Trying to get some perspective on the precipice
This was going to be a three column series, but it certainly grew to four after the feedback I received from the initial offering last week.
Beginning by trying to outline some of the problems with critical race theory, and nodding at myself to invite you all to think about critical theory, I got a torrent of reactions that somehow sort of makes my point by making a completely different one.
What I heard in different forms across the country (the Internet is a wonderful thing) was this: Jeff, you have to understand something. Liberalism is taught in our schools, institutions, and churches, and we are tired of feeling rejected and belittled.
And that’s the point I was trying to get to, actually. Legislative and even less rhetorical excesses in trying to find a way to outlaw so-called critical race theory, are all meant to build a wall against the perceived influx of progressive viewpoints.
It is always risky to generalize from online reactions. As is well known, but cannot be repeated too often, Pew Research did an in-depth data analysis in 2019 and found that Twitter users on political topics made up 6% of all American adults, and in that small segment, they tended to extremes, ideologically. I think you can extrapolate that in various directions. So reading my inbox and my messages may not be a good sample of American thinking.
What I suspect is that those who are strongly aligned with politics align quite closely with those who are intensely engaged in social, religious or civic debates. And before I end here, I plan to reaffirm what I continue to bang on my little drum, which is that the vast, wide-open common ground may not be as important in these online debates, but in terms of living on how to be a functioning community, boring, squishy moderates have to have some sort of voice.
If you’re thinking “he’s only asserting this, he can’t prove there’s that many in the middle”, my immediate and overwhelming rebuttal is that this is how I see everyone talking at either end of the spectrum, so I’m just taking my turn. My strong suspicion is that the extreme opinions, left or right, which insist on speaking on behalf of the multitudes, or of history, or of the invisible multitudes, are only stating things. We’ll see how it all actually unfolds.
But I’m not angry, nor am I arguing about bad faith per se, when I want to point out after scrolling through my inbox: critical race theory is not the real motivational issue. This is the debate about broadening views and perspectives, which has continued in one form or another since the beginning of the Enlightenment, just in a particular set of terms today.
For most of my life, which relatively speaking is will-o’-the-wisp and steam and flickering light on the solid granite rock face of history, during this perhaps short period in human terms, I have been by conservative temperament. Some may laugh reading this, but it’s true. Conservatism, of course, is about keeping things. There are certain values and priorities that we have developed over time that we should avoid setting aside just because there are new viewpoints. Affirming the place of faith in God, a good God, whose goodness has a human expression to which we can turn: I would like to keep that.
But keeping does not mean imposing. It means preserving a space where people can freely continue with views that may be out of step with modern innovations. This ranges from conserving the wilderness when we can – think of the conservation movement, which has a history of its own – to conserving space for the Amish, dissenters and believers of even particular faiths. It is conservatism in essence.
So when people say “I want to support legislative initiatives that stem the tide of radical change and resist the insistence on the inclusiveness of even the views I reject”, I don’t think they are wrong, per se, I just think that the political agenda can be at odds with the religious priorities that we should affirm.
Or to put the cards on the table, if theocentric believers are a minority, I think we need to look at the landscape differently, culturally and politically, than we did when we were or presumed to be the majority.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller and preacher in central Ohio; he tries to take a long-term view, which is not always a political and even less a practical winner. Tell him how you see things at [email protected] or follow @Knapsack77 on Twitter.