In an either/or world where things are so often presented to us as binary options, it is vital for the thoughtful christian to have maneuvers or techniques to counter the paralyzing confinements of the dominant framework.
The problem with these either/or options is not necessarily with the two options themselves. In fact, they both might be valid in and of themselves. The primary problem is that they are conceived of (or presented as) A) non-overlapping and B) adversarial.
It is this dual-ism that results from the inherent divide of nearly every topic in modern American life: republican/democrat, creation/evolution, protestant/catholic, white/ person of color, lost/saved, married/single, male/female, gay/straight, conservative/liberal, etc. The list just goes on and on. Nearly everything is framed in this oppositional binary way, then turned inward toward a ‘silo’ it becomes an echo chamber which then becomes a shouting contest and the volume goes up to 10. It is deafening.
In the past, I have used a simple technique of 3-4 to disrupt the either/or (1-2) stalemate. For instance, in the creation/evolution divide I look to a 3rd way (often a middle-way) of intelligent design to ‘split the middle’ and then look for an approach completely outside the bounded-set. Vine Deloria Jr. helps me there with his book Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths to introduce the category of non-western origin epics.
I do the same with politics when the either/or mistakenly talks about ‘half of the country’. I point out that actually most of the country didn’t vote at all (3rd category) so while half of those who voted did so one way or another, the majority opted out of the system all together. Then as a dual-citizen with Canada I talk about the advantage of coalition governments (4th perspective) and the need for cooperation & compromise instead of ideology and ‘my team’ mentality which leads to a zero-sum winner/loser scenario.
Side note: earlier, I used the word ‘techniques’ and I just want to give a nod to the work of Michel de Certeau in The Practices of Everyday Life where he differentiates between the ‘strategies’ of the system and the ‘tactics’ of those who are trying to survive, subvert, and adapt to the established (dominant) order. My use of ‘techniques’ is a homage to his ‘tactics’.
Recently, I have tried a new technique that seems to bear good fruit, even if it is different than the 1-2-3-4 approach.
The question is: “Are these different only in degree or type?”
This started with christology when asking “is Jesus’s humanity different from ours in degree (more intense) or was he an entirely different kind of human than we are? The answer, of course, is that Jesus was fully human and thus differs from us in degree (faithfulness or openness to the divine). Jesus was the same kind or type of human as we are. This saves us from the popular modern misconception that has Jesus in some sort of Clark Kent mud-suit which covered his divine super-man underneath.*
That conversation was so fruitful that I have begun to adapt it for other topics. My favorite one so far is in ecclesiology when asking about denominations. Are these two groups different in degree only or are they entirely different types of christianity? It is really helpful, at some level, to have permission to say ‘while these two groups both claim to be christian, they are so different that it may be difficult to find a common thread to link them’.
Degree & Type is especially helpful to correct the soft-cynic type who loves to quote that “there is nothing new under the sun”. When it comes to things like war, we need to ask if modern warfare differs in degree or type from the kind of military strategies that we see in the bible or in colonial history. The truth is that with the introduction of nuclear weapons, war needs to be thought of as a different type. It is not simply an escalation in degree but we have graduated to a different kind of military.
I have been in the classroom a lot lately and I have been finding the degree & type tool for analysis very helpful. It seems to open up new possibilities for people to look at classic sticking points and contemporary conundrums in ways that are not so limiting.
I wanted to introduce it here because I plan on employing in on some upcoming topics. It has added helpful richness and nuance to conversations about Jesus, church, the bible, denominations, politics, military, sexuality, and so many other relevant issues for 21st century expressions of faith.
Let me know what you think.
* If I ask you “how did Jesus turn water into wine or do other miracles” and your answer is “he was god” then you have missed the full humanity of Jesus and we need to talk about the work of Holy Spirit.