- Dawn at the Desert Retreat House-
Yesterday I came across a "year-end" summary of some of the major events that occurred in America in 2014, suggesting that this has been a year of "deep divisions" in this country. Unfortunately I think that this observation is quite accurate.
This past year we became more and more racially divided over issues such as police brutality and the failure to indict White police officers. In this past year the "culture wars" have intensified, conservative against liberal, rich against poor, citizen against immigrant, the "Tea Party" and the "Green Party." On the religious front, the emergence of an aggressive strain of new atheists have gone to battle with theist believers, both sides digging in their heels, and the ugly face of religious fundamentalism has once again raised its ugly head as Christians do battle with Muslims, Jews against Palestinians.
It seems to me that more and more people have retreated into the protection of their own fortified camps talking only to those who think alike, each camp sure that they are right and the other side is wrong, that they possess the light of truth and the other side lingers in an uniformed darkness.
But, as I see it, this retreat into rigidly autonomous camps of "right and wrong" is a sure formula for failing in the pursuit of deeper truth and greater wisdom.
Truth and wisdom emerge out of dialogue among people who are different.
I am reminded of a trip we took to Greece several years ago, and I vividly remember standing in the middle of the ancient Greek Agora located in the center of Athens. The Agora was an ancient marketplace for buying and selling, but more than that, it was a place for the lively exchange of ideas. People like Aristotle and Plato would "set up shop" in a corner of the Agora and engage in dialogue about their philosophies of the world, renowned scientists, poets and mathematicians like Pythagoras could daily be found peppered throughout this marketplace venue. Even Saint Paul was said to have visited there, not so much to preach the gospel but to engage in a conversation about his newly emerging vision of a faith which would ultimately come to be known as Christianity.
The interesting thing about the Agora was that no one came there to deliver a diatribe about the correctness of their point of view, nor to judge those who thought differently. They came to the Agora to share their thoughts - ideas that were often challenged by those who disagreed. The now well-established philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, the mathematical theorems of Pythagoras, even the theology of Saint Paul virtually "emerged" out of those Agora dialogues - ideas formed and fashioned out of interaction with different others with differing perspectives.
As a matter of fact, the very idea of a "democracy" that we so much take for granted today "emerged" out of sometimes fairly- heated conversation and debate among people with many different points of view over what could work best for how societies might govern themselves to promote the common good.
After I read the news report about 2014 being a year of "deep divisions," I thought to myself that if there is to be any hope for our survival as a nation we need to rediscover the "Agora" once again in our own time and in our own place. Perhaps instead of using social media as a vehicle for promoting the ideas of our own individual "camp" and attacking those who differ, the internet might be able to become a modern-day technological "marketplace" for lively exchange, an Agora where disagreements can be aired but also respected, a place where "truth" might emerge.
I don't know, maybe this is asking too much of a self-focused, me-first culture in which so many of us are so absolutely sure we possess the true way, and yet one would think that if so-called primitive people like the ancient Greeks could have done this thousands of years ago, a sophisticated modern society such as ours should able to do the same - otherwise we are surely on a slippery slope.
I have a note card on my desk:
It's an adventure not an axiom,
a story still unfolding, not a tale already told.