Avoiding Tribalism: Conversations Behind Enemy Lines
It is no secret that we live in a culture that is deeply divided. As it stands, we are polarized to the extreme in our social and political views. This polarization has led to some pretty unfortunate methods of conversation.
In years past, when you debated someone you would have to first restate your opponent’s position to their satisfaction before you began to critique them. Wow! If only that were true today. Imagine tuning into [insert your preference of news media] and watching two people debate back and forth in such a cordial manner. This method of debate was intentional so to prevent mischaracterizations and “straw man” arguments. You cannot make wild interpretations of your opponent when you are forced to restate their position to their own satisfaction.
Instead, as you are well aware, today’s debaters speak, or yell, right past each other. Person A makes their argument and Person B goes off in an emotional outrage because their interpretation of what Person A says is tantamount to evil. Of course, what Person A said was indeed not evil and they are being wildly misrepresented and interpreted, but who cares about that? All we want is entertainment and clicks.
When our political opponents become equated with evil, or “literally Hitler,” it is no surprise to me that we retreat into tribalism. By the way, before you call someone Hitler consider the fact that we rightly went to war with Hitler and the Nazis and exterminated them. When you call someone Hitler, or a Nazi, you are unmistakably green-lighting violence against them.
In light of this view, that our political opponents are “literally Hitler,” it is no surprise that when someone on the Left sits down to talk to someone on the Right, the Left’s base will criticize them as “giving bigotry a platform.” The same could be true vice versa, I just have yet to see it myself. Somehow, the person on the Left is seen as validating, or even agreeing with the person on the Right simply because they were willing to talk to them.
What this does in turn is discourage conversation across political lines, which of course lands us only talking to those with whom we agree in an echo chamber. This is literally tribalism. The ironic thing is that in our “tolerant” culture, tribalism is supposed to be the supreme evil. But remember the rational. You can’t be tolerant toward someone who is “literally Hitler,” or “literally a Nazi.” Were we tolerant toward Hitler and the Nazis during World War II? No, of course not. Therefore, why would I be tolerant toward my political opponents who I have deemed the equivalent of Hitler and the Nazis?
In my area of the universe, Christian apologetics, I try to engage skeptics and atheists with the Gospel of Jesus. Consider the ramifications if I viewed my “religious opponents” in the same light as some view their political opponents. I would be unable to engage atheists with the Gospel, if conversing with them was tantamount to validating them, or even agreeing with them. When I, a Christian, engage with an atheist, do I suddenly agree with them ipso facto because I was willing to talk to them? No, that would be absurd. Equally absurd would be the idea that I am somehow partaking in “giving atheism a platform.” I certainly don’t view atheists who engage me as “giving me a platform” or validating my claims that Christianity is true. That would be silly.
As a Christian, I think about the life of Jesus. I think of how he engaged anyone and everyone with the good news that the kingdom of God was near. He ate and fellowshipped with sinners and those despised by the religious leaders of his day. I can almost hear the Pharisees of his day saying, “Jesus, how dare you give those tax collectors a platform!” What a sad day it is that we Christians cannot comprehend the idea of talking to, and even befriending those with whom we disagree. How far we have fallen.
How will we ever accomplish the Great Commission if we don’t engage people who hold to different beliefs, whether religious or political?