Within the past few months, a series of public events has stirred significant controversy and debate. Racism, climate change, gay marriage, the Confederate flag, immigration, austerity for Greece, and the US Presidential nominations are all topics of the day. In each case, a deep, ideological divide has been quickly established and fueled.
Did you quickly take up one of these default positions?
Why? Do you feel compelled to follow the herd? Why not take your own stance?
What strikes me most is how absurd many of the positions are and how much momentum they gain. For example, extremists on both sides of the aisle took up a drastic position with the most recent encyclical published by Pope Francis, Laudato Si.
On one side, conservatives, including many Catholics who for years have lauded anything any Pope has said as infallible, lambasted the Pope’s “ill-advised science” and claimed that the document was not morally binding and should be ignored as they shrugged off the Pope as a “liberal socialist.”
On the other hand, liberals, including many who for years have lambasted anything any Pope has said, lauded the letter and claimed that this, once and for all, makes their case for global warming.
I can only guess that 99% of those that took up one of these positions failed to read the document and understand the context within which it was written.
Why do I say this? Because I did read it and I do understand Catholic teaching and what I took out of it was neither revolutionary nor extremely controversial. Were some pieces of it tough to understand, or even hard to swallow? Absolutely. But it was anything but the extreme document it was made out to be.
In fact, the encyclical reminded me of John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens (“On Work”) in which Catholic social teaching on employment is discussed. Both capitalists and socialists alike found reasons to cheer and reasons to cringe at the document. It was incredibly hard to digest.
(The hardest part for most folks to understand about Catholic teaching is that the Church does not teach from the position of politics or our worldview, it teaches from the position of faith and morals. The Church couldn’t care less about being “left” or “right.” You cannot interpret Church documents on the political plane, which most folks, at least in the US, attempt to do.)
Trust me, this document was not the head turner that the political and media elite would have liked for you to believe.
The topic of gay marriage seems to have followed the same course. On one side of the aisle, anyone who vocalizes their belief that gay marriage is immoral is labeled a bigot and hate-monger. On the other side, anyone who supports or is in a gay relationship seems to be chastised and deprived of their human dignity.
Frankly, I’m sick of it.
I’m tired of standing by and watching as good people on both sides of the aisle join the extremes. My own friends and family, people that I respect, seem to have lost their freedom. They feel compelled to join the crowd and take up an extreme position.
Or they simply do what I’ve done for years: they swallow their opinion, choose not to be involved in politics, and feel as though they are out of place and unable to speak up.
It’s time that we stop “villainizing” the other side. It’s time to stop the personal attacks and vindictive comments.
But, even more so, it’s time that we stop following the crowd. It’s time that we act in moderation, use common sense, and learn to entertain a healthy and fruitful debate. There is common ground, and I still believe that the majority of Americans want to find it. The majority simply does not truly believe in the extremes.