It is a daunting thing to know that the failings we see in others reside in our own hearts as well.
I, like many of us, am spending a lot of time thinking about politics in these days. Only two weeks out from a stressful election, things are reaching a fever pitch. Yard signs are at the sides of roads and in front of houses. Campaigns are making their "whistle-stop" tours. The two candidates for the highest office in the land are preparing for their final debate. Things are almost over now...we hope.
In the midst of all this, a process continues. Unabated, it is a progression that existed before this season of heightened pitch and will likely continue after it. I refer of course to the ways in which our minds take great joy in categorizing others, either as for us our our "team" or against us and our interests.
While it may seem ungenerous and overly simplistic to claim that human beings want to separate people into a schema of "us" versus "them," I find it to be uncomfortably true. Let's say that you are a Trump voter. When you read a post on Facebook that comports with your candidate and indicates some support of him, you are more likely than not ready to accept this person as "safe." Scroll down a bit and see someone who says something nice of Biden or a more traditionally Democratic position, and immediately your hackles are up and you are suspicious of this Facebook acquaintance. The same works if the positions are reversed. In our minds, the person in question now exists as "the Other."
The effect can become even more intense if the person is not simply an acquaintance but a friend or relative. Seeing them politically support a different candidate or position might elicit no small amount of angst or sense of betrayal. Even a single political stance can be enough to count them as "lost" to your cause. And from them on? It can be easy to write them off or treat them as if their opinion does not matter or that they are simply your enemy.
Don't agree with me? Think for a minute of your own political stances. Consider your philosophies of government and society. Think of who you are voting for in two weeks. And then think of two people you work with. One supports your candidate. The other supports the other guy. What are your feelings towards each of them? For which one do you feel more affection? Which one feels safer? Which one is more inclined to make you angry or make you experience hatred?
You alone can answer these questions for yourselves, but as for me--my answers are clear. Opposing political stances or even seemingly isolated positions on issues immediately beckons me categorize people as friends or enemies. We can deny it all we like, but my guess is that most of us experience this. Learn even one thing about a person's politics and suddenly it seems I know all about them and who they are, what they stand for, and their relative value to me. Even if such judgements are patently unfair and not representative of reality, it does not ultimately seem to matter. In this calculus, they are either friend or foe. Worthy or not. Teammate or opponent.
Obviously, political opinions and subsequent policies have an impact. They matter. I do not deny that. Such is the stuff of legitimate debate, discourse, and honest disagreement. It is appropriate for us to have positions on these matters, and we will naturally gravitate into different schools of thought on related issues. What I am talking about here, though, may be something more instinctual--a short-circuiting of all of this into a kind of clannishness that overrides fairness and can come to be more about group identity than anything else
At least, this is the way we feel pulled. I like to know who is safe and who is not, and for a variety of reasons this is the way I do it. The temptation to write someone off for even a single political opinion or philosophical belief is strong, and much of our contentious society--especially in this season--beckons us to do so. If I asked you to, I imagine you could even articulate those you instinctively already know those who are on your team and those who are on the other side. Don't deny it. After all, it is easy, really to let our mind organize things this way. All I need to do is know one or two things about someone, and then I can place them in the appropriate bucket. It just seems natural.
As straightforward as this process might be, we must nonetheless fight it. Such a state of affairs may give a sense of comfort in the short run, but is no recipe for civil society. It is shortsighted, unfair, and can dehumanize others. It does not allow for the complexity of human perspectives, and may force us into positions that can become ever more rigid. It can disallow conversation and consideration.
To be on a journey like this short-circuits opportunities for growth, and it is truly to exist on the pathway to hate. Such a system of categorization continues to beckon each and every day--believe me, I have to fight it too. Having it prevail means not only continued rancor and, I fear, collapse, but also a rejection of something we Christians are supposed to live in: love. Fellow believers, the next time we are tempted to cast someone into the outer darkness and degrade them in our thoughts and words because they do not agree with us in this, that, or the other thing, hear the words of the Apostle Paul, and consider what they mean for our "teams" and political worlds, too:
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (I Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV)