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A Thought for Today

by Terrell Tebbetts                  

Are you as exasperated as I am with the polarization we see in politics these days? A Lyon alum and friend is sure exasperated. He posted a plea on Facebook last week begging friends to stop posting messages that try to make candidates they oppose look “pathetic” and worse. If you’re on Facebook you know you can’t visit the site a single day without seeing the extreme posts my friend refers to, posts like these from both the right and the left:

• “Obama is the worst President we’ve ever had” (never mind the improved economy).

• Or, “The Republican candidates are clowns” (never mind their successes as governors & senators).

• “Institutional racism is to blame for inner-city poverty” (never mind the drug trade that devastates inner cities).

• Or, “Cultural dysfunction is to blame for inner-city poverty” (never mind the disastrous schools there).

Even published columnists sink to such extremism. Last week the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s John Brummett practically demonized abortion opponents, claiming they “believe women exist as impregnation receptacles and baby-producing vessels.”

I’m sure my readers know many abortion opponents. I’m equally sure they know few if any who believe what Brummett claims they believe.

I also know, if a Gallop poll is accurate, that slightly more women than men oppose abortion. The poll found 21% of women but only 16% of men agreeing that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. Really, Brummett, do these women see themselves thus?

So where is this polarization coming from? I have a couple of suggestions, one technological and one fundamental.

First the technological explanation. Maybe we don’t really have more extremists than ever. Maybe the social media like Facebook are just giving them more exposure.

Twenty years ago, old Uncle Bill might have been a take-no-prisoners political partisan, but other family members weren’t, so we could just shrug and say, “That’s just him.”

And though a few other extremists lived around us, we could avoid them if we didn’t want to hear their views.

But on Facebook the only way to avoid them is to un-Friend them. Maybe we don’t want to do that because we want to see their family news, career moves, and fun activities. So we scroll through postings, and BANG! suddenly we find one claiming that everyone who differs is idiotic and maybe even evil.

More fundamentally, I wonder if polarization has indeed increased and if secularization is partly to blame.

Sure, we Christians have socio-political views and are willing to argue them. But if Christians believe that all people are children of God and that we’re all sinners saved only by God’s grace, how can we demonize those who disagree with us?

But if secularists don’t see themselves and others as children of God, anything goes. They can turn opponents into obnoxious, disposable subhumans they’re free to annihilate, first in words and then in reality if they gain enough power. That’s what the ultimate polarizers, the secular Nazis and the Marxists, have done. Let’s not imitate them!

Terrell Tebbetts is the Martha Heasley Cox Chair in English at Lyon College. He can be reached at