So often when I hear two groups arguing, I think to myself “the problem isn’t what we think about this subject, it is how we are thinking about it.” If you have read posts here for any time at all you will know that I am not a big fan of dualism in general. I invest great amounts of energy examining binaries and pulling apart overly simplistic dichotomies.
In the past I have utilized a Venn diagram to illuminate the overlap between two groups that are ‘given’ as the options. Lately, I have focused more on the 4th and 5th area.
So in American politics, when ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’ are given to me as opposites, you simply illustrate the overlapping values of the two (3rd space) and then point out those who are ‘neither’ (4th space) like Green folks and anarchists. Then draw a circle around the whole system and point out folks outside the system (5th space) like Canadians.
This semester my two classes are ‘Political Liberalism and It’s Critics’ and ‘Globalization’. It has given me lots of practice in picking up on patterns and thinking in different shaped categories.
Example 1: when a subject like ‘Norms’ is discussed – in sexual identity or sexual practices for instance – often a basic “for & against” structure is presented for any isolated topic. But as the discussion develops you can actually see that this is not a linear ‘far left – far right’ spectrum configuration – even if it is presented as such!
You quickly see that there are least 4 positions even ON a spectrum: if the far left position is “there are no norms” and the far right position is that norms are “intrinsic / originate outside the system” and implement themselves, you can imagine that a center-left position would be an emergent perspective (norms arise from below in the population and then ascend) and a center-right position of top-down Hierarchy where norms are seen to be passed down from the authorities. Recognizing those four positions facilitates a radically different conversation than just outlining two.
Example 2: when the subject is ‘Law’ or court rulings, we need to rise above elementary ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ binaries. There are actually 4 positions in practice.
- Agree & Obey
- Agree & Disobey
- Disagree but Obey
- Disagree and Disobey
It is essential to admit that in any population there will be great variety, disparity, and diversity – so we do a terrible disservice to the matter when we reduce the matter down to basic dichotomies.
The reason I bring this up is because I am very concerned about the round-and-round cul-de-sac conversations that I hear over and over again in the church. I am growing convince that as contemporary Christians, the issue is increasingly not what we think but how we think about it.
The issues of abortion, homosexuality, biblical inerrancy, the creeds/ orthodoxy, environmentalism, and women in ministry are just 6 examples of matters where the dualisms are killing us.
One of the best things that could happen this Good Friday would be for those who take the Christian story seriously to die to – not what we think – but how we think about it. My dream would be for a heart of repentance: to decide in our hearts to swear off inherited dualisms and pledge to, as a community, look for and develop better ways of framing the issues that matter to us most.
Challenge: This Friday, repent of either/or thinking and die to the dualism of us/them for/against right/wrong in/out thinking. Ask your small group to hold you accountable and maybe even join you in a new life (Easter) of the mind.
disclaimer: some of you will finish this post and think ‘it was so remedial it was barely worth reading’ and others will think ‘that is crazy talk – you are either right (on God’s side) or you are plain wrong – there is no middle ground.’ But we have to start somewhere, and this is the world we live in.