Soapbox: Is mutual respect a dying concept in our culture?


I consider myself lucky to have a very diverse pool of friends and acquaintances. The people in my life range from devout Christian to atheist and most everything in between. Even my friends who identify themselves as Christians all have incredibly different theological views. Sometimes this diversity makes me uncomfortable. It would be a lot more pleasant to have a group of friends who all felt exactly the same way I did about everything. We could sit and chat for hours using phrases like "Seriously how could anyone think otherwise?" rather than go through the difficulty of a debate or discussion.

But in the end I am thankful. Because of this diversity, I find myself constantly stretched and challenged---more apt to question and dig deeper into why I believe the things that I do. At times I feel stretched thin and discouraged, but overall I find that I am more balanced, that my beliefs are deepened, and that I end up more humble and with more respect for my peers and understanding for those I disagree with.

Despite this, I frequently find myself disheartened by the polarization that seems to be growing in our culture. 

Simply respectfully disagreeing with one another seems at times to be a dying concept. We do not simply disagree, but must denounce and even degrade the "other side." One must carry disdain for views not their own, at best considering them laughable or crazy, at worst considering them evil. There is not a lot of "work together" and "compromise" is a dirty word. This seems most prevalent in regards to politics and religion. Everyone feels threatened. Those who believe in God or identify as Christians are out to "impose their beliefs on the rest of us" and "turn back the clock" to a less enlightened time while those who don't believe in God are "enemies of truth" and "purveyors of relativism and permissiveness." We all see ourselves as the one being attacked, the one at risk of losing something very important---the future of our culture.

But is that really the case?

Faith systems are no longer inherited based on your family and culture. Instead personally-constructed spirituality and orthodox high-commitment religious groups that emphasize a conversation experience are on the rise. The result is a population that is paradoxically growing both more religious and less religious all at once. So yes, the non-church-going, no-religious-preference, more overtly secular group is growing. And so are religious groups and segments of Christianity.

It's out of fear that many of my friends, whether conservative or liberal, Christian or not, frequently resort to belittling one other.

Timothy Keller articulates it better than I can: "Each [must] admit to the fact that his particular tribe is strong and increasing in influence. This would eliminate the self-talk that is rampant in each camp, namely that it will soon be extinct, overrun by the opposition. Nothing like that is imminently possible. If we stopped saying such things to ourselves it might make everyone more civil and generous toward opposing views. Such an admission is not only reassuring, but also humbling."

Am I the only one that desires this kind of relationship with those who I don't see eye to eye with? Can't I respect them knowing they put thought into their views, love them because we are genuinely friends despite or differences, and talk with them about things we don't disagree on without the fear of being mocked or not taken seriously?

And to take it a step further---if we're going to have these conversations and truly engage those we disagree with can we stop making assumptions and engage with the most intelligent thinkers of that belief system?

If you decide to read Neitzche, considering reading Kant as well. Study the arguments of both G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. Read Hitchens and Taunton in tandem. If you want to read The God Delusion why not pair it with The Dawkins Delusion? (Although neither book is particularly well written). If you're going to question Lewis, Kierkegaard, Aquinas, Keller...the brightest minds the faith has to offer. As a Christian, I find it frustrating when someone who disagrees with me is basing what they "know" about Christianity on Facebook debates with their Aunt Betty and other so-called Christians who they singled out as easy prey. This usually means assuming I'm less enlightened or intelligent---that I haven't wrestled with my views or put any rational thought into them. I imagine those who question faith or flat-out don't buy the concept of a deity feel similarly judged by Christians as if those conclusions are just selfish whims or not your own. 

Only when there is humility present can we debate, disagree, and find common ground in a healthy way. I just do not believe that respect and working together is mutually exclusive from disagreeing and having strong opinions.

*gets off soapbox*

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. Friends?

1 comment:

  1. As a non-Christian who spent several hours in a car with you, I think you're awesome and this just about sums it up!