Monday, May 02, 2005

 

Come Together, Right Now... Electronically

I recently began reading a book by Donald Miller called “Blue Like Jazz”. I really started to like the book. Miller writes from an amusing, episodic type narrative and his writing is engaging and provides some great moments of insight. Unfortunately, lines like this have already gotten in the way of my ability to enjoy it:


I felt like, by going to this particular church, I was a pawn for the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans did not give a crap about the causes of Christ.

When I encounter this sort of over-reaching generalization, I lose patience and interest pretty quickly. It called to my attention once again the fact that this type of divisive, and even vitriolic, language is all too pervasive. In fact, a couple folks have even named their blog after the page of the book (132) where Don Miller’s quote above is found.

Ironically, I point out this blog, because it seems the authors really are willing to engage in constructive dialogue. My point is that, even amongst the best intentioned of us, this type of rhetoric creeps into the fray and kills any chance of productive dialogue almost instantaneously. And I can understand why someone like Dignan, who has been attempting to facilitate just such a dialogue, has become frustrated.

Speaking of best intentions, I need to remove the wooden plank from my own eye. In this post, I started out intending to engage the other side in a dialogue, which has begun to happen. However, shortly after suggesting we all need to “transcend the labels,” I began to apply… well, ah, labels.

I vented about moral relativist liberals as I repudiated what I assumed they believe. Now, regardless of the accuracy of the association or the strength of the argument, I immediately built up walls within the parties involved in the conversation at that point.

As an independent thinking (and left-leaning) friend of mine recently told me, my case in a recent post was fairly persuasive until the instant that I reverted back to using the “liberal” label. Immediately, at such point, she switched from an open, receptive posture to a defensive one.

Particularly among those who share the Christian faith, I believe it is crucial to expand the dialogue beyond those with whom we agree politically. Regardless of our views, it is crucial to understand why it is that those who share our faith have a very different worldview. Rather than arrogantly asserting our own beliefs and demeaning the intelligence or morality of those with whom we disagree, why don’t we try to determine the root of our disagreements?

In discussing the differences between liberals and conservatives in Christianity, Rev-Ed at Attention Span gets it right when he states:


The clash of worldviews is a major weakness in the Church today… The expanse becomes a small crack when our common love of Jesus Christ is taken into consideration, but there is still that crack which needs repair.

I would submit that both sides, by and large, have the best of intentions. The reason the blood boils and the tempers flair is that people are very passionate about their beliefs and about trying to change the world for the better. Regardless of whether I agree with them on the means of doing so, I respect such people a whole lot more than I do apathetic folks.

Blogs are a great means by which to promote and facilitate a constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, the blogosphere currently has an incredibly short attention span. Perhaps it is due to a condition that David Wayne terms “information paralysis” or “paranalysis” as Marla Swoffer calls it.

However you describe it, the abundance of information amounts to an intense, never-ending streaming distraction. As a result, there are few instances where we effectively continue a dialogue on a singular topic to the point that it really becomes fruitful. However, I do have an anecdotal reason for optimism in this new technological experiment in conversation.

Anyone who has followed the conversational thread between this blog and several other bloggers over the last week will see that it can be done. As we have meandered from one link to another, we move from an initial idea to an elaboration to denunciation to reconciliation and so forth.

Through an explosive banter of ideas, I hope we can all come to a truce in the mindlessly bitter partisanship. The alternative is not a viable option:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls.” (Luke 11:17)

Comments:
I guess I'm not too surprised by the Jazzman's critique of the GOP and its coziness w/ evangelicals. Lots of very spiritual people don't like that we're in the sack w/ dubya and rove. it's not a particularly original observation (French politicians go off about our ways whenever they need to get a rise). here's the rub: christians can be politically engaged or they can be irrelevant. in the united states, christians can choose to be red, blue or very quiet. should we check out b/c the GOP's sole purpose is not to advance God's kingdom? i'm a christian republican and i'm also an american. those identities collide, interfere and often cross paths in my mind- which is why i'm mad as hell that W won't step up the pressure on the Khartoum regime... which is also why I'm mad as hell that Charles Pickering got sandbagged. so the GOP's raison d'etre isn't Christ and his kingdom ... was anyone really THAT naive?
 
Just to clarify, I'm not advocating that Christians step away from political involvement. To the contrary, I agree with you that it's crucial that we be fully engaged. My main point is that we need to restrain our rhetoric. I'm not suggesting, however, that we moderate our positions.

