Thursday, February 9, 2017

Can There Be a Radiant Center in Politics?

“Republicans are moving further Right and Democrats are moving further Left. NEITHER situation makes for a unified country.” That comment on my Jan. 25 blog article was posted by Easel Roberts, a Thinking Friend (TF) with whom I used to attend the same Sunday School class here in Liberty but who now lives in South Carolina.
Easel is a P.E. (Professional Engineer) who works at GE Renewable Energy, and I value his viewpoint, partly because few of my TFs have the educational background and occupational experience that he has.
In a follow-up email, Easel wrote,
“It is, as if, some cosmic force (media, Facebook, politics, social issues) has put us all on a kid’s merry-go-round. The only answer is ‘I’m right and you are wrong’ and vice versa. There is no meaningful dialogue or debate.
“The ‘forces’ are making the merry-go-round go faster and faster. We are fighting desperately to hold on for dear life to keep from being thrown off. IF we could only get to the center, we could relax because there would be no forces throwing us toward the edge. 
“While certainly not human nature, we need to lead people to the middle OR . . . we will destroy the country by trying to WIN. If Christians, and by extension the church, cannot figure this out, then we truly have no hope.” 

In my response to Easel’s thought-provoking comments, I said, “In my book The Limits of Liberalism I wrote about the need for a ‘radiant center’ regarding theological issues. Perhaps that is one of the biggest needs politically also.”
Finding such a radiant center, however, is probably more difficult, more elusive, and more unlikely in the political world than in the theological world. Yet perhaps that is a goal, an intention, an aspiration that needs to be given the highest priority.
Over the last couple of weeks I have heard mention of a possible civil war ensuing in the near future. Finding the center is not only essential for Christians (the church) as Easel emphasized, it is essential for the United States as a whole.
The ongoing, persistent problem, though, is this: How could a radiant center ever be formed?
For example, what would a radiant center look like in a society where some people consider all abortion the same as murder and others see abortion as an essential part of “women’s reproductive rights”?
What would a radiant center look like in a society where some people consider same-sex marriage as an abomination contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible and others see it as a necessary part of some people’s civil rights?
What would a radiant center look like in a society where some people consider “illegal aliens,” visitors from Near Eastern countries, and refugees from Syria to be serious threats to the safety and wellbeing of U.S. citizens and others see the welcoming of strangers and suffering people to be an indispensable expression of Christian love or even of human decency?
Perhaps there is no center position on such issues. Perhaps it illusionary to think that there could be a center embracing both “pro-life” and “pro-choice”—although there are those now who are emphasizing that “pro-life” means far more than anti-abortion, and most on the left can agree with that emphasis.

Maybe, though, with a constant emphasis on such things as freedom with responsibility, full acceptance of those who are “different,” justice, compassion, etc., there can gradually be, even in politics, the growth and expansion of a much-needed radiant center.


  1. Dear Dr. Seat - Thank you very much for this thoughtful blog posting. I think the notion of a radiant center is very helpful. I have tried to carry this out to some degree on my Facebook page, where I have people from the far right and far left linked up as friends. Holding the center is actually quite difficult… And I can't say that I have succeeded. The polarization in American society is serious, however. I remember recently I was listening to an Intelligence Squared Debate on Gerrymandering, in one of the people who was debating, a scholar in American political history, stated that according to his research, American society is more polarized today that it was in the years leading up to the Civil War. I'm afraid that we may be headed for another Civil War within our lifetime, if the polarization continues, and especially if we have large companies and corporations who profit off of polarization.

    1. Thanks, Greg, for your comments. It was good to hear from you again.

      Yes, holding the center is quite difficult, and I am glad there are people such as you who are seeking to be civil and to be in communication with people from both sides of the political spectrum.

      I, too, am deeply concerned about the polarization in U.S. society, but I think it will not come to civil war unless (or until) there are serious economic problems. The Civil War, I believe, was fought primarily because of economic issues; that is, the white Southerners thought their way of life was being jeopardized by the abolitionist movement.

  2. Here are substantial remarks such as we have come to expect of Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for all of the provocative remarks about our political polarization.

    "Political philosophers breakdown political issues into three broad categories: conceptual, normative, and empirical. Conceptual issues involve definitions. Normative issues involve goals and values. Empirical issues involve the best methods for achieving goals or realizing values.

