To say that our nation is deeply divided would be akin to saying the Plague was a little bug or that World War II was a tiny skirmish. From every corner of our country, people are taking to Facebook, Twitter, and online communities to share their expertise on everything, from politics and religion, to social and economic issues. That, in and of itself, is a fine thing. The issue is that most of these folks are coming from the perspective that their opinion is the only valid one, and if you disagree then you are an idiot.
This is what happens when the whole world gets a voice.
But honestly, I don’t think much has really changed. If 1860 America had Twitter, I’m sure the political tension would be just as vicious (I recall smear campaigns against Abe Lincoln criticizing him because he looked like a monkey; I can envision the memes now…). We haven’t really changed all that much: we are a society of people with opinions. In days gone by, our upbringing and our personality played a role in how vocal we would become about those opinions. These days, however, the internet has afforded an anonymous platform from which every self-anointed armchair expert can shout their views for all to hear..
Sadly, that simple anonymity has also allowed for the gloves to come off. Instead of civil discourse, angry rage and vicious attacks seem to be the order of the day. While there’s technically nothing wrong with this, I can’t help but feel that a truly decent society would take umbrage with making every political and religious argument a necessary bout of “I’m right, you’re stupid.” It is truly reprehensible, to see how human beings have decided to treat other human beings, all because they feel their opinion is the only valid opinion. And it’s very easy to find a group of others who share your opinion, isn’t it? When you surround yourself with like-minded people, your conviction in your beliefs grows and you become unable to see any other path except the one to which you passionately subscribe. While this may make you secure in your own beliefs, the lack of challenge and discourse eventually breeds an inability to properly defend your position. Thus, you fall back on other tactics. Attacking grammar. Implying stupidity. Making it far too personal.
If a person only ever goes to church, they’re only going get that point of view. You have to engage with others, to have that point of view challenged. It doesn’t have to be so that someone can change your mind. You grow in your belief and your position when you’re forced to defend it or explain it so that others understand.
But in hiding behind our glowing rectangles and squares, we have all but ruined our ability to have productive discourse. The notion that you don’t discuss politics or religion in polite company is now more a necessity than an exercise in social grace. And that’s a shame, because no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, no matter what religious views we hold, we should always be open to discussion on them. We should always be ready to have our views challenged. Defending one’s beliefs is a rigorous exercise that requires truly understanding WHY you believe what you belief. Why do you support this candidate? Why do you follow this faith?
This is explicitly stated for those of a Christian persuasion. “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15, NKJV). I cite this as an example because I am familiar with it, but I would be surprised if most faiths didn’t express a similar sentiment. It just makes sense, doesn’t it? Why do you believe what you believe? Too many of us don’t have answer. We blindly accept what we’re taught, blindly accept the “news” we watch on TV or read on Facebook. We don’t challenge it, and we don’t challenge ourselves.
Debate is good. Discourse is good. It’s a healthy, necessary component of an intelligent, functional society. The fact that the vast majority of Americans cannot tell you why they follow Christ, why they’re agnostic, why they’re liberal, why they’re conservative, is incredibly disheartening, and even dangerous to our society. Facebook and Twitter have created a country full of “bumper sticker philosophers” – people who perpetuate short buzz words, phrases, or topics that are expressed in oversimplified terms, that appeal only to emotion and not to intellect. Most of these things cannot stand under thoughtful scrutiny. Yet, we allow them to pervade our news feeds every day, never giving them a thought. The idea of a longer discussion, the idea that maybe I could learn something if I listen to the other side, has been replaced with the very simple, primitive mindset that I am right, and they are wrong.
I am guilty of this. I’ve flooded my Facebook feed with enough political memes to sink a spaceship. I’ve chosen to give that up recently, in the hopes of making more thoughtful posts about issues and maybe stimulating some discussion. Granted, there will still be many people who glance at these and shrug. They’re too busy with their own concerns to worry about it. They have their opinions and that’s that. No room or need for change or growth. That is everyone’s choice, of course. But I’d like to use this space to maybe start some conversations. Because I need to feel like this divided country can come back together again. I know there are people on every side of every argument that hold out that hope. We just need to find each other.