January 26, 2018
“I am disgusted by the comments in this feed. Thinly veiled fascism! You’re all a bunch of ignorant bigots!”
“Can you believe these snowflakes complaining about being a grown adult? They have it easy!”
“Sorry didn’t realize you were the tone police of this forum – this place smells of Marxism more than Christianity.”
Recognize these sentiments? These are all relatively close to comments I have read or heard just in the past week. What’s going on that we feel we must destroy each other in order to maintain our values and what we believe?
Recently I listened to a talk on “modern identities” by Tim Keller. Keller was founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the heart of New York City where he has lived for 2+ decades. There he has interacted with people of many faiths, ideologies, and ways of life. One of the most salient and convicting points was around this very thing – destruction of “the other.”
Keller noted that when something like a specific political ideology is at the very top of our identity – if that is the most important thing to us in how we see the world so much so that it is fundamentally who we are – then our only option when we encounter someone with a different political ideology is to destroy them. To open ourselves to any other option would be to rip away the core on which we’ve built our identity – who are we then? So, we tear down the other. Some of us loudly and forcefully. Others with a subtle internal scoff. Perhaps we simply feel better about ourselves when we encounter “the other”; thank God I’m not like them!
This reality is a major concern for humanity in the United States. Whatever you believe regarding the big questions in life, it is indisputable that part of the essence of humanity is social connection. It is not good for us to be alone – we are social creatures who need love, connection, respect, and to know we have meaning and purpose in this life in some shape or form. What we’ve learned through the explosion of neuroscience in the past two decades points to this very need – that the healthy human is the connected human.
Unfortunately – alarmingly – the connected human is the vulnerable human, and the vulnerable human is putting on more and more armor everyday as he or she scrolls through their Facebook feed: “I’ve deleted any friends who hold ________ view! If you remained, that means you’re a good person.”
Of course. It makes so much sense that we do this – that we put up our shields and take aim with our weapons, and yet it exacerbates the problem. One faction retreats into isolated spaces because it isn’t safe for them to be heard, and the other screams “Snowflakes! Grow up and face the world!” Another faction accuses, “Fascists! You’re all on the wrong side of history! We condemn you!” and their conservative friends quietly decide they are no longer welcome in that person’s life. We retreat or attack – or both at the same time. We protect ourselves because people are hurling ideological grenades that obliterate our hearts – and no wonder we protect! Our sense of identity and groundedness in who we are is what’s at stake – we’re fighting for our lives!
So how do we salvage human connection? How do we push back on this social death, and breathe life back into our humanity? At the very least, it begins with us individually laying down our shields and weapons – our words and labels of condemnation – so that we can risk the vulnerable task of listening to one another again. But, this will prove an impossible task until each of us have done the work of asking, who am I apart from my politics? Until we have a groundedness in who we are that comes from something other than our rigid tribes, we will always be fighting for our lives and contributing to the divide.
Do you find yourself quick to hurl labels on Facebook? Do you notice your internal scoff when that person walks by you, or pops up in your social media feed? Do you find yourself retreating more and more feeling like the only safe place is with people exactly the same as yourself? If so, perhaps the way you view yourself is not as confident and grounded as you thought.
If you want freedom from these places, it is possible – but you will not find it alone. We are social creatures, and we need one another to know and be known. If you’d like a partner on that journey as you seek an identity leading to freedom and connection, I invite you to give me or one of my colleagues a call – we would love to join you and walk with you together as we journey toward new hope.
 Tim Keller, “Modern Identities”, Gospel In Life (New York, NY: November 2017), accessed at https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/modern-identities/.
 Brené Brown, “The power of vulnerability”, TED Talks (Houston, TX: January 2011), accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o&t=613s.