Divided by Dichotomies

“All the men in the world are divided into two ranks, Godly or Ungodly, Righteous or Wicked; of wicked men two sorts, some are notoriously wicked, others are Hypocrites: of Hypocrites two sorts (and you shall find them in the Church of God) some are washed Swine, others are Goats” -Puritan John Cotton

The Puritans had a rhetorical style of preaching that centered on dichotomies. It basically asserted that everything in the world was mirrored by its opposite. So, for every godly person there was an equal ungodly opposite. The mirror image would be reflected throughout culture. Taken from the themes of Scripture, there are always saints and sinners, right and wrong, light and dark. These major themes are reflected throughout most every book of the Bible. Consider in Genesis, there are two trees, one good one bad. There are two Adams, the original Adam makes the wrong choice plunging all of humanity into a cursed creation, and a second Adam (Jesus) who makes the right choice, granting all of us access to restored paradise. I’m not a theologian by training, but even a simple pedestrian reading of the Bible, will reveal these dichotomies.  Themes that are still prevalent in the world today. I believe it is an understanding often embraced by preachers and politicians alike. If you consider the current political divide there is this idea on the part of Republicans, that Democrats are the evil opposite to all of their political aims and vice versa. It seems we have divided into “good and bad” “righteous and evil” in America. With little room for nuance. We don’t trust each other. We don’t trust the doctors, scientist, or educators that disagree with our perspective. We live in a world, void of any authority that dares to disagree with us. If something doesn’t make sense to us, or if causes us to question any deeply held belief, we are willing to reject it. We do so without even considering the massive costs, of time, energy and investment, that brought us the information. 

We live in a world that is divided along tribal lines. These tribes are fueled by intuitive perspectives that have been rewarded over time. And when anyone deviates from that expected behavior or challenges the underlying assumptions, they are assumed to be wrong at best and evil at worst. People love simplicity. They love to feel rather than think. So, this makes it very easy for tribalism to survive and flourish. Because, as Jonathan Haidt observes, it is our passions that drive our reason. Our heads ride the elephant of our hearts. And the elephant goes wherever it wants to go. Our brains are simply along for the ride. 

But not everything in the world is simple. And just because I don’t understand a complex subject, doesn’t make it non-existent. If the world and everything in it were dependent upon my understanding, my world would not exist. Because there is nothing that I, or you for that matter, fully understand. To echo the words of the Apostle Paul, “We see through a glass darkly.” But so many in our world insist that they see clearly. That they understand fully. And they no better than the best minds of the world. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that the “best minds” of the world are incapable of error, but I am suggesting that my mind and your mind are far more likely to be in error than the expert who has given up a significant portion of their lives to study one subject in depth. And then submit their findings to others who have done the same through critical examination. This is the rigorous process that results in gaining expertise. A process that few achieve, but many claim. And many claim such status based upon very limited knowledge. Resulting in tribal loyalties based in who and what we choose to believe, not as a result of independent research, but based in a process that we mistake for independent research, which is really just a confirmation of our own biases. 

I see this splintering in virtually every aspect of our cultural existence. We all go as our passions direct us. This becomes increasingly dangerous in a world that isn’t informed living with passions that aren’t transformed by the gospel of Christ. 

I was thinking earlier about Paul’s words “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old has passed away and the new has come.” We really need a new order to come to our world.