Fear grips our souls at times. Yet, we most often keep this shaking-in-my-boots emotional state below the surface.
Not that everything on the surface is calm in the U.S. right now. There is much rancor among us around every election season, and it’s more intense this year due to the unfounded allegations of illegal interference.
Anger has been continually generated, as each side accuses the other of being blind to truth.
There is no consensus on truth or reality in this postmodern murkiness regarding authorities. Let us explore the inner dynamics of this phenomenon.
Good and evil – the essence of morals – establishes what is right and what is wrong.
“Right” versus “wrong” is the common stance persons in one religion take in opposition to those in a separate religion. However, in our current discussions, the majority in the polarized groups claim the same religion, Christianity, to varying degrees.
The fact that many on both sides embrace the same scriptures and general doctrine has done little to reduce the animosity between persons in the opposed camps.
There remains a wide disparity in their interpretations of Scripture regarding the mandates laid out for day-to-day behaviors, as well as the determination of what the moral priorities are for social and political action.
Thus, the current bifurcation of Christian opinions regarding what is “good” and what is “evil.”
Each person has a deep-seated need to know reality in order to have a foundation for our interactions in the world, as well as internal security, which comforts or prevents a troubled soul.
That would seem simple enough – until we examine the situation in which we currently find ourselves.
As we Christians stand firm in our tribal conclusions, we brace ourselves to counter the perceived opposition. While most often we think in terms of political party, there are also many activists’ subgroups that routinely send out messages on the internet.
For example, The Conservative Caucus and Citizens United on the conservative side, MoveOn and ACLU on the liberal side, as well as many more radical ones on both sides.
One way in which we attempt to strengthen the security of our position is to perceive those with a viewpoint contrary to ours as being in a deranged state, deprived of the truth, lacking honorable intentions and posing a threat to our peace and well-being.
This not only turns them into an enemy; it often labels them as the very face of evil.
How can such disparate views be maintained in the same environment and time frame? It is enabled by the human mind’s handling of cognitive dissonance.
Being social creatures, we identify and align ourselves, at times unconsciously, with the dominant powers within our culture or subculture to obtain the security implicitly provided (at the most elemental level this occurs within the family).
We then deal with the presence of any information that disputes our personal, subcultural or sociopolitical viewpoint by deeming it not real or untrue.
The result of more information being provided that could broaden one’s perspective to gain understanding is that it only serves to strengthen one’s commitment to the preexisting, “fixed mindset” (a term used by Carol Dweck for the antonym of “growth mindset”).
Loyalty to one’s tribe or group and its existing storyline is deemed more important than gaining new knowledge.
Those providing alternative viewpoints are often demonized and tagged with labels ranging from “liar” to “incapable,” “con man” to “criminal,” “autocrat” to “socialist” and worse.
This inner process brings comfort and security with a sense of empowerment and superiority from “knowing” the “truth” and being aligned with those powerful ones to whom we grant authority and respect.
How can this detrimental clash of ideologies be brought to an end?
Let us be more curious regarding those who are different from us as we grant that each person develops their belief systems from their own life experiences. Let us ask ourselves how we might believe and how we might act if we were raised in the same circumstances as persons on the other side.
With this shift, we can better understand and empathize with them, instead of attacking them. In doing so, we no longer elevate ourselves above them with an air of superiority. Instead, we attain the non-judgmental stance of equality, which enables us to treat others the way we want to be treated.
Given this new stance, we will no longer sit back in judgment of others and lob insults based on partial, slanted or biased information, which leads to the misunderstanding of our fellow Americans, our neighbors.
Let us have the courage to begin the conversation between the two sides in a constructive, nonaggressive manner to learn more about our commonalities as well as our differences. If you do not feel comfortable doing this, then ask yourself why.
Regardless of the reasons, it is not acceptable to remain stuck in old, immature patterns of thought and behavior in which we use our religion or belief system as both a shield from criticism and a weapon for attack – that is patently un-Christian and unhealthy.
Instead, let us seek mutual understanding. Let us discipline ourselves with the patience to hear their stories, even those who are unlike us, as we say, “Help me to understand your viewpoint on this.”
We can strengthen our community when we exchange viewpoints and share personal experiences directly, even if it ends with agreeing to disagree.
The more we understand each other, the better we can heal the wounds caused by our divisiveness. The more we accept our differences and grant others the right to reach their own conclusions, the more we can align ourselves with higher causes, like unconditional love.
This will bring an end to the blaming game and its incumbent hostility, as it quickens a return to the incremental power of unity enshrined on our national motto: “Out of many, one.”
A licensed clinical psychotherapist in Lawrence, Kansas, Bonner (MS, MA, DMIN, LCP) attained a Doctor of Ministry Degree at Central Theological Seminary in May 2020 after his retirement from over three decades as a psychotherapist and a teacher in community mental health in Kansas.