Us vs. Them

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church

Credit: Karsten H.68 (2010) [CC BY]

I was told in high school that a highlight of post-modernism has been the rejection of binary, “us vs. them” thinking. When my English teacher was feeling especially bold, she called it “the Christian dichotomy.”

What vexes me about her criticism is not so much that it presages a general decline into moral relativism. God knows we’re there already. My real frustration is that it is a disingenuous revolt, an attack against the straw man. Proponents of literary criticism love to superimpose twenty-first century post-Christian lenses on works that were informed and embedded in a Christian (or more Christian) climate. Sadly, while these teachers are extremely well-versed in the doctrines of their own time, they have less than a surface-level understanding of what other people really believe and have believed for two thousand years.

So back to “the Christian dichotomy.” Is there such a thing?

Well, yes. And no.

People well-acquainted with the Christian story know that it is not merely a battle between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. It is a story in which God allows Himself to be tempted by the devil. It is a story in which the the death of God becomes both the most appalling and the most wondrous event in history. It is a story in which the guilty and time-bound are handed innocence and eternity.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.

Dualism is too easy. It’s something that we could have made up, and that, in fact, we have made up. But, a Savior is born, dies, rises, ascends, and then two thousand years go by, and people struggle with the same failings that they’ve always had…? This is not the great history that we would have chosen for ourselves. And remember, today we are obsessed with choosing things for ourselves, convinced that the key to human flourishing lies in a three-word maxim:

You do you. 

At last, there it is, the story we all would have written. A simplistic, dichotomous, “us vs. them” existence that cuts the world into individual packages.

Nothing could be more dissimilar to Christianity, which, as Newman wrote, “is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.”

Christianity transcends binaries. It is not “either/or” but “both/and.” It is not a narrative of dichotomy, but one of transformation.

 

Copyright 2015 Sarah Blake
Image: 7 past 6, Karsten H.68, October 7, 2010, CC.

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2 Comments

  1. Very well written Sarah unfortunately I didn’t understand many of the big words you used but I sort of understood the gist of the whole article. Well done.

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