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I Vote Zombie

Lately I've been inundated (mostly on Facebook) with the Pirates vs. Zombies (or Ninjas) phenomenon. I even just looked at a photo gallery of a big event in Minneapolis where people took to the streets as Pirates and Zombies in some sort of mock war against each other. This is quite a big deal going on right now, but I haven't gotten involved in it. Still, I have to wonder what is fueling this circus of wackiness and I think it just occurred to me.

We are obviously in some sort of strange culture war right now. It seems that popular culture is demanding that you be on one side or the other. Even popular media guys who have criticized this phenomenon have ended up participating in it themselves, like John Stewart. He brilliantly lambasted the Crossfire personnel for what they were doing to the American discourse, but lately he seems to be slowly becoming some of that himself by relentlessly ridiculing anything that even remotely treads into an intellectual area he has obviously claimed. But, this post is not a commentary on John Stewart. It is notable, however, that a certain news network felt the need to counter his show with the "Half-Hour News Hour." Just the continuation of people taking stands and doing nothing but jabbing at each other.

I was recently invited to be on the radio in Manhattan to talk about Cats for Christ. A great opportunity, right? I took some time to research the show I would be interviewed on and found that its entire format, and host, was a highly politically extreme polemic-spewing talkfest. So I met with the host and politely turned him down, because, frankly, I do not want God's mission associated with any part of the rabid clenched-teeth socio-political bullcrap that is consuming America right now.

It occurred to me sometime in high school that we seem to be a culture that thrives in the extremes. It even shows up in the little ways that we talk: "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen" usually just means "I like that." We thrive on words like "always," and "never," and there is a two-option classification system for everything: it's either "best or worst," "black or white," "good or evil," or, *CRINGE*, "liberal or conservative." Many of our cultural (i.e. political, religious, media) leaders stake their intellectual and/or moral claim in some kind of pre-defined ideological camp and immediately start firing weapons at whatever the "other side" is. Discourse is immediately shoved aside in favor of the fight for ideological victory against enemies who are obviously evil and bent on destroying you and eroding all of society with them.

I wish I was just thinking of one or two examples here that truly were extreme and outside of the norm. But I am growing weary because this is what I am seeing time and time again almost every day. Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken. Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann. Rabid Anti-war protesters and "glass parking lot" campaigners. Fred Phelps and Gay Pride Parades. "Everybody should be Christian and Republican" (that one was on TV today) and "religion is the scourge of society." "Kill the terrorists!" and "9/11 was an inside job." "Gay Marriage Now!" and "God Hates Fags!"

It is no shock or surprise that extreme positions exist. Always have, always will. But what is concerning me is the overwhelming pressure that seems to exist that you must be on one side or the other, and not only that, be at war with the "other side." There is even a Facebook widget that will determine if you are **CRINGE** "liberal" or "conservative." But this wouldn't be half as bad if it didn't overtly mean that if you are labeled "liberal" that "conservatives" are your arch-enemy seeking to war-monger and legislate your morals. Similarly, if you are "conservative," "liberals" are apparently socialists only seeking to destroy the very fabric of society with cultural poison. But what makes me sad the most is not seeing these messages pushed from street corners or ratings-whoring talk shows, but proclaimed from the real leaders of our nation, political and otherwise. Especially in these early days of the looming presidential race, we have potential candidates from across the political spectrum, er, I mean divide, who are shamelessly and desperately pandering to their "base." "Conservatives" are doing everything possible to prove how "conservative" they are and "liberals" doing likewise. Candidates (one in particular) who have managed to carve out stances unique to their views that happen to draw from multiple points on the ideological scale are getting panned mercilessly for not being "black enough" or "conservative enough." Presidents are now decided upon based on extreme, unanswerable hot button issues rather than their competency to lead an do what is best for all of America. Which way one goes on abortion is more important than fiscal policy, foreign relations, domestic development, social programs, experience, ability to govern, and popular awareness. We have a system whose leaders are largely determined by single issues and labels rather than the competency of the individual. Party-line voting proves this. Many draw their identity from the fact that "I am a Democrat" or "I am a Republican" rather than "I am someone who thinks for myself at all times." And Libertarians, you guys are just as bad.

But, this discussion was hardly just about politics. Actually, it was about Pirates and Zombies. In a way, that whole phenomenon seems to be an outlet for the huge need to pick a side in a completely made-up war and fight it with all your might and creativity. Why do you decide to be a Pirate or Zombie? Usually for completely ridiculous, arbitrary reasons. But the funny thing is, the longer you hold onto that label, the more you believe that you are the superior and the harder you fight and the more you invest into the war. But, to the outsider, it all seems a bit ridiculous and far-fetched. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that Pirates vs. Zombies is nearly as stupid as what we are doing with the culture war.

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Blogger Ruth Erin - 8:10 PM

It is what it is. Sometimes it's easier to pick a side and let people judge you for it, like they would do anyway. At the end of the day people are still going to draw their own conclusions.    

Anonymous Steven Gaines - 12:05 PM

Ah, extremes. I like being an extreme person. But when I look honestly at the Bible, I don't see Jesus taking extreme positions on very many issues like what we see in our culture (and the church) today. I pray that God's Spirit will lead us to be extremist about Christ's extremes and to calm down about our own extremes. Deo gloria.    

Blogger Ashley - 9:33 AM

I have felt this way for most of my life, but you've done a better job verbalizing it than I would have. Not only am I politically independent on paper, I also tend to find myself in the middle regarding daily life situations.

It's not always easy, though. The middle is lonely territory. Extreme camps regard moderates as much the enemy as the other pole. Sometimes more so. Sometimes those on one extreme respect their arch-enemies on the other more than they do those in the middle, because "at least they're willing to take a stand for what they believe in." So their logic goes. Sometimes people find it hard to accept that moderation can be a deliberately-chosen, emotionally- and intellectually-satisfying, and passionately-defended position as much as the extremes.

At the same time, it is true that some things do come in dichotomies with no middle ground - like good & evil, God & Satan, "sheep" & "goats." No one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ; you're either in him or not. It's ironic that our society pressures us to pick sides on inconsequential issues, but when it comes to real salvation, the pressure is to affirm all religions as equally valid. The devil is reveling in the deception.

Meanwhile, within Christianity, the partisanship of churches threatens to weaken the gospel. I heard this in a sermon yesterday, and thought it was good: Churches struggle with a balance between two apparent extremes - grace and truth. You'll find "truth" churches that insist on correct beliefs and whose mission it is to correct the beliefs of all others in error, though they often lack love and mercy. You'll also find "grace" churches who emphasize acceptance, love, and tolerance, but they are often reluctant to convict people of sin. Rarely will you find "grace and truth" churches that embody a balance of both qualities. And yet our Lord Jesus Christ himself "came from the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

Like Steven said, we need to "be extremist about Christ's extremes and to calm down about our own extremes."

Sure is easier said than done, though.    

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