    "For example, abortion is a contentious issue and most people, including those who are pro-choice, would agree that abortion is a tragedy and a goal of our society should be to limit its incidence. The empirical issue, and this is the really contentious part, is how best to reduce the incidence of abortion. Unfortunately, normative and empirical issues can become intertwined; birth control probably reduces the incidence of abortion, but some groups oppose birth control on normative grounds. When considering evidence, there is also the issue of separating causation from coincidence--a difference often exploited by those with a political bias.

    "The majority of Americans do not breakdown political issues or think very critically about them. We are in part hard wired with our political views, so some of us will always be conservative and others always liberal from birth. But these natural differences have been amplified by social media and malevolent efforts by some to misinform the public through 'fake news' and hyperbole.

    "I fear, as do many others, that we may be headed for a civil war of some sort and the possible breakup of our union."

  3. Not optimistic re: a "radiant center." We are terribly polarized politically and religiously. I am center left. It seems when center left people move more toward the center, that the right just moves further right. I am dismayed by the way the GOP is falling in line with Trump's radical cabinet nominations. I would have thought that people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake and others would have gagged at confirming such a radical right winger as Sessions for Attorney General. But no. Civil War? It would not be based on geography. It could not be conventional war. Just terrorism in the streets. More likely right now is a continued and accelerated move toward fascism. And as long as the masses get their bread and circuses (AKA NFL football games culminating in the Grande Circus of the Super Bowl, maybe the masses will calm down, quit resisting and persisting and protesting, and quietly acquiesce to Bannon's new political order. BTW, I have opined elsewhere that Trump is President de jure, and Bannon President de facto. Wish I could be more optimistic. I do not fear for myself. I have long since passed my allotment of three score and ten and even my by reason of strength four score. I do fear for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. What will their world look like when our generation departs this scene? TF Charles Kiker.

    1. Thanks, Charles, for your candid comments. I am afraid I have to agree for the most part with what you wrote. Like you, I am not optimistic, at least for the immediate future. But I try to be hopeful for the future, although you and I may be gone before there is much improvement in society for all people, especially those who are suffering most now. But let's hope (and pray and work) for changes for the better in two years and especially in four years from now. We should still be around that long.

  4. What is radiant? What is center?
    Depending on who is calling names, I have been called a left-wing wacko and a right-wing wacko, plus plenty of other names. I would call myself a centrist.
    There probably does need to be less animosity, but without a lot of humility, I do not see that coming from any side.

    We need a serious spiritual revival. That has happened in the past. But it won't be led by politicians. I would also recommend getting rid of flashpoint organizations like the Heritage Foundation, The Southern Poverty Law Center, The American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Center for Law and Justice - that won't happen either (and probably the Democratic and Republican parties as well). A lot of people are hurting and being hurt across the spectrum.

    A political editor whom I respect thinks we are headed for a civil war again.

    I have joined one group which promotes reconciliation, but they are small, and the focus is on personal humility.

  5. I certainly don’t have the answers to the grand rifts of alt-left and alt-right we are experiencing today in both political society and in our religious denominations. My suppositions and hopes run along these lines.
    Change and changes in positions are related to experience, direct or indirect. There is little indication that large groups are seeking a direct life experiences that would shift them to the opposite camp. So, we are depending on indirect experience: i.e., hearing the experience of others through kin or acquaintances, or from print and visual media. But we need to experience, directly or indirectly the views of others, with some other attitude than the polemics of all out, continuous conflict.
    In a conflict, the outcomes are ‘win-win’, ‘win-lose’, ‘compromise’ or ‘consensus’--compromise meaning alternately giving up or giving in on major points, and consensus meaning seeking some change that is not completely satisfactory, but arriving at a situation one could live with as a significant improvement on the current situation.
    For example, what if right and left were working to make abortions neither easily accessible and promoted, nor totally eliminated by law, but not promoted as a positive solution, and sought to be increasingly rare? What if there were not routine very late term abortions except in extraordinary circumstances (cf most European laws) and there were more resources to deal with unplanned, unwanted pregnancies, with the result that the number of abortions annually were very significantly reduced?
    Could a greater number “live with that” even if not completely satisfied, but not needing to do battle incessantly against the other side’s practices?
    The “radiant center” may not be coming together to a single new position on abortion, race, immigration and other deep dividers. If we cannot reach win-win for conflicting camps through an agreed on new center position, and we recognize the current trends are dangerous and an unsatisfactory civic situation, can we (first, locally and in smaller groups; later, nationally, with large scale numbers) move to a place of some accommodations to improve the situation and/or to lessen the conflict. It may not be a “radiant center” where all agree, but it may be a movement toward some improvement toward the solution of what all see as a problem, to a point of being able to “live with that situation” without society-endangering conflict?

