A recent episode of "The West Wing" posed an intriguing solution to ideological gridlock. The program's writers "created" two vacancies on the nine-judge United States Supreme Court (after a fictional death and a retirement), named a liberal woman chief justice-elect, and filled the second vacancy with a man of solid conservative credentials.
As the credits rolled, TV watchers might have been expected to lean back and say, "If only things really worked out that smoothly in real-life politics."
But what about that episode's basic premise - that the solution to polarized relationships is simply to craft a more perfect polarization? Is perpetual conflict just a normal part of life, or even desirable?
Writers and producers may feel that it's hard to craft zippy TV plots that seriously consider spiritual methods of solving contentious issues. While faith is a hot topic in American popular culture, what's usually seen on television tends to relate more to faith in angels and miracles. Search your program guides for something about the everyday practice of religion and spirituality, and you may find the pickings slim. Prayer-based approaches to bringing unity to polarized situations are often viewed as passive and wishful, rather than as activist and rational.
That perception needs to change. Here are three possible steps.
As theologian and Bible translator J.B. Phillips argued, our concept of God is too small. Tribal, national, sectarian, humanized, or theologically narrow concepts of God actually promote polarization. Such concepts tend to make God seem little more than a higher power with a political agenda.
On the other hand, a God whose love is universal, who is the caring Father-Mother of creation, couldn't have a favored nation. God doesn't know borders. He would not divide people into warring factions or impel terrorism or reactionary oppression. "One infinite God, good," Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "unifies men and nations...." ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 340) A more universal acquaintance with the infinite God who unifies would have an immeasurable healing influence, both individually and collectively.
As a loving Parent, God would naturally enable Her children to understand their common ground, to overcome whatever might undermine their inherited unity. That way is Christ. The Christ isn't the possession of one sect or denomination. The Christ is God's connection with all humankind. The Christ says to every heart and mind, "God is here with you. God loves you."
And, as the Bible shows, the Christ is divinity touching humanity, from all eternity. "The divinity of the Christ was made manifest in the humanity of Jesus," Science and Health explains (page 25). And divinity's presence was visible centuries ago: In Abraham's refusal to be divisive; in Ruth the Moabite refusing to leave her Jewish mother-in-law in a time of need; and in Jonah, who was sent with a healing message to the area of the world that is now Iraq.
The Christ message of this age - the Comforter that Jesus promised would come - is audible today, and global. It is the Science of Christianity, explained in Mary Baker Eddy's book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." It speaks to all who have ears to hear, drawing people together.
Evidence that an elevated concept of God and humanity makes a difference is found in lives changed through spiritual betterment. It happens as heart speaks to heart - in the conversation of neighbors over fences in New England, over kuchen in Europe's cafes, over market tables in Africa, in online communities like spirituality.com, and between the covers of magazines like the Christian Science Sentinel.
Personal spiritual discovery, honestly explained, reaches soul-deep and spans the continents. True stories of divisions and hurts healed in the family, at work, at school, in areas of the world torn by conflict, spread as far and as fast as thoughts travel. They can grow into a changed public dialogue.
In the realm of humanity is the sacred space called common ground.