Middle Ground

Suspicious Recurring Themes

At first glance, religion seems to have a great deal in common with politics. At second glance, it becomes clear that a great deal of what is called “religion” is actually pure, unadulterated politics.

I don’t mean to confine this observation to the United States, or the mixing of religion and politics. I’m referring to the way in which religious ideas are framed, explained, and made palatable. I am referring to the means by which religious ideas are “reconciled” with other facts. Among these techniques, I have noticed one that appears too often to ignore: the middle ground.

It would appear that for every pair of diametrically opposed viewpoints, there is a perfect solution that lies right in the middle. On every occasion that I have witnessed a fierce debate, I have been told by commentators that I need not feel conflicted. I do not need to pick sides, because both sides have some things right, and both sides have some things wrong. Who would have thought! Once I realize this, I can have my cake and eat it too.

It’s a matter of some irony that I am conflicted about this, in and of itself. I have always been attracted to the distilling of clouded jargon into trenchant, pithy statements. My intuition tells me that people muddle the truth because they cannot handle it. It tells me that they paint over dissonance with an epoxy coating of blanket statements that bemoan the complexity of the issue. Yet despite finding them so unattractive, I have accepted the dogma of complexity and “balance” as a solution to many issues.

No, I do not wish to slander the middle ground; I wish only to explain how something having real merit can appear so contrived.

While it is expected that people will be uncomfortable with cold hard truths, it is also expected that viewpoints will dissociate into their most basic elements—the most visible opinions are the ones with clear definitions, and the most definable things are often the most basic. It’s our common experience that most healthy, sound ideas we come across in life are winding roads that run between two unhealthy (yet highly visible) extremes.

The middle ground bears all the marks of an evasion. It sympathizes with both sides of an argument; it sides with neither. It avoids conflict, and it presents itself as a fresh solution, rather than something familiar. It is true that copouts may take this form—but so do legitimate answers. If the answer lay solely with one side of a debate, should the debate not have been resolved? Some examples may come to mind, but they may cease to be so glaring and incredible when both sides are fully understood.

The suggestion that a solution lies in the middle ground is not, in itself, a solution. The hand-waving and the peacemaking, that’s the easy part; the part that arouses our suspicions. It is the description of how the extremes are to be properly combined—the complete detailing of the truth—that legitimizes the suggestion.

I have not listed any examples of all this, because for the reader who is familiar with the issue, they have already come to mind.

<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –> At first glance, religion seems to have a great deal in common with politics. At second glance, it becomes clear that a great deal of what is called “religion” is actually pure, unadulterated politics.

I don’t mean to confine this observation to the United States, or the mixing of religion and politics. I’m referring to the way in which religious ideas are framed, explained, and made palatable. I am referring to the means by which religious ideas are “reconciled” with other facts. Among these techniques, I have noticed one that appears too often to ignore: the middle ground.

I would appear that for every pair of diametrically opposed viewpoints, there is a perfect solution that lies right in the middle. On every occasion that I have witnessed a fierce debate, I have been told by commentators that I need not feel conflicted. I do not need to pick sides, because both sides have some things right, and both sides have some things wrong. Who would have thought! Once I realize this, I can have my cake and eat it too.

It’s a matter of some irony that I am conflicted about this, in and of itself. I have always been attracted to the distilling of clouded jargon into trenchant, pithy statements. My intuition tells me that people muddle the truth because they cannot handle it. It tells me that they paint over dissonance with an epoxy coating of blanket statements that bemoan the complexity of the issue. Yet despite finding them so unattractive, I have accepted the dogma of complexity and “balance” as a solution to many issues.

No, I do not wish to slander the middle ground; I wish only to explain how something having real merit can appear so contrived.

While it is expected that people will be uncomfortable with cold hard truths, it is also expected that viewpoints will dissociate into their most basic elements—the most visible opinions are the ones with clear definitions, and the most definable things are often the most basic. It’s our common experience that most healthy, sound ideas we come across in life are winding roads that run between two unhealthy (yet highly visible) extremes.

The middle ground bears all the marks of an evasion. It sympathizes with both sides of an argument; it sides with neither. It avoids conflict, and it presents itself as a fresh solution, rather than something familiar. It is true that copouts may take this form—but so do legitimate answers. If the answer lay solely with one side of a debate, should the debate not have been resolved? Some examples may come to mind, but they may cease to be so glaring and incredible when both sides are fully understood.

The suggestion that a solution lies in the middle ground is not, in itself, a solution. The hand-waving and the peacemaking, that’s the easy part; the part that arouses our suspicions. It is the description of how the extremes are to be properly combined—the complete detailing of the truth—that legitimizes the suggestion.

I have not listed any examples of all this, because for the reader who is familiar with the issue, they have already come to mind.

Fundamentalist Christians and militant atheists both point the finger at moderate Christians for attempting to reconcile where reconciliation seems silly and disingenuous. In some matters, I am comfortable siding with one of these groups.

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