Back in October, I wrote about the difficulties of dialogue. I offered the observation that the real difference in our society is not between "liberals" and "conservatives" but rather between "idealogues" and "contextualizers." There are right-wing and left-wing idealogues, and they are pretty busy bashing each other over the head with their respective perspective. Most of us, however, are contextualizers, able to see that the different circumstances of our lives have shaped us into who we are and what we believe. Contextualizers may disagree with one another, but at least we can talk together.
(Unfortunately, you have to be an idealogue to make headlines.)
Enter a wonderful column by Ellen Goodman in Wednesday's paper. Goodman draws from Philip Tetlock's book, which in turn uses Isaiah Berlin's essay. (Got that?) Anyway, Berlin uses the characters of the hedgehog and the fox to describe the way people think. Quoting Goodman, "The close-minded hedgehogs are those who know 'one big thing' and relate everything to that single, central vision. The open-minded foxes 'know many little things' and accept ambiguity and contradictions." In public discourse, what we hear most are hedgehogs battling; there is no air time for foxes.
The church has hedgehogs, too. The church is filled with people who believe one big thing, and any evidence to the contrary is minimized or ignored altogether. For example, I would say that a Christian who believes the church is only a social justice agency and minimizes or denies any personal salvific relationship with Jesus is a hedgehog. In addition, a Christian who believes that once you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior everything will be fine and if all the poor, hungry, homeless people would just accept Him too their lives would be better, is also a hedgehog. The question is not whether you are liberal or conservative; the question is whether you are a hedgehog or a fox.
Of course, if the idea in which you stake your belief is big and vague enough, you can make the case that being a hedgehog is a good thing. Like for example, you could say, "The one big thing I believe is that God is love, and everything else is related to that." Or your "one big thing" might be that Jesus is Lord or that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet or that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is reaching out to touch the world with his noodly appendage. But if you make your "one big thing" too broad, it misses the point of the metaphor at hand.
God's world is a wonderfully diverse and ever changing mix of differences, contrasts, and tensions. Each of us chooses how we deal with that reality. Either curl up and put out your spines like a hedgehog, effectively defending yourself against all threat but blind to any goodness. Or engage the ambiguity and difference with cunning and cleverness like a fox, so that your nose might get stuck a time or two but you will grow better from your life experiences.
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