I grew up in a worldview where the stakes for being wrong could not be higher. If one was in error, you were damned to hell for eternity by a loving God. The flavor of Lutheranism I was raised in wasn’t just about moralistic living, but also about adhering to correct doctrine (doctrine = legalistic understanding of church teachings). One could easily be in violation of doctrine AND moralisms at any given time. For example, if Jesus decided to come back and I had forgotten to ask for forgiveness for thinking about a naked person, tough luck. Or if I disagreed with the doctrine of infant baptism, same result. I was ultimately responsible for how I responded to the “free grace” of Jesus. It was on me.
Not everyone will understand this way of seeing the world. If you haven’t been a Christian you may see the illustration above as yet one more reason not to entertain the idea of entering a church. If you were raised in a more healthy church, you may be boggled by the fear.
The truth is whenever we entertain a worldview where the stakes of being wrong are high we can never find peace. Even those with a worldview of pre-determinism (Calvinism, certain scientific theories, etc…) don’t feel at peace with the uncertainty of maybe being in the wrong. For example, what good Calvinist would truly feel at peace if a loved one rejects Jesus and thinking it’s just God’s pre-determined plan? Or someone falling into a cycle of abuse, or self-harm? Also, if God has already decided who is saved and who isn’t, how can one be absolutely sure one is saved?
Of course there are intellectual answers one can give for these questions and fears. Yet these answers only serve to build up the high stakes worldview one has agreed to or constructed.
Let’s take this in another direction.
If you believe that all we have is this life and that the individual has to be center of society, any step toward mysticism or reevaluation of the rights of the individual is a bridge too far. If you are wrong then it could lead to the end of a balanced environment and to suffering for the individual. If we don’t act now on issues pertaining to the environment, education, sexual freedom, and climate change we are all doomed.
No space can be given to the Other who disagrees with you; and the Other who holds their high stakes views will not give space either.
When I don’t allow myself the grace to be wrong about something, I cannot hope to find a healthy compromise with those I disagree with. The only way I can is to lower the stakes.
The other way I can lower the stakes is to refuse to use words like “enemy” and “them” when referring to whom I am in disagreement. Labels such as these cannot produce anything other than animosity, distrust, and fear (any label has the ability to do this: “social conservatives,” “Trump supporters,” “cucks,” “liberal elites,” etc.). For example, vilifying all white men as “Trump supporters” and “bigots” are dehumanizing oversimplifications which will not lead to any common ground being found. The same is true for those who use terms like “feminazis” and “liberals.” How can one allow for common ground with a “bigot” or a “feminazi?”
The high stakes of my upbringing have been crumbling in my mind for the past twenty years as I have gotten to know people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I know, or have met, people in most political spheres, sexual orientations, religious expressions, and economic classes. Being exposed to so much diversity of thought has made those stakes of my youth fall apart.
It has broken my heart to see my country devolve into “Us vs. Them” brawls where truth is relative to one’s point of view and facts are the same as opinions. In our country there is no common ground for an understanding of marriage, if one agrees with marriage equality those opposed will immediately label them a “destroyer of marriage and American values,” and if one disagrees with homosexual unions they are “a hateful bigot.” How can the stakes be any higher for either side? Those who agree with marriage equality want to see those who disagree punished, and vice versa. How can we reach across the divide?
I don’t think there is a silver bullet. No one statement or law can bring about the return to civility and an understanding of the commonweal. No one politician who can bring about compromise and a return to respect for facts. No one way of seeing the world which is fully “right.”
For me, and I think for others, the answer lies in a two fold response. First, admitting to myself that the stakes are too high and I need to allow for the grace to be wrong. Second, exposing myself to stories, conversations, and experiences with strangers. Learning about the Other can lead me to better understand myself and open my eyes to the humanity I share with them. They have wants and desires, so do I. Can we find a place where we are willing to compromise some of those wants and desires for our mutual benefit? I sincerely hope we can.
Compromise is the work of Democracy. Finding common ground is part of that work. Arguing a point is also part of the work, but it must be done in the Democratic Spirit (always being open to the possibility of being wrong). I look around me and I see a Country unwilling to compromise. Unwilling to see the humanity in the Other.
The high stakes of my Lutheran upbringing still exist. I’ve made peace with the fact that I now hold views that are not in line with the pseudo-orthodoxy of its doctrine. I’ve made peace with the fact that I may be going to hell if indeed I am wrong. Yet, in the name of democracy and the commonweal, I cannot continue to hold high stakes views. I know I am not alone, but most days it sure feels like I am.