On occasion, while skimming through social media, I’ll come across a religiously political, or politically religious debate (the two have become almost indistinguishable) — that I have no particular interest in entering into . . . but in a strange way find entertaining. The discussion is usually so predictable it feels scripted, and the personalities of those involved seem like they’re straight out of central casting. So as I read I have the Loony Tunes incidental music running in my head, and I imagine the voice of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd as the primary interlocutors, occasionally hearing from Daffy Duck or Porky Pig offering up their genius insights. Because let’s face it — most of these type of exchanges are basically low brow food fights.
And this is the state of public discourse in this age of tribal group-think – where everyone is quick to dismiss anyone who dare disagree with them, as if they were a one dimensional cartoon character, lacking both in moral integrity and intellectual acuity, to take seriously . . . because we already know what they have to say. Yea, but do we? Sure, there are those so conspicuously shallow and ill-prepared, it takes no more than a minute to exhaust their whole repertoire on any given topic. And because of the ubiquity of such people, we just assume everyone who disagrees with us fall into that category . . . which ironically, such an assumption, is itself, intellectually lazy.
Even when I choose to initiate a discussion on social media, with an examination of a particular aspect of a common issue. Invariably, the reaction I get to such a conversation primer is to ignore its nuanced framing of the issue being proffered, in favor of defaulting to their scripted out opinion. So needless to say, most responses miss the point of many of my posts entirely. And to make matters worse, I am then treated to a barrage of straw man arguments denouncing a position I don’t even hold. This is the type of shadow boxing that the modern dialectic has become, fighting a phantom opponent . . . because it’s easier than having to honestly work through a lack of understanding.
Very often when I’m having a conversation with a non-theist, they will rehearse for me all of the attributes of the God they find impossible to believe in – at which point, I normally surprise them by telling them, I too can’t believe in that God. And this is usually because they’ve allowed their misconceptions of God to write their script, creating for them false assumptions about the implications of his existence. In this way, when our presupposed narrative goes unexamined – we are no longer capable of being intellectually honest . . . because we’ve allowed our narrative to be written in stone.
The temptation is always to trust our own understanding — to assume we know more than we are actually capable of knowing. So with a false sense of certainty, we begin to shadow box with the phantoms we’ve created, and with self-righteous indignation, we’re willing to pummel anyone we disagree with . . . assuming we understand better than they do. But is this the way of Christ? Or does my Christian faith call me to a humbler engagement of those who disagree with me? Is my life an invitation to discover the mystery of a God who has ways that are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8)? My prayer is to be set free from the shadows of my arrogant assumptions, so that I might see God in the full light of his glory.
And just like that . . . we can learn to live as one.