America on Thin Ice

by: Greg Boyd

I was fascinated by Congress’s Impeachment Trial. After all available witnesses had testified and all the available evidence had been presented, not one mind on either side of the aisle had changed.  

Worse, it seemed perfectly obvious to most members on both sides that the other side was not operating with a sincere concern for truth or for the greater good of America, but was rather motivated by pure partisan political interests.  

Worse still, it seemed perfectly obvious to most members on both sides that the fate of America pretty much depended on their defeating their blindly partisan opponents. 

And perhaps worst of all, no one on either side of the aisle set themselves apart from their partisan colleagues by at least trying to see a disputed matter from the other side’s point of view. In this highly polarized environment, any attempt to empathetically understand your opponent’s perspective can be viewed as treasonous. Hence, both sides talked past each other, blamed each other, and called each other names. 

Sadly, there is little reason to think the Impeachment Trial at the Senate (if it comes to that) will fare much better. 

The increasingly hostile ideological divide that characterizes the Congress and Senate simply reflects the increasingly hostile divide that characterizes American society in general. The Internet and Cable Television have now made it possible for people to watch only that version of the News they agree with and to interact only with people they agree with.  Unfortunately, as good as it feels to always have your beliefs confirmed, it causes a certain kind of brain damage. When quarantined in a social silo of ideological homogeneity, people’s beliefs increasingly become more obviously true to them, while the beliefs of those who degree with them increasingly become more obviously false.  

Moreover, since the beliefs of their opponents are obviously false, social quarantining eventually inclines people to conclude that their opponents are either  insincere or stupid . And so we heard people on both sides of the aisle during the Impeachment Trial saying things like:  “My colleagues on the other side of the aisle claim to love America, but its become perfectly clear to the American people that all they really care about is furthering their own political agenda.” 

As a number of social commentators have noted, this level of social fragmentation is a threat to Democracy. Democracies depend on people sharing a minimal amount of trust in one another as well as in certain traditional institutions (e.g. the Whitehouse; the FBI, CIA, IRS, etc…).  This trust, unfortunately, is precisely what is getting lost as Americans quarantine themselves off from one another along ideological lines. 

Which is why I claim that we are skating on very thin ice right now. 

To illustrate how thin our ice is, consider this years up-coming presidential election.  All U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia successfully hacked into the 2016 election, and no one doubts that they (and perhaps others) will attempt to do so again in this year’s election. Consequently, if the results of this election are at all close (and maybe even if they’re not), these results will certainly be contested.  

But imagine how difficult it would be to resolve this matter to the satisfaction of both parties! The Internet would explode with competing versions of “fake news.”  Conspiracy theories would abound on both sides! Without any mutually trusted source of information, there could be no shared facts. Without a reservoir of shared facts, we could longer have a rational way of resolving this dispute. And sadly, as history painfully and monotonously demonstrates, whenever political disputes can’t be resolvable by rational means, they sooner or later end up getting “resolved” by the use of force. 

And just to add gas to the flames, imagine the level of mayhem that would ensue if either the President or the Democratic presidential candidate refused to accept the results of this election and managed to convince a significant percentage of people in their political party to support them?  With no rational way of resolving this issue, America would find itself on the brink of degenerating into a failed state.

Okay, it probably won’t happen. Worst case scenarios hardly ever come true.  But it says something about how far down this self-destructive path we’ve already trodden that the scenario I just painted doesn’t sound ludicrous!  

In fact, since the Internet and Cable News are not likely to be going away anytime soon, I will confess that I don’t see how anyone or anything could possibly reverse our current trend toward partisan fragmentation. And so far as I can see, this suggests that it’s just a matter of time before something like the self-destructive scenario I just painted for America becomes true. 

So, how should kingdom people in America respond to this  social fragmentation. First, if any aspect of your essential well-being is anchored in the well-being of America, or any other nation, I’m afraid you’re going to be anxious, frustrated and disappointed. A wiser course of action would be to divest yourself of all hope in America and all other nations of the world, and instead anchor your well-being in the only King and Kingdom that you have reason to believe will last forever.  

Second, the Bible instructs us to be disciplined in our thinking and to take every thought captive to Christ.  It is thus imperative that kingdom people not allow their minds and hearts to be taken captive to any national or political agenda. In other words, as ambassadors of the kingdom of God, it’s imperative that we not allow our brains to become quarantined in a silo of ideological homogeny. Toward this end, I encourage kingdom people to regularly listen/watch News from outlets that fundamentally conflict with your own views, continually making an effort to imagine how a decent and intelligent human could espouse views you fundamentally disagree with. 

And finally, if American culture continues to fragment along ideological, racial, and socio-economic lines, as I suspect it will, it presents the church with a unique opportunity, — if she herself has not been taken hostage to these fragmenting polarities. For we are called and empowered to no longer see people “from a human point of view,” but are to instead see everyone in terms of the “new creation” that Jesus brought about on the cross; a new creation in which “everything old has passed away” and in which  “everything has become new;” a new creation in which God is “no longer holding anyone’s trespasses against them;” a new creation in which all the dividing walls that have fragmented humans throughout history have been abolished and replaced with “one new humanity created in Christ Jesus,” in whom “there is neither Jew nor gentile, male or female, bond servant or free person.”  

While America and every other country will eventually fade, the all-embracing love of God that makes all things new lasts forever.  The heart that has placed all its treasure here is a heart that knows everlasting peace, even when residing in a country that skates on thin ice.

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