Puyallup: Opinion

Heated debates often fail to produce positive outcome

As I write, today begins a series of two dozen political debates that will either help or hinder our nation in selecting its next president and Congressional leadership.

It’s proving to be a crowded field of both personnel and political positions to choose from. The whole process is stunning in its frequent comedy and its overarching importance. There will eventually be a winner, yet one can only hope that it’s the whole nation who wins a healthy, strong and hopeful future. The final cost of the process cannot simply be measured in dollars spent — an amount bordering on the obscene — but must be measured against the cost of losing our standing among nations should we fail to elect a truly capable leader.

Heated debates are nothing new to life in community. Even the biblical witness is filled with examples of two parties holding differing outlooks and seeking a suitable outcome through healthy and often heated conversation. In one of the creation stories, Eve, the world’s first philosopher, pondering the goodness, beauty and utility of that forbidden fruit, engages in both an inner debate and an outward argument with the serpent-like tempter.

Later, Abraham argues with God over the fate of a city, bargaining with God to show mercy and compassion for the sake of just ten good people. In one of the most infamously famous biblical stories, Job and his friends debate the cause of suffering in this world, scattering blame far and wide, only to fall silent when God speaks up to challenge their ability to understand or accept any answer given.

But the one biblical debate that best fits our current context is the one told of the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill at the Areopagus in 1st century Athens Greece. Paul is distressed over the city’s predilection for numerous false gods, false sources of security, especially their worship of the Roman god of war (Mars) for whom the hill is named.

He addresses wealthy and powerful high officials who gather there because “they spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing of things new.” Some center their life on the pursuit of personal pleasure, some on seeking harmony with nature, and others in search of political power for power’s sake. Paul notes how “extremely religious” (perhaps religious but not spiritual!) they are in every way and then invites them into a conversation about an “unknown-to-them God” who is the source of all life in creation, a God at work to recreate, redirect, renew a broken, violent, lacking-in-compassion world.

The conversation, as reported, does not fare well. Paul is deemed a babbler and met with a scoffing dismissal.

I fear much the same outcome through our current debate process. Voices still lean into war’s allure.

The pursuit of pleasure and privilege pull leaders away from concern for the common people. Still, nature is a bat-a-ball issue with urgent alarms denied and dismissed. Even widespread claims by many candidates to be “religious-minded” leaves behind actions and attitudes that show such commitment to be hollow and self-serving.

Alas, any voice calling for common sense, a shared common purpose for the common good of all, risks a scoffing dismissal still, a getting trumped by voices as misguided as those on the original debate stage of Mars Hill.

It will be our loss.

Kim Latterall can be reached at latterka@plu.edu.