Monday, January 17, 2011

Longing for Middle Ground

I've been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is to polarize issues. A recent blog post over at the Ontario ThoughtWorks blog has sparked a conversation regarding the content of one of our courses. I had to admit that the course was not one I'd investigated much - I know the couple that developed it and appreciate them greatly. For me the thing that comes out strongly is that I really believe there can be a middle ground - a place where a variety of approaches and views and actually sharpen each other and bring out the best in each other. So I'm reticent to speak ill of any contribution that seems to be bearing good fruit - and even to struggle to find the fruit that its participants claim to see.

My buddy Mike came over and we were talking along similar lines. To paraphrase one of his observations, it is easy to employ cynicism to tear apart views we dislike, but harder to find out what it is in those views that is compelling. For me the compelling aspect is much more interesting than whether a view is right or wrong - and I am less and less convinced that right and wrong exist outside of contextual realities. Sorta like when Scot McKnight says that God's wisdom led God to inspire misogynistic scriptural texts - it is equally plausible that this is mere cultural capitulation and not a product of God's inspiration at all. (See Blue Parakeet, p.157.) But then we get into the whole debate about different views of inspiration and fall into that same trap of needing the one right thing instead of living in the tension of a reality that is much more messy than black and white will ever convey. What is compelling to me is why McKnight wants to frame it the way he does - and I think that has something to do with the way he understands tradition.

The reality is that sometimes the fruit isn't worth the cost. At some point that needs to be faced - but I think it can only humbly be reached when both sides are fairly heard. And I think that good methods and views can be horribly used - so having the high ground in a debate does not imply responsible application. Life gets pretty messy - which I why I long for the middle ground, the radical middle as some have called it. I know it is not always a realistic position - but it is where I feel the conversation needs to rest at least long enough for the polarized positions to be shaped by the other views.


Christine said...

I think the "cynisism" of dismissing other views comes more often (or at least more often than is maybe realized) from those who know exactly why a particular view is compelling, because they've been there.

When one can look back at how appealing particular notions or theologies are, and also remember how damaging they turned out to be, how one was harmed, or harmed others, or knew those who were harmed through them, it is more likely that that person will come to have a stronger stance. That person has a reasonable idea of what drives certain ideas (motives both pure and questionable) and has lived both sides with the benefit of hindsight.

In such a case it is also personal. Sometimes in a bitter, revenge fashion, but often in remembering pain, personal or of others, and perhaps guilt at having inflicted pain. That memory of harm done becomes a strong motivator for rejecting particular approaches.

Ideally, we'd like to be able to integrate the best of everything, as well as everyone's various approaches and positions. But, there comes a point when we need to take a stand, particularly against things like abuse or injustice - or even negligence.

There are some things for which we shouldn't seek a middle ground and instead be anything but lukewarm.

One of Freedom said...

You are getting at the world behind the views, what I describe as the compelling aspect in the debate, but my goal in a middle ground is not to land nowhere - but to land informed and able to broker peace.

I think Mike would agree with you about the origin of the cynicism. He certainly developed that approach as a result of being hurt by a theological paradigm. But what I like about Mike is that he also is cognizant of how informed his identity is by those same theological paradigms. (He's a neat guy I hope you get to meet him.)

Thinking about particular details, that we are only hinting at here, I think that we are not equal stakeholders in the conversation - meaning that I have a world of concerns that do not completely overlap with your world of concerns (and commitments for that matter). I'm not sure there should be an epistemological privilege here (I differ from Hegel and much Liberation Theology on that) but definitely epistemological difference needs to be recognized.

You guys coming tonight?

Ed Gentry said...

Such a difficult and important issue.

I go to a church that defines itself almost entirely in terms of what it is reacting against. So because there have been extremes in a particularly area we should then reject completely anything that even resembles this position.

I think Christine is correct, often this overreaction is ideologically vengeance.

Sigh ... can we really avoid Hegel's roller coaster?