Non-Dualistic Thinking and the Nature of Disagreement

I hate politics.

In fact, that was going to be the title of this post, but I decided that was too negative (too late, I know). But the reality is that while the process of electing a president can be intriguing, there are very few things I enjoy discussing less than politics. It always ends up messy.

So I wasn’t very happy when I ready Skye Jethani’s post last month because he suggested that pastors need to talk more about politics, not less. Ugh, don’t you hate it when someone makes salient points about something you’d rather ignore?

Then Trevor suggested we write a little on the subject after he listened to a sermon by Jonathan Martin. After making a large fart noise in my mind (which I assume wasn’t audible to Trevor), I said ok. It’s an election year. It’s on our minds. There’s this whole Trump phenomenon going on that everyone is still trying to fully understand. So let’s talk about it.

So I listened to Jonathan’s sermon. And something he said rung very true in my brain: “I am so deeply convinced that the Kingdom of God is such a radical alternative to any of the politics of this world. It just is. The Kingdom of God is something else other entirely…The Kingdom is neither right nor left. It is not conservative nor liberal. It comes from another place, from another perspective.”

It was in that moment that I was convinced.
I don’t hate politics. I just hate how we do them.

“Politics” is such a loaded word in our culture because of the vitriol and drama that surrounds that arena. But the word comes from the Greek meaning “of, for or relating to citizens.” Politics is about the issues we deal with when we attempt to live together as people.

When viewed through that lens, Jesus was incredibly political. Trevor explained this well earlier this week. He spoke to the people and context of his day. His message was not simply theoretical, either. It was a call to a radical way of life together. It dealt with the way we act toward, talk to and think about one another.

That’s politics.
I care deeply about these things and my guess is that you do, too.

No, what I really dislike is partisanship. Partisanship is the reason I (and so many other ministers/pastors) don’t talk about politics in church or in my life.
You see, our brains love to think in dualistic ways. We’re not entirely sure why this is, but we know that it’s the base consciousness of our brains. We think about things in binary couplets: win/lose, black/white, us/them. This is in part a survival mechanism (think fight or flight) that we operate in when we experience stress or fear.

So when we enter the political arena, we love to revert to this binary thinking. Right or left. Conservative or progressive. Republican or Democrat. The problem with this is that this type of binary thinking is inherently antagonistic. We build up allegiances to our side and defend them at all cost.

Which means we end up talking about issues rather than people.
Our viewpoints become enemies rather than dance partners.
And we end up talking past one another rather than with one another.

We’ve gotten off course because we’ve begun to view disagreement as a bad thing. We’ve accepted the partisan idea that there are only 2 sides. So we rally around our base and lob bombs over our manufactured walls at the other side.

The reality is that the issues we discuss are much more nuanced than this dualistic thinking. Because these issues are about people, and we are so much more complicated than black and white.

I know that when I start to talk about my opinions on guns or equal pay or taxes or welfare or abortion that there will be disagreement. That applies around the Thanksgiving table with my family or from the pulpit at my church.

But our disagreements don’t pit us against one another because there are not just 2 sides. Our disagreements are a chance for us to sharpen our own opinions and understand someone else better. Discussing our differences can actually bring us closer together rather than building walls between us.

Politics can actually look more like a table than a battlefield.
It can look like communion rather than war.

We just have to lay down our fear and selfishness and accept that life is much more complicated than our dualistic categories.

If we do, we can find a higher order of thinking. We can uncover wisdom rather than contentiousness. And we can have much better discussions about politics.

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