Monday, September 26, 2016

A Spirituality of Debate

"An Open Field"
- in the Wilderness - 

Over 100 million people are expected to watch this evening’s presidential election “debates” here in the United States;  but to be honest, I’m not at all sure that tonight’s event will be a “debate” so much as a media circus in which armed warriors from opposing sides do their best to crush and annihilate one another – all of which will then be followed by the endless babble of political punditry about which side won the battle?

We live in an age in which the citizenry seems to have retreated into something like “armed camps” – most everyone huddled together with like-minded people sure that they are right and the other side is wrong, each camp fighting to be more powerful than the other. The people on the opposing sides rarely interact with the other side except on the proverbial battlefield as they hurl barbs and insults at each other - vile Twitter feeds and incendiary Facebook posts

My guess is that this evening’s “debates” will very much reflect what is going on in our  contemporary culture nowadays as General Clinton and Commander Trump meet on the field of battle.  They are both armed and ready, for months their coaches and advisors have been training them for tonight’s brutal fight at which 100 million people will have ringside seats.  In the end somebody will emerge as the winner (of course each side will claim that they were the ultimate victor in the fight.)

Unfortunately, regardless of who is eventually elected president, the raging battle between opposing camps will not come to end and may indeed only get worse when the November election is over.

It seems to me that we need to develop a spiritualty of dialogue and a renewed understanding of healthy debate if we are ever to survive as a nation.

I vividly remember a trip we took to Greece some years ago where we visited the ancient Agora located in the center of Athens. In the fifth century BC, the Agora was a public marketplace where merchants from around the region would come to sell their wares; but the Agora was far more than a place for of buying and selling. It was also a place where people gathered to meet one another for a lively exchange of ideas.

Many different politicians, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and religious authorities would come into the Agora to publicly engage in dialogue and debate with each other. They had many different points of view but their dialogue was always respectful. They not only spoke their minds but they also listened to one another. They didn’t always agree and sometimes they even had to agree to strongly disagree.

It was in and through this kind of respectful dialogue and healthy debate that greater truth and deeper wisdom emerged and this is what I mean when I talk about spirituality of debate: the emergence of deeper wisdom by honestly sharing opposing truths in a spirit of mutual respect.

I honestly see little if any signs that a spirituality of dialogue and debate exists in our culture and it worries me that this may be symptomatic of a society in deep distress, maybe on the verge of collapse.

I am reminded of something Wendell Berry once said:

‘Every man for himself’ is a doctrine for a feeding frenzy
or for a panic in a burning nightclub
appropriate for sharks or hogs or perhaps a cascade of lemmings.
A society wishing to endure must speak the language of care-taking,
kindness, neighborliness and peace.

As I see it, if dialogue is dead and honest debate is no longer possible then we have become little more than a bunch of barbarian gangs with each of us feuding over our own special interests, and the lesson of history teaches us that barbarian societies rarely enjoy a long life.

I came across a line from one of my favorite “Rumi” poems:

Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field,
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about ideas.
Even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense

I guess I plan on watching the so-called “debates” tonight but I’d rather instead that we all  unplug for a while and just sit next to each other in a grassy field beyond ideas of right and wrong where even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.

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