Dualism and the Presidential Race

July 24th, 2016

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Scripture: Luke 11:1–13

Some of you may have noticed that we are in the midst of a presidential campaign. It runs until November, incidentally. Between now and when we elect a new President, I ask you to keep this in mind: Father, hallowed be your name.

That line might sound familiar. It’s the line Jesus starts with when responding to his disciple’s request for him to teach them how to pray: Father, hallowed be your name. Now we say it this way: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Hallowed be your name is a phrase said by billions of people, really, billions of people each week, and it is a phrase that matters very much when it comes to how we think about politics in America, and particularly presidential politics this year. Here is why: it has to do with dualism. That is the word we’ll focus on this morning, dualism. I’ll borrow heavily from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ book Not in God’s Name to do so.

You see this year’s presidential race is bringing to light a deep, maybe even pathological, dualism that exists in our nation. We see it through the utter vitriol we find between the political parties, or more to the point, toward the candidates who represent these political parties.

I have been astonished by the utter, uncompromising hostility I witness in people, sane, normal, moral, good people, as they speak with contempt and scorn about how horrible Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is. I have yet, however, to meet anyone, as far as I can tell, who knows either one of them well enough to actually lay claim to such an unyielding position. It is dualism that is driving this polarity in America.

What do I mean by that? Let’s turn to Sacks for a definition. “Dualism is what happens when cognitive dissonance becomes unbearable; when the world as it is, is simply too unlike the world as we believed it ought to be” (NIGN, 48). And so dualism is a way of thinking that collapses a complicated world into a simplistic, binary, black-and-white place.

Dualism simplifies our thinking. She is bad. He is a crook. She is a liar. He is a liar. What’s the evidence? In a dualist world that doesn’t matter! Is there context that nuances his or her behavior? In a dualistic world that doesn’t matter! How about new evidence? What if a document is produced or a judgment rendered that adds new perspective to the issue at hand? In a dualistic world that doesn’t matter! What about compromise? You never compromise in a dualistic world! It is always war, all the time. Never give an inch to the enemy. Never negotiate because they are liars and they are lying to you.

That’s life in a dualistic world. It is simplistic, binary, black-and-white. Sound familiar? Sound like America? Sound like our presidential campaign?

Let’s make it a little more complicated by bringing God into the mix. For help we turn to historian Jeffrey Russell who says: “Dualistic thinking is a mechanism for the self-preservation of the goodness and kindness of our God” (NIGN, 48). In other words, if our God is good, and of course our God is good (because our God is OUR God), and yet bad stuff still happens in the world, then there must be a purveyor of bad that is outside the good of our God.

But here is the problem: Our God is omnipotent. Our God is the creator of all things. Our God made the heavens and the earth. God is our Father, who lives right here, this near, to me, to you, and everybody. And our God is the one who made us in God’s image and likeness, all of us, including Hillary and Donald. And that is complicated, which is why Jesus begins the prayer he teaches us with: Father, hallowed be your name.

Hallowed is a word that draws it roots from the Indo-European word kalio, which, means whole, holy, healthy, full, complete. The first thing that Jesus teaches us when he teaches us to pray is to acknowledge that God is whole, holy, healthy, full, complete.

Sacks says it this way: “The God we worship has the capacity within God’s self to hold what seems to us disparate contradictions” (NIGN, 56). This is a very important point, and the great insight that the Jewish people uncovered 4,500 years ago: That God somehow, in a way that is a little bit bigger than we can understand, has the capacity to hold within God’s self-creation and destruction, mercy and retribution, peace and war, love and fear, life and death.

Before the Jews’ revelation of the one God, there was a battle out here, between my good God and your bad God. Monotheism broke that myth and moved good and bad from a state of being that existed between neighbors to a state of being that existed within the soul. So if we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we too are made to hold these contradictions, these tensions between the good and the bad, within ourselves. “Monotheism takes the good and bad in the human condition, and relocates it WITHIN each one of us, turning what would otherwise be war on the battlefield into a struggle within each individual soul.

The Rabbis ask, “Who is the hero?”
The answer: “The one who conquers their own soul!” (NIGN, 64)

And that is the question I’d like us to ask our presidential candidates: Do you know your soul? Do you know what it means to conquer yourself? Are you capable of managing the tension of the good and bad within you, rather than rushing to externalize it on the battlefield? Which one of you is most willing to pray, “Father, hallowed be your name.”

A hallowed God is a big God. To wrap our minds around omnipotence is impossible, by definition. And God, being omnipotent, knows this, which is why, when humanity was ready, God came in the person of Jesus. Jesus models how to manage the tension of the good and the bad within ourselves, without letting the ugly leach out and pollute the world.

How? The opening of the Gospel reading today gives us insight: “Jesus was off praying in a quiet place,” it says. Scripture shows us that this was Jesus’ pattern, to go off to pray in a solitary place (e.g. Luke 5:16 & 6:12, Matt 14:23). He takes time to be alone; to be quiet; to seek out and consider the internal tension; and, I suppose, to ask himself: What is this? Where does it come from? How do I handle it without it leaching out and polluting the world?

That is the question the disciples are asking. And Jesus responds: Father, hallowed be your name.

In other words: God is your Father. God made you. God loves you. God has you because God is hallowed. God is whole, holy, healthy, full, and complete, and in every situation this omnipotent God HAS YOU. And in moments when we aren’t sure about this, when we aren’t sure how to hold the tension between the good and the bad within us, when we aren’t sure how we will keep from collapsing into dualistic, binary, black-and-white thinking, then we pray: Father, hallowed be your name.

And now, with this prayer in mind, we return to the presidential campaign. I would like you to vote this year. Don’t sit it out, or write in Mickey Mouse. I’d like you to vote for the candidate—and neither of them is perfect (that we can agree upon)—who you believe best meets your needs without too egregiously polluting the world.

Before you settle upon your decision, however, I invite you to consider each candidate through a conversation they would have with Jesus. Do this with both candidates, recognizing your own preconceived bias. Do this alone, in solitude, and in prayer.

Wonder how Hillary and then Donald would respond to Jesus if they knew they were talking with Jesus. Wonder how Hillary and then Donald would respond to Jesus in a situation where they were talking to Jesus and didn’t know it.

What would they say about their positions in light of the Kingdom of God? Or what might they say, if Jesus were interested to know how relationship was primary for them. What if Jesus asked them what they worshipped, or how they prayed? What would they ask Jesus for or about? Finally, how might they ask Jesus to help them collapse the dualism of their own thinking in favor of the prayer he taught us to pray: Our Father, hallowed be your name.