Your reference to identities colliding is very apt. I, too, am angered to see us stand by and do nothing to the Khartoum regime in the face of the Sudanese genocide. But in the end, we could do a lot worse than the GOP on many issues that are vital to me.
 
Chad,

Thanks for including me in your blog entry today. I noticed an increase of attention on my blog, Page 132 and was intrigued as to how I became so lucky.

Your thoughts are interesting and your apology touching. It is good to see that those on the Right can be humble and admit mistakes when they are made.

You did get me and my co-author right. We do want to facilitate discussion between conservative and progressive Chrisitans. I'm a frequent visitor over at Dignan (as is gurufrisbee) because he does offer a wonderful place for Christians to hash out differences.

I do believe you've missed the point of Blue Like Jazz and especially the quote on Page 132. Blue Like Jazz is a post-modern book and, as such, rejects many of the traditional structures we have in the modern world (political parties, mainline churches, science). So the quote you used must be viewed in that manner.

Second, I believe that quote is valuable because it sums up the feeling that many progressives feel at their local church. The peer pressure is very intense. If one rejects the Republican Party, then the fellowship will reject them.

Most progressive and conservative Christians agree on principles, but reject one anothers' policies. For example, progressive Christians think that teaching about condom usage is an important way to keep down the number of abortions. Conservative Christians think that teaching abstinence-only is an important way to keep down the number of abortions. See same principle, but different policies. It is unfortnate that each side demonizes one another over those different policies.

I don't have the time or space here to argue my side, but I do offer you a challenge. Prove that Republicans do give a crap about the causes of Christ. One stipulation. You may only offer actions/legislation as evidence. Words and rhetoric won't be accepted.
 
Most progressive and conservative Christians agree on principles, but reject one anothers' policies. For example, progressive Christians think that teaching about condom usage is an important way to keep down the number of abortions. Conservative Christians think that teaching abstinence-only is an important way to keep down the number of abortions. See same principle, but different policies. It is unfortnate that each side demonizes one another over those different policies.

Expat, I must disagree. Progressive Christianity, by teaching condom use, empowers people to make their own choices. Abstinence only does the opposite; it imposes discipline from without, and reduces the power people have over their own bodies. It is yet another submit-or-be-damned choice. Note that the progressive position allows everyone to work out their own damnation.

The Conservative position is deliberately chosen, I think. Since most people fail (who can live up to that torturous and impossible code?) it becomes (yet another) inducer of guilt and self-loathing by which bright humans are controlled and manipulated. Or, as one of my favorite books puts it, abstinence is one of those choices of do or die that eventually divides the world into two groups, the dead and the forsworn. And neither of those is a healthy place to be. Brothels, as Blake observed, are built with the bricks of what?

Infidel in Exile
 
Mindlessly bitter partisanship? As far as I'm concerned, we're having a debate. Granted, it's been a passionate one, but there's no hard feelings or personal hostility on my part. Didn't we clear this up last week? I'm a tad confused!
 
Anyone who has followed the conversational thread between this blog and several other bloggers over the last week will see that it can be done. As we have meander from one link to another, we move from an initial idea to an elaboration to denunciation to reconciliation and so forth. Through an explosive banter of ideas, I hope we come to a truce in the mindlessly bitter partisanship.

Thanks for the kind hopes. I am sure our partisanship will continue, but it need not be bitter, eh? Also, I am still exploring this blog-as-conversation medium....it seems that the software doesn't permit enough overlap between posts on different blogs. Is there a "subscribe to someone else's post" function I ought to know about?
 
I think I may have misread, so take that last comment with a pinch of salt!
 
Good post. I tend to read lots of righty blogs, and it's a constant struggle to mind my language so as not to foreclose discussion & debate.

Minding one's language becomes less important the more one interacts with a given blogger, but it never vanishes entirely.
 
infidel, that is a very strong (mis) characterization on abstinence teaching. conservative conspiracy to bring self-loathing to the world? that's an interesting take. do you really believe the leaders of the abstinence movement are that diabolical? That's a pretty silly strawman.
 
Hey Dave and Infidel,

I could understand your confusion in the initial read of this post. However, I can assure you that I did not consider our exchange a bitter one, but actually a very productive exercise in learning more(at least from my end).

