Political polarization has been a buzzword for quite some time, and it’s not surprising considering the state of politics in many countries. Negative partisanship is at an all-time high, and the light of good citizenship seems to be falling on combative and poisonous politics. However, as Professor Harold Heie highlights in his Ted Talk on public life, the perception of political polarization is a myth.
Exploring the Power of Metaphor
Metaphors are powerful tools for making a point, and Sojourner Truth and Bruce Coburn are examples of individuals who understood this. They used metaphors to talk about issues that were sensitive and difficult to articulate, and it’s something that can be applied in public life today.
The Myth of Political Polarization
Dispelling the myth of political polarization is essential if we want to consider the possibility of a new role for faith in public life. The fact is that political polarization is not as prevalent as it seems. The battle to define America is real, but it is a battle that is closely divided and not deep. Most citizens are located in proximity to each other on countless issues, even the most contentious ones like abortion and same-sex marriage.
Why the Myth of Political Polarization Persists
Despite this reality, the myth of political polarization persists for three reasons. First, political activists are not normal people. They are outliers on the far left and far right. Second, the media focuses on the tails of the curve, the most zealous and passionate members of their respective parties. Third, there is a tendency to confuse issue positions with electoral choices.
Faith in Public Life
Christian conservatives have heeded the call to become more actively engaged in civic life, but their presence has not made it more appealing or attractive. In fact, it has led to a mounting image problem for evangelicals in the current cultural moment. Rather than a misplaced and militant form of patriotism or a retreat into cultural isolation, adopting a more enigmatic posture towards public life of being intentionally covert when it comes to faith may be a better solution.
The Role of the Media in Politics
The media has a significant role to play in the perpetuation of the myth of political polarization. Their preoccupation with elected elites and partisan extremists is understandable, but it makes for infotainment rather than factual reporting. News outlets are economic enterprises, and the focus is often on what sells rather than what is true.
The Power of Citizenship
The power of citizenship is in maintaining a faithful presence in the current political climate. This means living out deeply held convictions through subtle acts of service where heavenly citizens honestly live. The goal is not to shoulder the church to the cultural sidelines, but to adopt a more enigmatic posture towards public life that is intentionally covert when it comes to faith.