I had a thought today that I’ve been having recurrently in different forms for the past year or two: people care more about labels than they care about substance. They care more about words than they care about actions.
I watched the 3rd Democratic primary debate this evening, and I’m struck at how basically zero policy gets discussed. It appears to me that the candidates are basically either using buzzwords in an attempt to trigger strong emotions in people without ever substantively talking about their policies, or they sling mud and villainize other people again trying to stir up emotions against other people. It seemed like half of what people had to say is ‘Trump is a horrible person and we need to beat him at all costs’ (some candidates tried to stay above that sort of mud slinging than others). I’m not a fan of Trump, but it seems a bit juvenile to do what most of the democratic candidates seem to accuse Trump of doing… scapegoating.
(Sidenote: while we’re on the topic I’m rooting for Andrew Yang.)
Anyways, I’ve noticed the same thing in Christian circles as well. We put such an emphasis on words and beliefs that we forget about substance and action. We get so hung up on making sure that people ‘believe’ the correct doctrinal formulas. We get worried or upset when people don’t mentally assent to certain abstract ideas that we hold as true that it seems we often forget to look at reality: how are people living their lives and holding themselves in relation to the world and others?
This seems to be not a Christian problem but a human problem: the same thing happens in politics and society at large. We almost never get down to the important details and definitions and distinctions of things. We sling around buzzwords to which we attach so much loaded meaning, and when other people use certain words we get triggered by all of the associations we have with those words without trying to understand the motivations and actual substance of what other people believe. We automatically see the world dualistically — when I started writing this paragraph I wrote the second sentence as ‘they’. They almost never get down to the important details, they get worried or upset… I naturally think that they (whoever that is…) are wrong and I am right. I’m guilty of this dualistic us v.s. them mindset too.
I sometimes wonder what I can do in such a world where people are so entrenched and polarized. I guess the best I can do is be as good an example as I can of a listening ear. Try be a presence of peace and comfort and light to those who cross paths with me or enter my home. I need to try to not fall into the dichotomy game of judgement but I need to follow the path that Jesus laid: compassion. I need to not get angry at them for being so caught up in the wrong things. I need to softly, quietly live truthfully and compassionately, not wielding rhetorical swords against others but accepting them for who they are and what they believe. I need to pin up my beliefs with my actions, not my words.
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