You can’t call America a nation anymore, because that word comes from the Latin born and is defined by Oxford as a body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language.
This was made clear to me last year during Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s home. As he set the steaming turkey on the table, he issued orders to his two dozen guests—all of us either family or close friends—that we all were so divided over politics that the subject was off-limits for discussion.
Our societal brokenness smacked me in the face a second time the other day when I got into a political argument with my youngest grandson—over Bernie Sanders, of all things!
There now two Americas, as columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a few months ago in The New York Times.
In one America, a mentally unstable president elected with the aid of Russian criminality lies to us daily and stirs up bigotry that tears our social fabric.
In the other America, a can-do president is making America great again as lying journalists stir up hatred that tears our social fabric.
Half of Democrats and Republicans alike tell pollsters that they fear the other party.
Facts don’t seem to matter.
Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist at University College London, studies how we process new information. In her book The Influential Mind, she shows that we're open to new information—but only if it confirms our existing beliefs.
Perhaps this is why politics and religion are usually inflammatory and irreconcilable.
Example: the Center for Global Christianity estimates that there are 47,000 denominations. Which brings up the old saw that they all can't be right, but they all can't be wrong either.
Jordan Bates, executive editor of HighExistence online magazine, cites evolution:
- Humans evolved in tight-knit tribes and were dependent on them for survival
- The majority of people today base their political and religious views on tribal identity
- We don’t need tribes for survival today, but for psychological well-being
- We have little choice but to support the ideas of our tribe lest we be excommunicated from a community essential to our identity
The need to belong to a like-minded tribe is not just a psychological concept. A 2014 Pew survey found that half of consistent conservatives and thirty-five percent of consistent liberals say “it’s important to me to live in a place where most people share my political views."
By the way, have you noticed we are the only species that distinguishes right and wrong? Your cat tormenting the roll of toilet paper or your dog eating the chocolate cake you left on the counter? They’re clueless.
And there’s the rub, as Hamlet said. Can you think of much else better than being proved right?
“Nobody ever started a fight because they thought they were wrong,” writes Brian Buccellato, author of Injustice: Gods Among Us.
I believe personal pride is often responsible when the overarching beliefs of our tribes trickle down to the individual level and spark angry disputes among family, acquaintances, and the guy at the bar.
Saint Dorotheus of Gaza, way back in the sixth century, points his finger at pride: “The reason for all disturbance is that no one blames himself.”
It pains me when being in the right in our society’s global conversation affects us as individuals. Example: my heated argument with my grandson, for which I asked the mercy of his forgiveness.
This is why I agree with author Jane Knuth, when she writes, “Mercy in the family is a sign that relationships matter more than being right, more than money or possessions, and more than hanging on to our hurts.”
This is my 250th post since launching Paradise Diaries on June 1, 2013.
If you enjoy reading these essays, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at Amazon.