Saturday, May 5, 2007

Polemical and Irenical

I often appear more concerned with understanding what is going on than I am with judging it. Why do I seem to avoid labeling something right and something wrong? Despite the relativists, I do not believe right and wrong are fictions and I do believe there is always a right way of living life. When it comes to certain things, things like justice and mercy and the way they are both played out in politics, education and religion, I am very concerned with right and wrong. When it comes to the abstractly philosophical and religious, though, I often reserve judgment, especially when no immediate judgment needs to be made. If I can put of describing something as right or as wrong I will. This, however, suffers from the appearance of relativism. Anyone who is not off categorizing everything he encounters at the very moment he encounters it as right or wrong, good or evil, is often accused of being wishy-washy, of lacking moral backbone, of being modern – or worse, postmodern! – and of chucking the Bible out the window. However, this simply is not true.

There are two types of people in the world and two guiding spirits in them: the polemical and the irenical. The polemical is interested in taking sides, in polarizing people into two camps of opinion, and with being fiercely loyal to certain people, towns, countries and ideas. The polemical divides and conquers, and has an “us versus them” mentality. The irenical is interested in combining ideas, in looking at all sides, in bringing people together, and in being open to new ideas. The irenical adds and plays, and has an “all of us together” mentality.

To the polemicist, the question of right and wrong is always first. In fact, the question is asked and usually answered before whatever is being discussed is fully – or even partially! – understood. This is why the polemicist always considers himself morally superior to the irenicist and why the irenicist cannot talk to him intelligibly.

Fundamentalists are fully convinced. Before they can learn they must be broken of their absolute conceptions and confronted with powerful new ideas that challenge and disturb them. This is why fundamentalists are always wary or hostile of education.

Can an irenicist be religious and still remain irenical? As I see it, the irenicist, and not the polemicist, is more concerned with truth because he is concerned with learning what is right while the polemicist is fiercely concerned with being right. Tragically, he who is absolutely convinced he is right is often furthest from the truth: his devotion to his belief blinds him to all other possibilities. He who admits he does not know is actually prepared to know. This is why those who call themselves religious are often so polemical. Organized Religion demands that its members be absolutely convinced that they are right. Even a shadow of a doubt can disrupt the status quo and upset the hierarchy and control of the system.

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