The Truth is in the Middle
My students know that I’m a big fan of the middle way, the via media. I’m a firm believer that the best place to be is in the balance between the extremes. Historically, what we call “orthodoxy” usually turns out to be a position in the middle between extreme alternatives. For example, there have always been those who diminished or denied the divinity of Christ, on the one hand – and those who diminished or denied the humanity of Christ on the other hand. Orthodoxy, then, is the refusal to emphasize one to the detriment of the other. It’s the acceptance of both. In this case, the mainstream Church has historically affirmed both natures of Christ – that he is both human and divine. It works this way for many aspects of theology, and even where there seem to be contradictory statements in Scripture, the Church has traditionally asked, not which of them is true, but how can they be interpreted so that both are true.
In fact, I would argue that it works for pretty much everything, whether you’re talking about religion, politics, or anything else. The truth is in the middle. But I should clarify, when I say the “middle,” I don’t mean the “average” or the place where most people are. The middle way is not the consensus of the masses. Instead, the middle is a place where we find balance, and live with paradox, rather than force a choice between one extreme or the other.
In Spiritual Blueprint, I propose that we should regularly ask ourselves, “What would Goldilocks do?” (WWGD). Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Papa Bear and Mama Bear represent the extremes, with Goldilocks always looking for that happy medium that was, “just right.” I think the moral of the story is that reality is always more complicated than a simple either/or solution. The universe is full of mystery, even paradox. This means that most of the time the easy answers are not the right answers. In last week’s post I hinted that part of the equation that leads to intolerance, hatred and violence is religious fundamentalism. Of course fundamentalism doesn’t only have to be on the extreme right. There is a kind of fundamentalism that exists on the extreme left as well. That’s because at the heart of the definition of the word, “fundamentalism” is the concept of “fundamentals” – those non-negotiables held so tightly that our white knuckled grip causes us to squint so hard we don’t see the whole picture. Or, to put it in religious terms, the fundamentals are those assumptions that are held so dear that even authoritative sacred writings will be interpreted around them so that there is no possibility that the Scriptures contradict the assumptions.
Now, to be fair, we have to admit that we all have our fundamentals. We all have things we would never give up. For me, there are certain elements of what I consider the essentials of my faith on which I would never budge. But true fundamentalism tends to go to the extremes. On the extreme right is a fundamentalism that normalizes religious experience to the extent that those whose experience with God looks different are assumed to have no real experience with God at all. On the extreme left is a fundamentalism that pushes the idea of tolerance to such an extreme that the only sin left is to say that there is such a thing as sin, thereby justifying intolerance of anyone who can be labeled intolerant. Ironic, isn’t it?
All this is to say that it’s my conviction that the best place to be is in the middle. Yes, I admit it – I’m a Goldiloxian. (I spelled it with an “x” because it looks cool that way… hey, it’s my word, I can spell it how I want to.) So I’m calling you to join the Goldiloxian movement. What does it mean to be a Goldiloxian? It means rejecting the simplistic answers of the extremes. No matter what the topic, refuse to accept an all-or-nothing mentality. Whatever the issue, locate the extremes, and then find the middle. Being a Goldiloxian might also mean living with paradox on some issues – embrace the mystery.
The recent election proves my point, I think. No matter what side you were on, you couldn’t help notice that the campaign ads were all negative. Not that this is new, but whatever happened to telling us what’s good about the candidate, rather than telling us what’s bad about the opponent? The candidates are so afraid of alienating anyone who might disagree with them that they never tell you what they really stand for. Instead they just try to make you terrified of what might happen if their opponent wins. And why are they so afraid of alienating people? It’s because the two parties are so polarized that no sane person could accept everything that either party stands for. In fact, the system is hopelessly broken because neither party represents the people any more, and yet no one who is not endorsed by one of the two major parties has a chance to win. If it were up to me, we would have the following laws: 1) No negative ads, just tell us what’s good about you; 2) Everyone spends the same amount on ads, so it’s not simply that the richest candidates win because they can afford more ads; 3) One term only, so you’re not focused more on getting re-elected than on doing your job; 4) Scrap the two major parties. But I digress…
We’re still the greatest country in the world. But the truth lies neither on the left nor on the right. The truth is in the middle. One final example. Last week I said that we are God’s hands, but not God’s fists, and that the Christian response to violence is patience, forgiveness and reconciliation. But does that mean that there is never a justifiable use of force? No, I think that there is still room for self-defense, even when the “self” is a nation. There is still the possibility of the use of force to protect those in danger. Remember the song, “Turn, Turn, Turn”? Yeah, that’s from back when you could write a song based on the Bible and get it played on the radio.
So it’s not as simple as “always” or “never.” In fact, I would say the answer is never “always.” What I mean is, you should always avoid saying “never.” OK, all sarcasm aside, and just so I don’t break my own rule and fall back on absolutes, I will say that in virtually every debate or controversy the best and most reasonable place to land is somewhere in the middle between the extremes. Try this experiment: the next time you’re discussing a controversial topic, ask yourself, What would Goldilocks do?