Meeting the Challenge of Deep Differences Part 1: Facing the Challenge

Part 1 of a series of posts by Cameron McAllister which will examine the contemporary responses to deep differences. To begin this series, Cameron looks at the ways in which key distinctions are often minimized or erased in order to accommodate competing worldviews.

In his book, The Global Public Square, Os Guinness raises a crucial question: “How do we live with our deepest differences, especially when those differences are religious and ideological, and very especially when those differences concern matters of our common public life?”[1] The recent attacks that took place in London, Manchester, and Jakarta add a fresh note of urgency to Guinness’s inquiry. These atrocities make it all too clear that the challenge of deep differences goes well beyond our incessant culture warring to encompass matters of life and death.

Sadly, these recent attacks are not unusual, and are in fact becoming a kind of sickening “new normal.” Many of us feel helpless as we continue to watch these horrendous events unfold, and deeper questions soon give rise to more practical ones: How do we respond? What can we do?

For starters, I’ve continually made the case that Christians need to lead the way in recovering civil disagreement. There’s little room for social progress if we can’t discuss the issues that divide us. This endeavor begins on a grassroots level: In our homes, churches, and workplaces, we must persistently model kindness and civility in our conversations, especially when those conversations involve contentious subjects, like sex, race, politics, and religion. We need not abdicate firmness and conviction, but we have no business trying to get even. Our culture prioritizes having the last word; Christians aim to love their neighbors in all circumstances. Again, this doesn’t necessarily preclude confrontation, but it does mean that the primary motivation is always to care for the other person.

A second step involves taking a closer look at how contemporary culture deals with the starkest manifestations of deep differences. Current explorations of this question in North America frequently confine themselves to shifting sexual mores and identity politics, while the challenge of religious extremism receives scant attention. As pressing as these various social issues are, religious extremism undoubtedly constitutes one of the most serious challenges to social order. Any inquiry that ignores this threat is incomplete. If we want to gain a deeper understanding of how current culture deals with deep differences, we need to take stock of the contemporary response to religious extremism.

In what follows, I offer a series of blog posts examining the contemporary responses to deep differences. In part one, I look at the ways in which key distinctions are often minimized or erased in order to accommodate competing worldviews. Part two explores the stark reality of living in a post-9/11 world. One of the major consequences of this reality is that we can no longer afford to pretend that deep differences don’t matter. The stakes are much too high for breezy dismissals and casual bromides about all religions being fundamentally the same. Part three argues that the ostensible celebration of diversity explored in part one amounts to a covert form of cultural assimilation, one that prioritizes Western individualism over any kind of wholehearted religious devotion. Finally, in part 4-6, I’ll make the case that the Christian church provides the most holistic answer to the challenge of deep differences.

These are not safe topics, but no conflict was ever solved by ignoring the source and nature of said conflict. In short, we need to talk about the deepest areas of division in our culture if we hope to move forward. My aim here is to foster a serious but constructive conversation.

Cameron McAllister is an itinerant speaker and writer with RZIM and host of RZIM's weekly podcast Vital Signs.

[1] Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013), 13.

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