Why are we so divided?

Why are we so divided?


Can't we just agree to disagree? Wouldn't that be nice? Maybe it's not so easy.

I had the privilege of teaching history, especially world history, to high school students for 40 years. During those years I became increasingly impressed with the importance of perspective, a person's expression of their worldview.

Throughout history it was just as important to know who was telling the story as it was the story itself. Indeed, there is truth in the saying, "One man's terrorist is another man's patriot." The actual event could have radically different meaning and significance, depending on who's telling the story. A person's worldview profoundly affects the way they see life and also the way they live life.

Approximately 40 years ago, noted philosopher/ theologian Francis A. Schaeffer sought to establish a basis for knowing truth. And based on that truth, he also wanted a firm foundation for living in this very real world. He felt that the worldview resting on this foundation must comport with reality (the way things really are).

In 1968, Schaeffer published "The God Who is There" to establish his starting point. He proposed that God (with a capital G) is not just a wish, desire, a great idea or anyone's opinion, but that HE really, truly is THERE (in all the fullness of that word).

Upon that foundational truth, Schaeffer published "He is There and He is Not Silent" in 1972. In that book, Schaeffer proposed that the God who is there has also revealed (spoken) to us all that we require to know him and live in this world that he has created.

He has spoken truth to us by what he has made, by his inerrant Word, and by God-incarnate Jesus Christ. None of these revelations are contradictory, since that would violate God's character. For Schaeffer, having the correct foundation provides the basis for having correct beliefs and behaviors.

Schaeffer was concerned with people living out their worldview in a consistent way. There are five big questions, the carefully considered answers which define all of us as humans and affect the way we live as individuals and in community.

1. Who am I? A question of identity and significance.

2. From where did I come? A question of origins.

3. Why am I here? A question of purpose.

4. What happens when I die? A question of destiny.

5. How should I then live? A question of direction.

Since beliefs affect behaviors, Schaeffer produced a third book, "How Should We Then Live," in 1976. If Schaeffer is correct, and I believe he is, we have a coherent basis for our beliefs concerning reality, and a firm foundation for living our lives accordingly. Those three books (and others) radically changed my life.

When Schaeffer presented these ideas, people had three distinct responses, like they do for any set of propositions. History seems to show that these responses occur for any and all events and/or truth claims. Many will say, "Yes, I agree." And many will say, "No, I disagree," perhaps offering some other opinion. And many will say, "I don't know, and I don't care."

Throughout history, these three responses shaped the way people see and relate to the world, and they even affect the world's story itself. These contrary voices, dealing with significant events and issues, may help explain why we are so divided. The division is at a foundational level, even though we may not consciously realize it. Let me offer for now just one example of how events can have radically different perceptions.

In 31 B.C., Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian vanquished his rivals and became ruler of Rome. By 27 B.C., he had pacified Rome, and the Senate proclaimed him Augustus (highly exalted). In essence, Octavian (a man) became a god. Many said, “Yes, I agree." And many said, "No, I disagree" and paid the price. And many said, "I don't know, and I don't care," pretending nothing had changed.

At about the same, in a conquered Roman territory, a child was born. That child is God-incarnate Jesus (Emmanuel, God with us). Many said, “Yes, I agree" and paid the price. And many said, "No, I disagree." And many said, "I don't know, and I don't care."

For Rome, Octavian's exaltation changed an empire. For humanity, Jesus' incarnation changed eternity. And many said …

Steve Handley lives in Billings.

The Faith & Values column appears Saturdays in The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; The Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 5910, or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to solp@billingsgazette.com.

History seems to show that these responses occur for any and all events and/or truth claims. Many will say, "Yes, I agree." And many will say, "No, I disagree," perhaps offering some other opinion. And many will say, "I don't know, and I don't care."


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