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Labels And Meaning

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We are torn asunder by labels. David French wrote yesterday about the nation not having a general ideological direction, but rather being more polarized.  He has a point, the left is moving more left and the right is moving more right.  It is as if it when it comes to choosing a stance on an issue, it matters more to be left or to be right than to pick a stance.  What else would drive people, in a accelerated fashion, in both directions simultaneously?  Rather than ask what is the best stance on an issue, we ask what is the liberal or conservative stance.  Such an approach would serve to naturally polarize us.  Our labels seem to matter more than the issue in front of us.

It is very easy to blame media for this state of affairs.  Media likes a simple narrative.  They want the story to be one of left v right, good v bad.  Every story gets whittled down to its “essentials” and then defined in those terms.  When you add on top of that the “commentary complex,” from Limbaugh to Matthews and we end up sounding like I Cor. 1:12.  But I think that is too easy.  We have a choice, the information is available, we can look deeper if we want to.

It is also easy to blame the political process.  Consultants break us into groups, label those groups and pander to the group profile.  But that is too easy as well.  Just because someone tells us we are like X,Y, and Z, we do not have to fit the mold they try to put us in.  We often choose to, but why?

Psychologists tell us that we all want to belong to something and to derive meaning from our belonging.  Neighborhoods, ethnic groups, sports teams, are all groups we belong to and from which we derive meaning in some fashion.  So too much larger and more important things like political parties, states, nations and even religions.

Traditionally, Americans have found their meaning outside of our political process.  Frankly, our political process was designed assuming that such was the case.  But as religion has been removed as the most prevalent place from which we do derive our meaning, politics has often stepped into replace it.  Moreover, we have allowed our politics and our religion to be confused.  Nowhere is that more clear than in the never ending debate about what is an “Evangelical.”

I wrote Sunday that we often allow our faith to be a mere label and that such reduces religion to simply a series of beliefs and issue stances.  But this is where Christianity is so unique.  Christianity is not some set of beliefs, but an encounter with the Almighty.  Through this encounter, Christianity does not seek to elicit conformance from us but rather seeks to change us at the most fundamental of levels such that legal conformity is our natural expression.  For Islam there is no confusion between politics and religion, they are the same thing, because force is necessary to create conformity .  But for the Christian they can be two separate things.

Victor Davis Hanson wrote on Christmas Eve of restoring gratitude to the nation.  He is right.  Serious Christians know that such gratitude is a natural expression of the changes that God generates in our lives.  Christianity does not ask us to take a stand on an issue; it asks us to be God’s men and women in whatever issue we face.  Thus our stances are not a matter of orthodoxy, but simply a straightforward expression of the people that God is making us into.

And thus God is the source of our meaning, not our political affiliation, our ethnic background, or where we went to college.  No longer are we polarized, we are united even in our disagreement.

The Founders never expected politics to unite this nation, they knew politics were divisive.  They relied on other things to unite us.  But if we drive those other things out, or water them down, divisiveness is inevitable.  The solution to our political polarization may not lie in politics at all.


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