I heard someone predict years ago that we soon would be entering a time when what is solid will be liquid, what is certain would be uncertain, what we see with our eyes could not be trusted. Nothing will be as it appears. The result? Chaos and conflict.
I think we are there.
A video was released of Stanley Kubrick, a prominent film-maker (now deceased) who made a death-bed confession that, under contract for the US government, made an elaborate film of a the initial moon landing. We all thought it was real, but it was an elaborate hoax to fulfill Kennedy's challenge and undermine the Russians. (Whether or not the video itself is counterfeit is another discussion). So real or not real? I don't know.
A Muslim couple shot up a government office party in San Bernadino. Or, at least we thought it was an American Muslim man and his immigrant Muslim wife. Reports are now circulating that some witnesses identify the shooters as three, not two, and tall, white males, not a short, slight woman and an Arabic looking man. Real or not real? I don't know.
A year from now, we'll elect a president, which means that we have been in the pre-primary stage of information overload, awash in claims and counterclaims, truths and lies, accusations and denials. Even so-called fact-checkers (like Politi-Fact and Snopes) seem to themselves need fact-checking. Spin is the name of the game. Polls are twisted and re-interpreted, assertions are made, blatant falsehoods are presented all to manage the reactions and perceptions of the populace. What is real? I often don't know.
Do most Muslims subscribe to Sharia and are they out to undermine America and attack us from the inside out? Is the economy about to collapse under the weight of its own $18 trillion debt, or is it just business as usual with the usual Chicken Littles squawking doom and gloom? Will Donald Trump bring stability and a strong voice to a crumbling civilization, or will he ignore the Constitution and act pragmatically as the exact, conservative alter-ego to Obama? I'm not sure.
Living in the fog of uncertainty and confusion, and not committed to thinking critically, most people gravitate to harder edges of arguments and quickly express emotional responses, and ad-hominem arguments ("you're a @#$%"). Absent of any sense of curiosity about the other person's reasons and arguments, they choose to express rather than listen, to speak before understanding, and so fulfill the Proverb, "It is foolish and shameful to answer before listening." (18:13).
So the solutions proposed (or being enacted) on a national scale are breathtaking:
"Ban all Muslims."
"Ignore the Constitution."
"Increasingly restrict weapons."
"Censor the Internet."
"More government programs."
"No government programs."
"Let anyone immigrate into the United States."
"Close all the borders."
"Meet violence with violence."
It's hard to be nuanced when verbal grenades are being lobbed, and innocents are actually getting killed. But if there ever was a time when we needed to listen first, and (in Steven Covey's words) "seek first to understand before being understood," it is now.
Is everything just a matter of personal preference and one’s perspective? Hardly. Truth does exist. Many of our positions can be judged as more or less accurate to the facts, which are usually measurable and knowable. Even when talking about solutions, there are bad and better positions based on statable values and priorities. And I can be wrong about things I feel deeply about.
I do have some convictions about most of the issues floating around today, though some I really am at a loss about what to believe or do.
As a Christian, I believe we can never be "know-it-alls," only "know-enoughs." I believe every person matters or no one matters. I'm convinced that "God so loved the world..." I also believe that government was divinely-ordained to protect people and promote justice, and should be accountable, not all-powerful. I also believe that even if 300 million people believe in a dumb idea, it's still a dumb idea.
A lot of the issues are complex, and we might not agree on many of them because of our convictions and presuppositions. But with a dose of humility and respect, in an environment of free speech, we can listen to each other, learn from each other and show respect to each other.
When civilization stops being civil, it is flirting with being over.