Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Real Frenemy

It's become pretty clear that part of the narrative of life in the USA right now is fear. There's a large segment of the population singing the praises of fear. We sometimes couch it in fancy rhetoric - risk-management, security, liberty, or what have you (it kind of reminds me of the classic George Carlin bit) - but it's all basically the same, "Watch out!" Whether its guns or terrorists or government intrusion, socialists or immigrants or refugees, we're told to be aware, be prepared. Watch out!

It's a fear narrative and I'm coming more and more to recognize that it's a symptom of fundamentalism - a term we most often associate with religion, but our personal security and political allegiances are basically religion at this point anyway, so it fits. The core of fundamentalism is essentially the holding of a belief as definitively true. It's associated with religion because religion is usually the place people take it most seriously - fundamental religious beliefs have to do with eternity and afterlife, which come off as pretty important things. People take them seriously.

What we see in our world today is a vocal and rabid fundamentalism couched in Islam, sure, but really more about power and control. The fundamental belief isn't really religious as much as "I think I, and people who think like me, should be in charge." Religion, as it has always historically been used, gets people excited to die for fundamentalism, but the fight is not inherently religious.

We're seeing an answer, magnified by the emotional appears and fear-mongering of an election cycle - American fundamentalism, couched in Christianity, which really says, "I, and people who think like me, should really be in charge." This is the largest battle, but as I said earlier, there's fundamentalism rearing it's head everywhere - guns are evil vs guns are blameless, social responsibility vs personal responsibility, etc.

Fundamentalists pick sides and go to war. When you've got a fundamental belief that must be true there is no other conclusion than the other guy is wrong, probably evil, certainly not worth a lick. When you have two rabid sides with this core belief the only real solution is to charge at each other and fight to the death. There is a meeting in the middle, but one that ends only with one side (or maybe no one) winning.

Compromise gets you lumped in with the enemy, the same way pacifists, for example, were ostracized and treated with suspicion in WWII. If someone doesn't see things out way, they must be misguided; it only helps the enemy.

It's funny, though, that in the midst of these pitched battles, those forces diametrically opposed to one another look so similar. Of course the what of their belief couldn't be more different (usually), but the how is identical. It's fundamentalism. This is how someone you might agree with politically or philosophically, can seem so outrageous, despite advocating things you might support. The ideas themselves are not the difference, but the way in which we hold our ideas.

It also explains how people can find commonality and camaraderie with those who differ politically or philosophically. We are drawn to people who hold ideas in the same way we hold them, even if we disagree with the ideas themselves. In our grand historical perspective we lump Fascist Hitler in with Communist Lenin, even though these two notions of government are as opposed to one another as possible - we link them because they were believed and lived out the same way in Germany and Russia - with a fundamentalist fervor.

I'd argue the counter to fundamentalism is not compromise or weakness. I believe in knowing what we believe, fundamentally, and having strong opinions. The counter to fundamentalism is holding those beliefs with a loose grip. Not that we would easily change our minds (I'd hope any thinking person spends time, you know, thinking, before arriving at conclusions), but that we'd recognize our opinions are just opinions.

This should be easy for Christians to do. We claim a universal religion, which means one that applies and draws all people. We believe God has and does reveal truth to all people at all times and faithfully searching after that revelation will lead all people to truth. Here, disagreement doesn't bring contention, but conversation, where we can seek out the fundamental points at which we disagree and attempt to understand why someone else makes a different choice or comes to a different conclusion.

Yes, I suppose there's a "danger" that the other might prove convincing, but those moments are rare (and should probably be welcomed anyway, right, if we're really after truth). More often it leads us to deeper understandings of our own positions. Somehow, by holding our beliefs lightly, the become more ingrained in our being - rather than being held to tightly we choke all life out of them.

People enjoy a good fight - it's why it's so easy to find one. If we take a fundamentalist position there will always be an opponent ready to do battle. I think this comes from a sense of comfort. We're far more comfortable with an enemy we can completely define than we are with an ally who seems somewhat mysterious. It's almost as if our enemies give us the comfort to continue believing, while our friends scare us with the possibility of unbelief.

Those whom name themselves our enemies do us no favors unless we're willing to entertain the notion that they might be right. Only then can we grow and deepen the very beliefs the other seeks to challenge.

Just some thoughts on a rainy Thursday afternoon.

1 comment:

Alan Scott said...

I agree with you. I think you expressed it well. Hold strong beliefs and learn from those with whom you disagree.