After We Agree to Disagree

March 11, 2010

Yes, we disagree... Sometimes people get the idea that people who encourage talk believe that any conflict can be "resolved" if people just talk about it. "Resolved" as in settled, compromised, fixed, over. No, and again, no. Sometimes there is real, genuine disagreement about core, irreducible things.

Two pieces I read this week point to two such areas. One, by Salem Web Network columnist Joseph C. Phillips, lays out his fundamental disagreement with liberal Christians about whether or not Christians ought to be trying to change anything other than individual behavior, the latter being the only legitimate Biblical mandate in his view. In his words, "spiritual redemption and political liberty are secured through individual virtue." Hence Christian initiatives against climate change, for government antipoverty programs, and the like are wrong. Here's a big difference of view based on profound differences in theology and Biblical interpretation.

The other is an E.J. Dionne column in the Washington Post arguing that the hand wringing about partisanship ignores the distinct and opposing beliefs reflected in differences about approaches to health care reform. Dionne writes, "Democrats on the whole believe in using government to correct the inequities and inefficiencies the market creates, while Republicans on the whole think market outcomes are almost always better than anything government can produce."

To acknowledge the reality of starkly contrasting views about important things is rational. But then there's the next question. What next? How do we coexist, get on with life, handle pressing problems—in the presence of deep difference?

That question is really important to talk about. Always. No matter how fundamental the divides. Because the answer really matters—on both the personal and collective level. In the manner in which we "wage disagreement," do we maintain our personal integrity? Do we act in accordance with our values? And do we maintain our collective viability and act in recognition of the fact that we are all, inescapably, co-stewards of our community and national life and that, together, we are responsible for the continued health of our democratic system?