Recovering the Lost Art of Disagreement


Spent a pleasant hour wandering around Aldi listening to the the Sheologians interviewing KSP (i.e. Sane and Good) and then came home and rewatched this trite answer to violence in our time (as in Insane and Bad), and despaired all over again about the state of Public Discourse in our time.

First of all, the little video, which you should watch, is of an imam and a rabbi standing against a blank brown wall, holding up signs with words in big letters, letting the signs fall one by one in time to jumpy background guitar strumming of the variety so much preferred by the disembodied hand food video. The two people–the male imam (because female imams are not a thing), and the female rabbi–stand facing the camera and looking as grave as they can, despite the overly cheerful and vapid overlay of “Muzak.” The substance of the signs that they let fall are things like Love My Two Year Old, and Love Food, and Love a Cuppa, and then, of course, buried in the middle, Praying for Peace (to the same God)–in parentheses as I’ve done here. When they come to the signs that say Still No Bacon Sandwiches they both simper.

The thing is, the reason they are both standing there with their insipid sign communication–which, incidentally, even as it takes over the world, is the most bizarre way of passing along information, and yet there it is, literally Everywhere, that flat, as one might say, banal way of trying to convey weighty and congruous truths, because its never things like grocery lists, they’re always Help Me Get A Million Likes So That My Birth Mother Will Find Me, and #bringbackourgirls, you know, the kidnapping and subjugation of young Christian girls by Boko Haram being such an intensely grievous matter that all we can do is stand there looking sad and holding a sign–is because of the violent death of an MP in their district. I mean, I appreciate their willingness to come together because we’ve just had a violent death of someone in government and there don’t seem to be any signs showing up, just long screeds of blame on all sides. Oh well.

Where was I? Oh yes. Here’s the thing. It doesn’t create unity to lie. That’s really the root of the problem. An imam and a rabbi standing and holding signs saying they worship the same god is a really useless and unhelpful thing to do. It makes an utter mockery of the true points of coming together, like a rejection of bacon and a love of tea. Elevating the fact that they both love food to a Major Point of agreement, akin to their worship of god, is truly and profoundly the least helpful thing I can think of. Apologies, of course, to the breatherians who are trying to make eating food into a great controversy.

I know, I know. Start small. Start with what you can agree about and move on from there. Don’t try to move the whole seashore with your backhoe in one day, use your teaspoon to do it one grain at a time over a millennia. Or, maybe, here’s a better way. Stop lying and being so afraid. We are rapidly coming to the point of losing the great heritage that was not worth losing–thoughtful rational use of language–which puts us in the devastatingly dangerous place of having nothing to lose. But if we have nothing to lose, we have everything to gain by telling the truth.

We’re not all worshiping the same god. We do not share the same cultural assumptions and world views. It would be better to be honest and talk about it, even in the face of people dying violently every day.

As for Christians, it would be helpful, I think, not to make more of our disagreements than is reasonable. If we do worship the same God, that is a very grave and substantial matter, of much more import than agreeing on a love of tea. That great and true agreement should be able to carry us past some of the ridiculous disagreements that seem to be stretching christian community to the point, if not of insanity, at least to some ugly level of brokenness.

But we’ve bought into the cultural flip, the topsy turvy lie that if you agree on minor points, the major ones don’t matter. Whereas, for true, all of them matter, but some matter very very little, and others are deal breaking.

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