“There is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”
― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics.
And so just why do we focus so intently on things that divide, while seeking to reinforce our precious opinions and denigrate those with whom we disagree? This is not only the bailiwick of the religious, though we who profess to have faith seem to be inordinately skilled at it. It also seems to be the only mode of operation available to the modern politician. No wonder there has always been a long-standing social motto “You can talk about anything as long as it is not religion or politics.” The current bi-partisan stand off in the US had me more focused than usual on this, but it seems to be a reflection on a deep-seated human tendency.
So what is going on? I am reminded of the old religious story of St Peter taking a newly arrived saint on a tour of heaven. As they pass by a large white building, St Peter urges him not to speak, explaining that the building was occupied by Baptists who believed they were the only ones resident in heaven! At the heart of our problem, it seems that most of us believe that what we think is right, that our way of doing things is the correct way and more importantly, we know better than those who don’t do it thus. We reinforce this position by surrounding ourselves with those who agree and as C.S. Lewis opines, we apply our negative filters to those who do things differently.
The sad outcome of our differing opinions seems to be an entrenching of attitudes and a hardening of positions that allows little room for compromise. And that’s just it. In so many quarters we are talking about opinions. This is particularly true when it comes to matters pertaining to what we believe. I can remember, to my shame, many times when I have put my opinion above relationships. I have valued being right more highly than promoting unity. And what is the cost of this attitude? It is the break down of relationship, the inability to see past the log in my own eye in order to rail against the speck in the eye of those who don’t ‘see things my way’.
As I have gained the benefit of a few more years painfully realizing that relationships with people are more important than opinions held, I have begun to focus more intently on the issues we can probably mostly agree on. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still wonder at some of the traditions of the Catholic Church, though I do think Pope Francis is a stand up guy. Do I question some of our more fundamentalist tenets of faith, and do I still think the Anglicans got it wrong on infant baptism? Yes, my opinions have changed on some things, but have stayed fairly consistent on others. What I am realizing more these days though, is that these things are just my opinion. I may not be right. Does it really matter in the light of things that really matter, like loving, serving and giving life where I can?
I have a very good friend who I respect and admire but whose political views are alien to my whole way of thinking. I find myself wondering how some of those views can be reconciled with a faith in Jesus Christ, who I secretly believe was a socialist by the way! (Don’t go getting all riled up at that throw away line!). Now, I am asking myself, ‘what can I learn from this different point of view? How can this opposing opinion color and adjust my prejudices and opinions?’ I am looking for meaningful relationships that are not spoiled by a difference of opinion and I am seeking not to be surrounded by those who agree with me for that would be a place lacking in challenge and healthy provocation. How am I ever going to change if I never hear something new or examine the stand of those with whom I am at odds? In many ways it boils down to respect. It has not always been so for me, but I am learning something new, and I happen to know I am right by the way!
I’ll leave you with a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and hope that we can all agree to disagree from time time whilst promoting reconciliation and understanding to bring down the walls that divide us!
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet.