“When I was in high school in Oklahoma in the 1960s, my best friend was a fellow adolescent intellectual. We had lots in common, but at the time I was a liberal . . . and he was a conservative.” Thus begins a recent post from a scholar named Gene Veith, whose work I follow. But listen to the shocking statement which follows.
“We loved to argue politics. (You might think by today’s standards that it is impossible for people who disagree with each other politically to be friends, let alone best friends, but trust me, this happened back in those days.)”
It happened in those days . . .
I pity those too young to have experienced this wonder. In today’s viciously partisan culture, it is difficult to imagine we once shared such authentic humanity. As I recently wrote, even families are being torn apart by the spirit of judgment and division that reigns today.
There is one being who rejoices at this bitterness, vitriol and hatred.
Meanwhile, Jesus weeps.
Mutual Respect in the Olden Days
It used to be normal for people of goodwill to respect the consciences of those who thought differently.
People of strong convictions, like C.S. Lewis, could publicly and privately debate others without reproach or ad hominem arguments. There was a desire to persuade one’s counterpart to see things as you did. But it was absent the vile bile that spews every day across America and much of the rest of our angry world.
During WWII, C.S. Lewis began the Socratic Club, a debate society, at Oxford University. I have mentioned the group briefly in the past. Lewis explained his reasoning for helping establish the group in the first issue of the Socratic Digest.
In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into coteries where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumour that the outsiders say thus and thus.
The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.
I commend to you two articles available online that (1) reveal the rich history of the Socratic Club, and (2) a biographical sketch of Chaplain Stella Aldwinckle, who first envisioned and shepherded the organization.
Four years ago I wrote a column encouraging greater civility in religious conversations. I said:
It would be a good thing for us individually and as members of a pluralistic world, to treat one another with civility. As a Christian, I can confess for my brothers and sisters that we do not always do so. Let us strive to do better.
Today I wish to extend that thought to all conversations, political, medical, and otherwise. We must reverse the path we are on. And, with God’s grace, we must do so sooner rather than later.
[In the article “My Experience with Conservative Atheism,” source of the anecdote with which I began, Veith discusses Libertarian atheist Ayn Rand. I have written about her in the past at Mere Inkling, noting how deeply she despised C.S. Lewis.]