A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“I feel a strong desire to tell you – and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me – which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies upon your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors (p. 186).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Lewis did not make this statement primarily about politics, but I believe it can apply to any setting where one person (or group of people) believes he is right simply because he is opposing someone else who he believes to be wrong.
Most two party debates take on this nature: Democrat vs. Republican, God’s sovereignty vs. man’s free will, nature vs. nurture in shaping human behavior, etc… We begin to live as if the strength / validity of one rules out any legitimacy of the other.
The result is that (with time) the weaknesses of each position become inflamed and emboldened as acquiescing to the other side is viewed as “making a deal with the devil.” Soon one answer (or type of answer) is believed to be best for all questions. What would be absurd in an isolated conversation becomes “essential” in an entrenched two party debate.
Does this mean we cannot or should not have positions in cultural or theological debates? Not at all. In each of the three debates listed above I generally prefer one position over the other.
The point is that is it as wrong to say that both positions in most two party debates are right as it is to say that one position is exclusively right. When we come to this point we are able to hold our positions and have a real conversation. When we embrace this level of humility we are able to screen our own position with comparable scrutiny as we screen the other position.
We begin to ask, which type of issues / questions is each position best suited to answer and why? We begin to see how the goodness of what we are for affects how we weigh what our “opponent” is for. Partial goodness blinds us to truth and wisdom.
We begin to miss that God designed a plurality of leadership (elders in the church; mimicked by branches of government in the United States) to balance the fallen human tendency to debate pairs and miss the truth/wisdom in the middle.
What does this mean practically? It means we should strive to become better listeners, especially to those with whom we disagree. Most of our bad communication (political, personal, marital, and in the church) is not primarily because of what we say but because of how poorly we listen before we speak.
It does not mean that we should necessarily change our convictions. But if we listen well (with humility and presenting the good intentions that those with whom we disagree have in an accurate way) we will sharpen the strengths and blunt the weaknesses in our own position. The result will be that we significantly lessen the effect of Satan’s strategy of sending errors in pairs.