It may be tough to delineate where I was generalizing a vitriolic political atmosphere overall vs reiterating the actual discussions we've had. It's a positive contrast to make, but I want to emphasize that it is in fact a contrast.
 
Chad,
Thanks for the link. I did want to comment on one of the remarks here.

Dave said: "As far as I'm concerned, we're having a debate. Granted, it's been a passionate one, but there's no hard feelings or personal hostility on my part."

I completely understand what Dave is saying. However, the nature of online discourse often leads to misunderstandings. In person it is entirely possible to make a seemingly inflammatory statement yet a simply smile can soften such a statement to take a different meaning. This can't happen online. I have a group of friends that have debates online all the time. In a few intances we have had some new people join us who didn't know the rest of us as well. He was horrified at what he perceived as ad hominem attacks and harsh rhetoric. What he didn't know was that most of us had known each other for years and that we were having a great time without any getting their feelings hurt.

That being said, I think that an extra effort has to be made when discussing controversial issues online to avoid alienating others. Even the most innocent seeming words can have quite an effect depending on the context and the readers.
 
conservative conspiracy to bring self-loathing to the world?

See eg: Paul's characterization of Law in Romans as intended to create a guilty conscience. The idea isn't so out there.

See also: Foucault on the confession's generation of discourse on sex.

Who'da thunk Foucault & Paul would be of one mind on anything?
 
Forgot to mention: Foucault's point is that, by creating more public discourse on sexuality, it's thereby easier to control. That which is hidden can't be controlled.

Again, strikingly similar to Paul's reading of the function of Law. (perhaps not surprisingly, Paul is becoming very hotly debated among big movers and shakers in post-modernism [Zizek and Badiou, notably]).
 
Hey Chad,

After being away for a few days I'm glad to see the dialogue still going. Obvious disagreements notwithstanding, I do respect your efforts at opening up a discussion and the desire to maintain a civil and respectful tone. I'm overdue on a response to your two-parter on relativism (tonight), in which I'm going to make a (hubristic) stab at trying to get an overview of the issues that have come up so far.

It is far too easy, especially given the constraints of this medium, for arguments to devolve in representation to an unfair caricature, and become a strawman.

And Expat, I do think that there are fundamental divergences of principle at stake here. There's a basic difference of paradigms. That said, we're not at a place where we're unintelligible to each other (yet)?
 
Expat,

You challenged me to prove that Republicans do "give a crap" about the causes of Christ and then asserted the following: "Most progressive and conservative Christians agree on principles, but reject one anothers' policies."

By that statement, you insinuated the answer to your own challenge. In that Christians may vote Republican because they espouse a different (and in their opinion) more effective means by which to achieve their principles. I'm not sure how you'd prove it per se, as it is more a matter of trusting that well intentioned people can differ as to the party that represents the best opportunity for achieving those goals.

As for the abortion issue, I have recently written favorably about a Dem initiative called 95/10 (see "Words v. Actions" post below from last week). It calls for teaching of "comprehensive sex-ed" along with plenty of adoption info provided to pregnant women. It seems a reasonable compromise to me. So reasonable, in fact, that I fear we will hear no more of it.
 
it is more a matter of trusting that well intentioned people can differ as to the party that represents the best opportunity for achieving those goals.

That's the kicker. Tons of tons of political energy is expended in attempting to prove that the other's motivations aren't what they're claimed to be. Frankly, sometimes they're not, but it can be enormously difficult not to relapse into a default mode of suspicion.
 
Ok, I understand your objection. I'll revise my challenge then.

Can you show that policies espoused by the Republican Party do show they "do give a crap about the causes of Christ" ? Again you may only offer actions/legislation as evidence. Words and rhetoric won't be accepted.

I'm not arguing that the Democratic Party does, but I'd like to see how you feel about Republicans and their committment to truth, justice, mercy, love, etc.
 
Okay, here's a concrete example: In 2003, Republicans introduced and passed a law prohibiting partial-birth abortion in this country. I can think of few legislative actions that better displayed both the mercy and love for the unborn than the law ending such an abhorrent practice. To me, that act alone is worth the price of admission to the GOP.
 
I can think of few legislative actions that better displayed both the mercy and love for the unborn than the law ending such an abhorrent practice.

Even on your own terms, this legislation fails that test. Enforcement of the act was suspended due to the likelihood of its unconstitutionality. Further, Congress knew this would happen: SCOTUS was pretty clear about what would constitute a constitutional PBA bill and what wouldn't. In other words, the act was strictly for show.
 
