Just yesterday, a friend echoed what I have already heard on many occasions: that he has never seen our country so divisive as it is today. I have to agree.
But, why? We have always been a diverse people. Electronic communication and information systems have never been better. I believe the reason for our growing unrest is not that we have grown so much different from one another, but that in our day, we’ve changed the rules of engagement.
Dialogue is essential to any attempt to resolve conflict. Dialogue isn’t just about talking; it takes at least as much listening for it to be effective. But it seems we’re becoming a society of talkers who never stop to listen. College campuses now have “safe zones” where you can shut out any idea differing from your prejudices. Students shout down or even assault those who vocalize alternative points of view. News channels filter out messages they don’t want their listeners to hear, while they feature, and on occasion even make up, news items that promote their favorite narrative. At least viewers are still free to choose the channel they prefer for indoctrination!
We’re a world caught up in endless protests, condemnations, and fault-finding. Even our pastimes, activities meant for relaxation and enjoyment, have become venues for protest. For some time, we have seen the systematic destruction of the traditions, codes of behavior, social norms, and works of arts that have inspired us and given us cohesiveness as a society. I can’t deny that these have their imperfections, but the destroyers leave no meaningful ideals in their place. My one-year-old grandson has proven quite convincingly that it doesn’t take a lot of skill or know-how to destroy block towers. He had to mature before he could build the same structures. Terrorists are an extreme extension of the same process: that destruction is far easier than building, and it gives one a sense of power.
Finally, the cultural gloves that suppressed violence have come off. We’re no longer satisfied to debate our opponent — we must annihilate them! We’ve seen increased frequency of shootings and the rise of groups like Antifa. Antagonists who attack a baker who refuses to bake a cake because he believes he will be complicit in an immoral act are not satisfied to boycott or impose a fine — he must be totally ruined and lose his business. The intelligent exchange of ideas has been replaced by verbal violence through the use of profanity, insults and name-calling.
It’s not a pretty picture as we continue to head down a path toward greater division and unrest. Is there an answer? I believe there is, and we can find it in Philippians 2:1-11:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus…
Phil. 2:1-5 NABRE
Losing One’s Identity or Finding It?
Paul urges the Philippian community to have the same mind, same love, unity in heart, and thinking one thing. Doesn’t it sound like he’s asking us to sacrifice our identity for some kind of groupthink?
Only if there is no such thing as truth or a Person (Jesus Christ) who is the Truth. In Him, we find the common belief, heart, and will that brings us together. In a world devoid of absolutes, you’ll never find that one, common ground. Instead, people will use power to impose conformity.
Still, in spite of our common bond in Christ, we have loads of things on which we can disagree. Rather than advocating that one surrenders his individuality, Paul shows us that the “we” is important enough that one is willing to set aside, out of love, one’s preferences and aspirations. When disagreements or friction remains, we continue to honor and respect one another as we dialogue. Instead of losing our identity, we discover it in love.
Changing the Frame of Reference
A world that idealizes relativism and individualism drives us toward selfishness and competition. When Paul says to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,” our secular mindset interprets this as self-devaluation.
We need to change our frame of reference. As we already have dignity and value through our Creator, we don’t need to prove anything. We are free to intentionally let go of self-interest and live by the ideal of love.
Pursuing THE Ideal
Finally, Paul points us to the greatest ideal we have or will ever know: Jesus Christ. Essentially, he says: “If you want to know how to live in way that is life-giving, will bring you together as a community, and give you peace, look to Jesus Christ as the ultimate model.
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I am not so naïve to think that our society will see the error of its ways and start to follow Paul’s directives. Given today’s climate, we can expect that efforts to proclaim these truths will be ignored, rejected, and even met with violence. Instead, I advocate for the Church to become what it professes, and in doing so, provide a tangible vision for a world that has lost its way.