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Christian, Don’t Fall Into these Sinful Traps of Identity & Debate

Remind them to…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:2)

While it is important to stand for truth, it is equally important how we take that stand.  In a previous article I highlighted the sinful ways in which Christians engage in dialogue that mirrors the ways of the world. Here is a glossary of the terms used in that article. As you can see, there is also a progression of how these things feed and flow from one another. It can be viewed as a cycle with a feedback loop back to the top.

Polarization, Assumed Identity, & Tribalism

We live in a polarized society, which means there are disagreements about just about everything and everyone is placed into categories based on those disagreements.

Additionally, what a person believes about something has increasingly been taken on as an identity.  Therefore an attack on the idea is taken as an attack on the person who holds the idea. Its an attack on their personhood.

In order to maintain our identities, people group together in tribes, which serves to protect the group who holds those ideas. There is therefore a vested interest in the group in maintaining the belief or idea, whether or not it is right.

False Dichotomies & Package Deal Ethics

All of this often creates a false dichotomy, which is when only 2 options are presented with foregone conclusions attached to them.  If a person disagrees with one option, they are automatically placed into the category of the other option and therefore the other “tribe.”  The point is to caricature a person into one or the other category, even though there may be other options available.  An example of a false dichotomy is if a person says they aren’t voting for Donald Trump that must mean they are supporting Joe Biden. Obviously this is a logical fallacy.

Package Deal Ethics naturally flows out of polarization and false dichotomies.  The idea is that all issues are grouped into a package.  So, if you believe one thing, you automatically must therefore believe in all of the other things as part of the package. An example of package deal ethics is if you say you are voting for Trump, that must mean you are for building the border wall, agree with his rhetoric, affirm everything he says, as well as defend him even when he’s wrong.

Culture of Outrage,  Righteous Indignation, & Victim Mentality

As a mechanism to maintain the upper hand in the aforementioned disagreements, Society has adopted a culture of outrage where seemingly every disagreement leads a person or group to be outraged rather than it just be viewed as a different way to look at something.

Being “outraged” generally manifests itself as righteous indignation.  Which is a way of trying to elevate one’s own moral superiority by being appalled by what someone from the opposite tribe has said, done, or believed about something.  All of this helps a person maintain their identity as defined by their tribe.

It is also common to play the victim and claim persecution as a way to show how bad the issue has become and how you are suffering for righteousness.

Demonization & Cancel Culture

Demonization is often the next step, flowing out of “Righteous Indignation.” To demonize someone is to attack the person for what they did or believed, rather than the action or belief.  Once again, this is an attack on identity and not action.

The hope of the person doing the demonizing is to invalidate or cancel everything about the person.  The implication is, since the person is wrong about this one heinous thing, their contributions in other areas are to be discounted.    If you can cancel an advocate of some opposing view, it is assumed to help to attack that tribe and maintain one’s own tribe.

Confirmation Bias & Echo Chambers

Once a person has engaged in debate using the above fallacies, they have a staked claim in being right, to maintain their identity in the position. The people then must seek to validate their claims when challenged. To do so they find studies, data, anecdotes, and even others simply saying the same things as evidence to prove their point, even if those things don’t logically prove the point.  This is Confirmation Bias. You start off with a bias and then find things in support of that bias.

Echo Chambers is another way of saying “preaching to the choir.” You then discuss with a bunch of like-minded people, which serves to reinforce your already held belief and adds to your confirmation bias.  Participating in echo chambers serves to boost one’s confidence in their own position.  “See, others agree with me.”

Fake News, False Narratives & Conspiracy Theories

As people get more entrenched in their views through the above behavior, they become susceptible to believing fake news, crafting false narratives, and buying into conspiracy theories.

Fakes News is usually not completely fake. It is usually just a story or event spun in such a way to support the person or tribes position on something.

False Narratives are used in crafting or presenting Fake News.  The person starts with an outcome by someone in their tribe or in the opposite tribe. If in their tribe, all the good possible motives are explained as the reason for how or why something came about and how it is good for society. If from someone outside of the tribe, all of the evil possible motives are attributed to the outcome and the negative effects are highlighted.  All of this is done irrespective of the truth of the motives, events, or outcomes.   The purpose is to either advance ones identity and tribe or to demonize and cancel an opposing viewpoint.

Conspiracy Theories generally have some truth to them also. However a false or unfounded narrative is crafted around the truth, and motives are placed to it to create suspicion that something nefarious has happened, is happening or about to happen.  Echo chambers help to create a sense of validity to the theory.  If the theory seems to advance the cause of the tribe, it is believed, whether or not it is true.

Conclusion

You can see how these things flow from one another, and the further down the road one goes in trying to defend their position, the more self-fulfilling prophecy it becomes to the individual. The more confirmation bias that is found, the more entrenched in the person’s identity and tribe and the cycle perpetuates.

For the Christian, our identities are in Christ and not in man-made tribes or identities.  Christians need to be ready to lay down these weapons of the world, in order to win our opponents to Christ as opposed to thinking we’ve won the upper hand.

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,  16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)

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George Sayour
George is Senior Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC. When he's not pastoring or writing, he's fishing, kayaking and spending time with his family.
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