In these contentious days, it is hard for voices of
sanity to be heard about the name-calling and ideological noise. In
this four-part series, I want to present a new vision and voice for
public dialogue that offers hope for both peaceful engagement and
prudential solutions to our seemingly intractable problems.
is my conviction that underneath all the anger and insults are
disordered human affections. Our “loves” are confused. “Passion” has
replaced principle and emotions seem to triumph over ethics. When
politicians argue that, “facts do not matter if you are moral” we have a
serious confusion of categories, a loss of critical thinking, and signs
of inner chaos.
sages often speak of at least four kinds of love: familial bonds,
brotherly/sisterly affections, the comradery of soldiers and workers,
and romantic attractions. Whether the stories come from China or Greece,
Africa or India, such affections and their proper ethics are universal.
There is another type of
love that the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian theology have brought to
the world: the covenantal love of the Almighty (Hebrew: hesed) the unconditional and self-donating agape
love embodied in the person and work of Jesus. This altruistic, holy,
and sacrificial love helps all other loves find their proper place.
Familial and friendship love are now rooted in sacrifice, and
comradeship is more than suffering together – it can take on nobility.
And erotic attractions – powerful as they are – have boundaries of
behavior and loyalty.
much of contemporary confusion comes from eros overtaking agape and the
perversion of other categories that arises when self-fulfillment
overtakes service. Whether it is sexual attractions and actions,
economic policies, political discourse, or cultural expression,
disordered loves subvert the common good and leave everyone ultimately
need visions and voices rooted in agape that considers others before
self, and refines actions according to their long-term consequences and
not immediate power and success. Stay tuned for the applications of
agape to the challenges of our day. There is hope – but not in the
lowest denominator of human passion, but the highest aspirations arising
from the image of God in humankind.
In 1984, a Christian poet and dissident from the
Soviet Union wrote a book, “Talking about God is Dangerous.” The wall
has fallen – and our angry culture is building a new one. Freedom for
one is liberty for all…let’s be civil and wise, but never give way to
censorship of ideas. Disagreement is not intolerance and choosing moral
and religious values does not make folks, “phobes.”
Debating our deepest differences with civility is the heart of ordered liberty. My Muslim friends regard Jesus as a prophet…I regard him as God, crucified and risen for my salvation. We disagree. I do not regard Mohammed as a prophet, but I respect my Muslim neighbor’s right to disagree with me. Atheists find my convictions quaint or even dangerous. I disagree with their arguments…and we can be friends. My biblical sexual ethic is at odds with many – and we can make the world a better place together caring for the vulnerable. But please do not castigate my ethics as intolerant.
Will we continue our historical progress toward true toleration or retreat to oppression and castigate anyone not sharing our precise language? I am confident that a free market of ideas produces much better fruit than a world of self-appointed, politically correct marshals waiting to pounce.
Let’s get to work and make our world better, one conversation at a time.
Courage and humility must find active expression as we confront enemies determined to destroy our cherished freedoms. Here are three more strategic insights for this long conflict:
One: We must repent of and repudiate all historical and present forms of oppression, including any divisions of class, gender, race, religion or political opinion. We will not always agree and should freely debate on all matters eternal and temporal. But we must want for all others the liberties and opportunities we desire for ourselves.
Two: We must humbly reaffirm our enduring values and offer genuine hope for better days in our neighborhoods and nations. Politicians must cease posturing and begin working for the common good. Moms and Dads need to place their children’s needs above their own and nurture their marriages. Local churches can commission their members for value creation in all domains of work.
Three: As we engage (tearfully) in military action, we fight to win without reducing our ethics to the dastardly ones of our opponents. We limit civilian casualties as best we can – yet we cannot tie the hands of troops with actionable intelligence. This will be very difficult, but necessary if we desire victory in hearts as well as military success.
The hardest parts of this conflict are the intractable attitudes of our enemies and the long, patient actions needed for victory. This is why character matters. Zealots cannotultimately win if met with greater moral/spiritual as well as military/political forces. Onlytrue humility can forge this better future.