General CBF

Finding a New Pathway for Political Healing

By Rick McClatchy

President-elect Biden called for healing from the partisanship that has characterized American culture in the recent years. Many, and I am among them, would wish for this to happen. There are many strategies that we can use to produce healing, but I would like to suggest one that might be helpful. 

We need to begin by taking apart the thinking process that leads to a demonizing partisanship.

We must avoid a major fallacy when someone disagrees with us. Our general approach travels down this train of thought. It usually begins with, “If this person were not so ignorant, he would see that I’m right.” However, in conversation with him about our viewpoint, we discover he is not ignorant about our position and the reasons for our position, which then moves us along to the second assumption: “He must be a stupid person that can’t reason logically.” However, he seems to able to function quite well in life and can express himself in a clear manner with others; so he doesn’t appear to be stupid. 

Now we are left with only one assumption, “He isn’t ignorant or stupid; he chooses his position because he is evil.” This type of human interaction, which moves along the line of ignorant > stupid > evil, is tearing our nation apart. [1]

In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt identifies the political values of liberals and conservatives. Haidt asserts that liberals value caring for people who are vulnerable and being fair, which moves them toward the sharing of resources equally, caring for the welfare of minorities, and supporting diversity. On the other hand, conservatives value proportionality—the idea that one receives based on the amount of work one has done. Conservatives also emphasize loyalty and authority, which are essential in maintaining a stable society. In this process of keeping stability, conservatives see great value in laws, customs, religion, and institutions. [2]

Both liberals and conservative can have good values and good insights. 

These differences are often rooted in one’s life experiences. For example, in Texas, those who live in urban areas tend toward more liberal values, while rural/small-town areas lean more toward conservative values. The business world leans more toward conservative values, while the education field supports more liberal values. Military and police frequently embrace conservative values, while social workers and artists tend more toward liberal values. I think this might indicate that one’s life experience determines which of these set of values one has found to be most helpful.

Perhaps, we need to realize that the core values of both liberals and conservatives are good and helpful in the right circumstance, as the writer of Ecclesiastes said there is a time for everything. 

Rather than going down the ignorant > stupid > evil pathway, perhaps we need to go down the pathway of listening to each other and trying to determine which values might be most helpful in the particular situation. Of course, that would not end the different opinions, but it might prevent us from demonizing the other side and promote a more appreciative, peaceful, and civil dialogue. 

In early years of the Protestant reformation, European society was being torn apart as Catholics and Protestants demonized each other, and if that wasn’t enough, Protestants would demonize other Protestants. 

A young, brilliant star of that era was Hans Denck (1500-1527), who was an Anabaptist of the spiritualist type, which meant that few Protestants or Catholics ever agreed with him or even understood him. In the midst of all this conflict, he wrote, ”if you hear your brother say something that is strange to you, do not refute it right away, but listen first to determine whether it is right for you to accept it, too. If you cannot accept it, do not judge him. Even if you think him in error, be mindful lest you be found in still great error.”[3] Denck had a reputation for being the most irenic of the Protestant reformers. It might be good for us to follow his advice.

[1] To farther explore this way of thinking, go to Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,2011).

[2] I would suggest reading chapter 8 of Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided by Politics and Religion (New York: Vintage Books, 2012).

[3] Edward J. Furcha and Ford Lewis Battles, Selected Writings of Hans Denck: Edited and Translated from the Text as Established by Walter Fellmann (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 1976), 45. 

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