The Culture Wars’ Lies about Otherness
The Culture Wars’ lies about otherness:
“Everyone on my side of the culture wars is more nuanced and different from one another, but everyone on the other side is basically the same.”
“There are only two sides to every cultural issue.”
Those People are All the Same
Here, we defined culture wars as more than just advocating for positive change. Culture wars happen when we use political or social or economic power to force others to behave the way we think they should behave. In order to feel good about that, we have to see those others as people whose behavior MUST be changed, even if forcefully. The group think and tribal mentality of the culture wars make that easy for us. The culture wars lie to us about those we have “otherized.” And the culture wars’ lies about otherness make our lives so much easier.
The tribal mindset of the culture wars causes us to see anyone who disagrees with us as a bonafide member of the other tribe. And, as such, we just assume that person thinks and acts just like everyone else in that tribe. The social science word for this phenomenon is “out-group homogeneity”. Once we label someone as “other” there can be no nuance, no complexity in them.
That, of course, would require work on our part to actually learn about them and how they think. It would require us to expend time and energy actually trying to understand their life experiences and their core fears and pain. It would also mean understanding their strengths and value to our community and the various lenses through which they see the world. In short, it would demand way too much from us. Simply grouping them all together is easier and, frankly, better suits our goals and narratives in the culture wars. It is how we justify our feelings that our country or community would be better off with them.
The False Binary
The culture wars’ lies about otherness also change how we talk about the important issues of our day. They create false binaries around each issue. They remove all the nuance and they use marketing slogans to make unbelievably complicated issues into simple binary choices. You are either pro-life or pro-choice, either black lives matter or blue lives matter. Either you want open borders to absolutely everyone or you want to build a wall to keep everyone out. You either want to take everyone’s guns away or you want no restrictions whatsoever on guns. You see the problem. Our group think and tribal positioning leaves little room for actual conversations to delve into the complexities of our current social issues.
Of course, here in the U.S., our two-party political process only exacerbates the false binary. First, there is the constant pressure toward the extremes which naturally flows from the pep rally mindset of winning at all costs. Secondly, party loyalty forces all the players not only to espouse those extreme positions, but to act like they actually believe in them. Again, any notion of nuance or complexity simply does not fit the culture we have created. And if it doesn’t fit, then any desire to nevertheless maintain it simply requires way too much energy.
Hatfields and McCoys
Back in Jesus’ day, this same tribal dynamic was in full blossom with regard to the ongoing hatred between the people of Judah and the people of Samaria. The divisions we experience in our current culture wars all pale in comparison to the ethnic tension between those two groups. Hundreds of years of hatred had taken root, creating seemingly insurmountable cultural barriers between them. And Jesus blew right through those barriers both through his teaching and in how he conducted himself.
What Jesus Said and Did
The parable of the good samaritan in Luke 10 was, by Jesus’ teaching, an example of how things SHOULD be. Having rightly summed up God’s law for the Jewish people with, “Love God, and love your neighbor”, a lawyer invited Jesus into their culture war with a simple question: “Who is my neighbor?” Of course, the culture warrior’s response would have been, “people in my own tribe.” But Jesus’ response was jarring. A Samaritan, it would seem, could well be my neighbor. The teaching was clear: God expects us to show genuine curiosity and compassion, even for those who are “other” than us…maybe ESPECIALLY for them.
But Jesus did not just teach this. He lived it. His “appointment” with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 demonstrated beautifully how things COULD be. He literally went out of his way (geographically) to fulfill this God-ordained appointment with a Samaritan woman. He committed energy to breaking down religious, gender and ethnic barriers to have a conversation no self-respecting Jewish rabbi of the time would have had. Eventually seeing that he was a man of God, the woman asked a point-blank religious question that had always nagged her. The truth was not one she wanted to hear: “You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews.” John 4:22 (NLT). But Jesus delivered that truth only after having done the hard work of forging a compassionate relationship with her.
Compassionate Curiosity is the Way Forward
The Culture Wars’ lies about otherness cause us to get lazy in our relationships with others. They let us off the hook for doing actual, meaningful community the way our creator intended. The way forward, then, is to do that hard work. It means fostering genuine curiosity about others and showing compassion in how we engage them (indeed, in how we even think about them). We can do so much better than the group think and tribal warfare which our culture wars encourage. We can actually build one another up.
The Corresponding Truths
So, in contrast to the culture wars’ lies about otherness listed at the top of this post, here are the corresponding truths for Christ followers:
Every individual is unique and the more we try to paint entire segments of people alike, the more foolish we look.
We are all nuanced and complicated and almost never fit perfectly into the caricatures we tend to use for each other.
We can do this…together.