Finding Common Ground in the Culture Wars

Perhaps the best way to deal with the vast cultural divide in this nation is to simply talk less about those things that so obviously divide us.

Julie Goldberg is a left-leaning, pro-choice feminist who embraced “attachment parenting,” a decision that brought her into contact with a number of folks who, though possessing very different political and cultural perspectives, nevertheless had much in common with her.

Digging a little deeper over time, we discovered that while we all preferred whatever we considered “natural,” for her, “natural” meant “godly,” closer to the world as God intended it to be. The beliefs are different, but the practices are identical. Imagine two cars; one with a bumper sticker that says: “Breastmilk: Nature’s Perfect Baby Food;” the other with one that says “Breastmilk: God’s Perfect Baby Food.” Are they really so different? Can the owners of those two cars peacefully coexist in a playgroup?
I think they can, and that this little island of countercultural parenting reveals something worth knowing about the culture wars. Many thoughtful, intelligent people with all kinds of spiritual leanings and belief systems, all kinds of opinions about federalism and tax policy and the Constitution, look at our popular culture, our political culture, our food, our lifestyles, the way we use and waste our resources of time, money, and attention, and conclude that something is seriously awry. They want to turn off the noise of what is out there and tune into the music of relationship, of family, of community. They think it might be wiser to create than to consume all the time, to do more with less, to eschew the temptation to entertain ourselves and our kids to death. Whether they start out motivated by environmentalism, religion, Burkeanism, socialism, logic, or just a longing for closeness and connection, many arrive at the same conclusion.

This, of course, can extend beyond “attachment parenting.” For example, I know a number of people with whom I can have incredible discussions about music, film, literature, and so on, even though we hold very different views when it comes to religion, politics, and other “serious” topics. This, of course, doesn’t mean that those topics are inconsequential and unimportant, or that they have no bearing on how we think about the things that we do share in common. For example, my appreciation for The Tree of Life is heavily influenced by the ways in which the film resonates with my Christian beliefs, which isn’t the case for my agnostic and atheist co-workers. But we both love Malick’s movie, and we can have a wonderful conversation about our experiences with it.

And here’s the truly beautiful thing: our shared appreciation for The Tree of Life can lead to a greater understanding of those things that we don’t share in common. They might come to understand my beliefs in a way that they wouldn’t were we to have a more overt “religious” conversation, and the same holds true for my understanding of their beliefs and worldviews.

I suspect this is what Goldberg is referring to when she writes:

It’s fascinating that people with such radically opposed points of view, who may have been taught to think of people on the other side of the political or religious fence as stupid, evil, or both, may be raising their young children in nearly identical ways. Can we do anything useful with that common ground? The barriers we’ve built around red and blue, as if these categories were absolute and eternal, prevent sincere dialogue. I emailed Rod Dreher when his first “Crunchy Cons” article came out in 2003 and had an interesting exchange about common ground between crunchy libs and crunchy cons. The crunchies, we realized, agree about many of the problems, but would probably never agree about solutions. He was gracious and smart, and absolutely committed to his very conservative religious beliefs. I wish the political atmosphere had not grown so toxic, because without dialogue between people who disagree, we’re all just engaged in narcissistic celebrations of our own correctness that lead nowhere.

Perhaps the best way to deal with the vast cultural divide in this nation is to simply talk less about those things that so obviously divide us, and instead, spend more time talking about those seemingly inconsequential things — e.g., movies, music, sports, the cute things our kids did this morning — that are easier to share and hold in common.