Given the division, rancor, and politicization of virtually everything—along with the social media-driven “hater” mentality—have we witnessed the death of discussion?
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #6 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
During the U.S. Presidential campaign in February 2016, I stopped posting political content on social media. I just quit cold turkey.
Before this I’d tried to post about issues. I didn’t mention just one but always several candidates, attempted to be non-partisan, never spoke negatively of the previous Administration, and in no way attacked Democrat or Republican candidates or otherwise use my social media to campaign. In retrospect, I guess I was naïve. I actually tried to conduct a discussion about important issues. Usually, it didn’t happen.
I found that people didn’t read the nuances of what I said, and they didn’t discuss the issue. Mostly, they reacted emotionally, defending their partisan view and/or candidate—who I had often not even mentioned—and frequently did so with rancor not found in my posts.
I also noticed that my comments about political issues, in part because they got hi-jacked, divided my family, friends, and colleagues. People just couldn’t hang together for an issue discussion without quickly voting each other off the island.
At that point I decided political posting wasn’t worth dividing or losing friends. So I stopped.
Some of my friends have stopped referencing any social or political topic on social media too.
It isn’t that they don’t have opinions or that they don’t care, though perhaps some are less politically interested than others. They don’t want to get into a back-and-forth vitriol on opposite ends of the teeter-totter.
Think for a moment about “panels” on major television news channels:
these panels have largely devolved into shout fests about who can talk overtop the other. There’s not much reasoned discourse.
This same kind of phenomenon showed up not long ago when my wife and I attended a home-gathering comprised of people from the same church—middle class Midwesterners, most who’d grown up locally and graduated from the same high school and who otherwise had much in common. It was a very nice evening. Then someone mentioned the U.S. President relative to a given political issue. Just like that the group divided, including a few prickly comments and negative facial expressions that stayed that way until someone changed the subject.
Amazing. Good friends suddenly turned edgy when politics came up.
So the old maxim stands: “Never talk about politics or religion in polite company.”
Years ago, I wrote a book called “Christian Liberty: Living for God in a Changing Culture” (Baker, 2003). I talked about God’s moral absolutes—not a long list by the way— for all times, countries, and cultures, which we ignore at our own peril.
And I talked about the enormous room for discretion, or better, discernment with which God charged us as a way of making good decisions about cultural matters (Phil. 1:9-11). As long as our attitudes, viewpoints, and actions do not violate the moral will of God, he gave us the liberty to decide and to be different.
But I said then and I still believe today, Christian liberty is the least understood and least practiced doctrine of the Bible. I cannot prove this, but I experience it regularly. People in the Christian community do not allow for differences in others.
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Growing numbers of people in our country and culture do not want people to speak if their views diverge from what the dominant group considers correct.
The answer to opposing views is not a free and open debate on the merits of the argument but to silence, somehow to keep the other view from being heard.
If it is heard, then the solution is to react with emotional diatribe or attacks on the character of others who hold the “wrong view.” People who disagree with your view, or who might offer critique, are called “haters.”
The First Amendment’s guarantee of Freedom of Speech is no longer considered a sacred political ideal for whom men and women have given the last full measure of devotion to protect.
We’ve come to a point in a so-called post-truth culture in which politics and polarization are so pronounced we can no longer communicate, resulting in a virtual inability to discuss, much less debate, any social-political issue without it exploding into defensive partisanship, ideological condemnation, or lack of civility.
Discussion, at least public discourse, is dead on arrival.
I’d like to discuss political issues via social media but to do so invites dysfunction.
I think this is sad, among believers an absence of Christian liberty,and among the public, a disappearing understanding of what Freedom of Speech means in and to a constitutional republic.
This trend, whether from Left or Right, is not good for the future of this country.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
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