Polarization does not refer to the frigid effect of polar air slicing through the atmosphere and icing over the landscape. Rather, it refers to the similarly bitter results of increasingly extreme positions that divide communities and freeze dialogue. While increasing polarization is most apparent in the political realm, there are pervasive and intertwined divisions throughout all aspects of society including religion, race, wealth, and even video gaming. This fragmentation of society extends into organizations which should, as representatives of the Kingdom of God, be focused on reconnecting and bridge building, including our own Seventh-day Adventist church.
While there are many reasons for increasing polarization, group think is a major factor. In a recent Daily Show interview, Cass Sunstein described an experiment in which liberal and conservative political groups were convened to discuss divisive issues.
Both groups became more extreme in their views over the course of the meetings. They became more polarized. This of course has implications for religions, denominations, religious conferences, conventions, magazines, blogs, evangelistic series, churches, Sabbath schools, small groups, and any other time or place when group think may ingrain more radicalized opinions.
The answer of course is not, as Jon Stewart humorously suggests, keeping people apart or as Hebrews puts it in King James’ English, “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” We should continue to meet together to encourage one another in faith and to spur one another to love and to good works. This is especially true when we feel isolated or excluded. In these cases, there is a great comfort and need for meeting with like-minded friends.
But, if in our gathering together we continually greet only our own people (those with whom we agree) what more are we doing than others? Don’t even the unbelievers do the same? True love, Matthew and Luke record Jesus saying, is expressed toward one’s enemies (those with whom we disagree). Then, Paul, as usual, puts things in practical terms. He tells the divided church in Corinth to simply wait for one another so that they can eat together.
Could these ancient texts show us a way to decrease the polarization of our 21st century society or maybe even the comments section on this site? What if we took love for others beyond pitying and correcting their perceived errors and we actually sat down to talk, eat, and pray with them… in person. What if we leaned toward and reached out to love the wrong people and allowed them to shed light on our various political, theological, and cultural narratives that protect us from seeing our own brokenness. What if we realized that ‘they’ are actually ‘us?’
Brenton Reading is a pediatric interventional radiologist practicing at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6561