different types of soils.”

Over the millennia, Christianity has shown remarkable flexibility. The current trend of divisive rigidity on the part of conservatives, progressives, and liberals in the Church is causing us to crack. And it’s making us less like Jesus.

Since the drama of the 2016 campaign and election, we have all been especially tuned in to the increasing polarization in America and the negative effects of our extremely partisan news outlets. The whole thing feels like a reality TV show, which shouldn’t be surprising since we have a reality TV star for a president and receive much of our news from TV shows.

While Jesus walked the earth, there was political polarization as well. There were Pharisees who believed that salvation would come in response to their radical obedience to the Law. There were Sadducees who found their salvation in a political alliance with their Roman overlords. They were given status and control over the temple in exchange for complying with Roman politics. There were even Zealots who believed that salvation would come through a revolutionary Messiah who would violently defeat the pagans who held them in exile.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus didn’t align with any of these camps. In other words, every political affiliation was wrong. Jesus wasn’t at home in any of them. Not one had it right. Should it surprise us that the same is true now? Could we possibly imagine that Jesus would register to vote as a member of any political party?

Jesus was then and is now offering us a more beautiful path forward. It’s not the way of polarization. It’s the way of love. Central to it all is not a news show or a political party. Central to it all is a table. He’s more likely to invite us to join an actual party than to register for one. He’s more likely to invite us to join our supposed enemies for a meal than to feed into the polarization.

Affiliate with any party you want. Vote for whomever you want. But don’t assume that Jesus is on your side and against anyone else’s. He’s for us—all of us. He wants our hearts, not our sound bites or talking points. The path forward is not found on a news show, let’s stop acting like it is.

Why Can’t We Have Rational Dialogue?

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Have you ever made the mistake of trying to change someone’s opinion on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment? It’s a crazy trap that so many of us have fallen into. We lay out our best arguments only to be attacked, yelled down, and misunderstood. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into responding, which only makes matters worse.

Why is this? Why is it so impossible to dialogue and persuade?

Jonathan Haidt gives a compelling piece of the answer in his book The Righteous Mind. If you have the time, this book is worth reading. Haidt is a great writer. His concepts are convincing and the studies he interacts with are fascinating.

Here’s Haidt’s overall contention: Judgment and justification are separate processes. It’s that simple. That’s a profound statement, but I know it’s confusing. Read the book, but I’ll unpack that a little bit.

We all think we make moral judgments (what’s good, what’s bad) on the basis of carefully considered arguments. In other words, we THINK that we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the exact opposite is true. What happens in reality, he says, is that we make a moral judgment almost instantly, and then we employ our reasoning skills to justify the judgment we’ve already made.

Perhaps that sounds exactly right to you. It explains the “confirmation bias” we all have trouble escaping. I find it extremely helpful in explaining my own actions and those I observe in others. But if you need more convincing or explaining, keep reading.

Haidt describes a study done by Alexander Todorov in which he flashed the images of two faces on a screen in front of subjects who were unfamiliar with those faces. The subjects were then asked which person seemed more competent. What Todorov did not tell the subjects is that the two faces were opponents in senatorial and gubernatorial races. 70% of the time, the candidate that subjects deemed more competent (a judgment they made in seconds) also went on to win the election.

“We think we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the opposite is true: We make an instant moral judgment, then we employ reason to justify the judgment we’ve already made.”

What’s going on here? The participants in this study couldn’t determine anything about the person’s positions, character, beliefs, etc. But they did what people do: they made a snap judgment that determined whether or not they thought that person was competent. And their choice was America’s choice most of the time! The implication is that as much as we believe we’re weighing a candidate’s positions and character, we’re usually just voting for the person we’re predisposed to like (a decision we make instantly).

But once we’ve made a snap judgment, we instantly begin employing our reasoning to explain why we made that choice.

Haidt refers to this process as “the intuitive dog and its irrational tale.” We decide intuitively, then our mental faculties kick in to provide that rationality (which Haidt says is so unlike “rationality” as we think of it that it’s more like irrationality). He puts it more plainly by saying, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Our reasoning is less like a philosopher that employs wisdom to decide where we should go and more like a press secretary who has to stand before the world and explain the President’s policy decisions—decisions which she had no role in developing.

Is there any hope, then? Are we all just locked into our own intuitions, completely unable to dialogue or help each other act in wisdom rather than pure intuition?

Haidst sees hope in other studies which show that when a subject is given time to reflect, their rational faculties play a larger role in shaping their judgments. Do you see the implication there?

When we allow ourselves to respond quickly, we’re basing it all on unreasoned intuition. When we slow down enough to reflect, weigh, and consider, we give our rationality a seat at the table in deciding what we should do.

Unfortunately, most of our decisions are made quickly. Our opinions of people are formed in seconds. Our consideration of candidates and character and theological positions are more knee-jerk reactions than carefully weighed conclusions. So we rarely give ourselves a chance to slow down and form a healthy opinion. We just listen to the news station our tribe has taught us to tune into.

The truth is, you’ve already written this entire blog off, or you’ve immediately accepted it. You knew what you thought about it pretty early on. And that’s okay. But it helps to understand the process. And when we recognize the (ir)rational tale being wagged by the intuitive dog, we can choose to slow down. To engage in dialogue. To do some research or ask some questions or—what’s best—get to know some real people. Maybe then we can all have some constructive dialogue about the things that matter.