JPE, That's an interesting response in light of your previous warning about the futility of trying to question motivations. That seems to be essentially what you are doing. I think entirely too much of what constitutes political debate currently is a questioning of the other's sides motives.

I'm not so naive as to think there are no sinister or dishonest motivations going on behind the scenes. However, this is a completely unfruitful sort of guessing game in which to engage.

For example, I am not going to bother hypothesizing as to what Karl Rove's motives are for courting evangelical voters. I'm merely going to decide if, in the end, the party platform is comprised of what I believe to be the best policies. Was the PBA act strictly for show? Frankly, I have no idea, but neither do you.
 
I'm a fan of giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to motivation. In this case, though, something else strange is going on: they knew the bill would be overturned, and that it would never go into effect. What they intended wasn't that the bill go into effect (how could they? they knew it would be overturned!), but that it be passed.

So the next question is, why would anyone pass a bill that will inevitably be overturned? The "show" answer just seems like the best one.

The only other answer I could see is that it was to see if the courts would overturn Roe. The problem with that interpretation is that the court hasn't changed since Casey was decided, so there's no good reason to think the court has changed its mind. If it were a challenge to Roe, you'd wait until after Bush got a nominee on the court and then pass the bill.

Finally, if they wanted to actually stop as many PBAs as possible, they would've added in a health exception, then waited for the new nominee to the court to take the exception out.

So, it's either for show, or they're as smart as Forrest Gump. I'd say the former is the more charitable interpretation under the circumstances.
 
Ok, thanks jpe. You clearly know much more about SCOTUS history than I do.

Chad, you are still on the clock. Want to nominate another piece of legislation that shows Republicans care about the causes of Christ?
 
Knowingly introducing legislation that will never see the light of day is just a big show? On the contrary, when politicians start to introduce grandiose, ambitious legislation that the Court probably won't uphold, or that the senate wouldn't pass in a million years, I see passion... I see activism (although I can admit I also see a wedge issue). Activist legislation shifts political discourse and changes cultural moods. Doomed constitutional challenges are worth the price of admission... they move our society forward. JPE, for all of your not-modern sensibilities, your analysis of the PBA is awfully binary.
 
Want to nominate another piece of legislation that shows Republicans care about the causes of Christ?

Here's my stated-motivation deference at work: the GOP wants to lower taxes in order to stimulate the economy. I actually believe that they believe that this will help the economy, and thereby help poor people (when business does better, more people get hired, benefits improve, etc.).

Lowering taxes >> improving economy >> helping the poor >> serving Christ.

Activist legislation shifts political discourse and changes cultural moods.

I never heard that stated motivation from anyone. Rather, there was a lot of grandstanding about how awful PBA was. There was nothing about "cultural moods" or "shifts in political discourse." It might be a nice side-effect, but as an actual motive it isn't remotely plausible.
 
Chad et al,

I've posted a response to the debate as it's transpired thus far on my blog. Feel free to drop by and respond.
 
I think you could make the same argument with respect to GOP free trade policies. a major campaign issue for the dems was preventing outsourcing by changing the I.R.C. gop free trade policies have created really great jobs in places like jakarta and bangalore (i just spoke w/ a tech consultant in jakarta when my router was down). the cause of christ certainly encompasses the gradual reduction of slums, child prostitutes. people are realizing that their destinies are connected and interwoven and this is absolutely a republican idea.
 
Jon, What are talking about man? Any time I vote Republican, it's solely to line my own pockets. Helping the poor? Are you kidding me? It's only the Dems that care about that sort of thing.

Sounds like some of that trickle-down, voodoo stuff to me ;)
 
While tax cuts have never been shown to corollate with economic growth, an increase in free trade has. I'll concede the point.

Republican economic policy, as it pursues free trade, does alleviate poverty. It is a shame that President Bush doesn't sign up to that policy with his protection of steel in his first term and his threatening to impose tariffs on Chinese textiles.
It would be nice if Congress could get the balls to cut the massive subsidies to farmers too, while we are at it.

I'm not fully convinced that an unrestrained free marekt is the answer to all the world's poverty, but free trade is an important step. Free trade with labor and environmental safeguards ensuring a level playing field is a much better approach to eradicating poverty than open-ended aid, as per the traditional liberal approach.
 
Yes exactly, in some moments I can phrase that I agree with you, but you may be considering other options.
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