Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the “Polarized Politics Showdown.” In the right corner, we have an African American, conservative, Christian woman who is eager to share the love of Jesus with everyone she encounters. In the left corner, we have a liberal, atheist, Latina who doesn’t believe in any higher power and is not afraid to make her beliefs known to all. Who will leave this battle unscathed and who will leave in a body bag? This is the fight of the century folks, so let’s get ready to rumble!
Now, we all know that life is not a boxing match. It’s not the survival of the fittest as Darwin suggested and it is certainly not a bloodbath in the gladiator arena. Yet, it feels like all of these things whenever we talk to people who have vastly different beliefs than we do. It’s as if we’re all in a cage match trying to come out on top.
Modern society’s “Victimhood Culture” is actively creating barriers to intimacy and connectivity. Instead of seeking to understand each other, we are too busy focused on making sure that our own opinions are absolute. In order to break down the barriers of controversy, we need to start acknowledging different points of view.
Victimhood culture comes from the idea that every worldview is personally offensive to all participants in a discussion.
The rise of victimhood culture is especially present in high schools and on college campuses. Many campuses are overrun by this notion that every belief, whether religious or political, can be controversial.
A recent national undergraduate study shows that “54% of undergraduate students say they often feel intimidated sharing their ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they are different than those of their peers. 62% of conservative students are most likely to feel intimidated because their opinions differ from their peers.”
Even outside of the realm of education, victimhood culture is pervasive in today’s world. How can we overcome these barriers and seek to understand those who believe differently than we do?
It’s possible to speak to someone who has views that are the polar opposite to yours and still manage to avoid coming to blows over the topic. Yes, the conservative, Christian woman can have a civil conversation with a liberal, atheist woman.
In fact, the two can have a strong friendship in which they mutually respect each other. I should know because I experienced this firsthand.
My friend Lori and I met in a unique way: We were sitting in our high school Advanced Placement English class, getting ready to do a group assignment on Toni Morrison’s Beloved. We were asked to examine all the religious themes within the text. Lori was a bit daunted by the task and wondered why the teacher was even assigning it. I was curious as to why Lori was so hostile about the assignment. I didn’t want to do it either, but I also didn’t mind talking about spirituality.
After class, I asked Lori why she was so offended by the assignment.
“I’m an atheist,” she said unapologetically.
She then asked me why I believed in God. I told her that Jesus is my source of hope and that He gives me the strength to go through very difficult situations in life. I also told her about the Gospel and that God loves her despite her past failures.
“I respect that,” she said after I finished my explanation. I also asked her why she didn’t believe in God.
She said, “I see how the world kills people for religion and how the church judges and disowns others for something that is supposed to unite them.”
She also told me about her dad (who is Jewish) and how he was battling a severe illness. She wondered how he could still believe in God even when he was faced with these harsh conditions.
After months of having conversations about our views, Lori and I became good friends. She and I constantly asked each other questions about our beliefs and we had a great time learning more about our differences. One night she called me on the phone crying and asked if I could pray for her and her family.
I was honored by her request and the fact that she was able to be vulnerable with me in spite of our contrasting views on religion. During our first conversation, we could’ve had a heated argument and tried to prove one another wrong.
Instead, we valued each other’s views and sought to treat one another with respect.
I can confidently say that even after high school, our connection is still strong. Our friendship doesn’t have to be an anomaly. If we, as individuals, abandon victimhood culture and start to embrace our humanity, we will become better at being vulnerable and building community.
When we attempt to avoid the risk of being offensive, we harm ourselves by stifling our voices. If we also cave in to the need to be right all the time, we risk losing valuable connections with others. We need to stop fighting against each other and learn to fight alongside one another. Don’t let victimization cause a divide; allow vulnerability to build a bridge.