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Larry.

      I like your emphasis on consensus. That is a characteristic of Japanese society, and while frustrating at times (mainly because it is often quite time-consuming) it also has much to commend it. I have heard that that has also been the common practice of Quakers through the years.

      On the difficult matter of abortion, I think there is a possibility of a "radiant center" position being developed along the lines you suggest. I am not sure what the radiant center would mean, however, with regard to the same-sex marriage debate.

      The radiant center that I envision does not necessarily mean agreement, but it means a position where there is mutual acceptance, where people can disagree without anyone being disagreeable, and where there can be different viewpoints openly expressed in seeking the common good--and justice for those who have been unfairly treated.

    2. Here is more by Larry, commenting on my above response:

      "Love your last paragraph because that is a right on, practical description of a way for groups with diverse views to live together civilly. Incidentally, in my experience, I think near all charitable nonprofit boards of directors work on a consensus model (sometimes called Roberta's Rules of Order, as more useful than Robert's Rules).

      "There are a few thinkers and organizations that have ventured into the public sphere with a way to better coexist with abortion.

      "A possible consensus or center on same sex marriage might come out of a mutual respect and honoring of civil rights and of the state (or government's) ability to recognize 'marriages' as a civil, lawful union with the same civic benefit as man-woman promises in their union. It doesn't please everyone, but it allows the person or church based on doctrine considered revealed to remain steadfast and those in such unions to enjoy the same civic benefits."

    3. Larry, it is highly encouraging to see that a lifelong Catholic such as you can affirm a radiant center even on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. May your tribe increase!

    4. I humbly make comment bec you all sound like professors or preachers in your word usage and idea formation. I am a retired psychologist w a deteriated brain from reading novels! I like a little humor and pictures to read stuff. But indeed I have thot much and talked some about these issues. I think our country was like Dr Seat just described until then cn
      Abdicate. D. Trump became hateful about Muslim refugees in about his first speech. It got shockingly rude even how bad Castro was on the day of his death and on and on then the bullies came out with fistfights'etc. I thot he could be taught like THE DUMMY BOOK ON BECOMING A PRESIDENT. Just like I just got for iPad. Tho mine is for seniors too. You see, trained as psychologist we withhold judgement and listen and respond to the client. I can see both sides of most things. IT iswwhen somebody is a bully and hurts other people that I get upset. I don't like things that divide us like political parties, denominations but it is like a medical diagnosis, you get a list of symptoms which most nearly fit a diagnosis. Thank you for thinking seriously about these important issues and looking for solutions and working for what's right. I love Jesus, People, and the Environment. PRayers for us all.

    5. Thanks, Joyce, for reading and responding to this blog article. Your comments are valuable, and I appreciate you taking the time to post them. I would very much like to have comments by a broader spectrum of people. Most are from old(er) men like me and many who comment are or have been professors or preachers. But I would like to have more women comment and people who are or have been psychologists, like you. So, again, I appreciate your perspective and your thoughtful comments.

    6. Thank you, dr seat, for your gracious and welcoming response to me which exemplifies what you all are discussing in this blog. You make me welcome just as I am and that feels so good. This is the way our churches need to be. People are liking to not have to dress up for church. There was an article in our newspaper about a. Person, maybe a preacher, who LOOKED AT a homeless woman on a street corner asking for money. He talked to her and made arrangements for her to be picked up the next day or so for church. She said how much it meant to her to really be looked at most don't look or shuttle by avoiding not giving or dealing with her as a human.

  6. Here are significant comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "Very stimulating idea, Leroy. From a practical point of view I think we must first address the fears that motivate so much polarization and resort to violence. Churches, synagogues, and mosques or other religious groups should take up that challenge.

    "I should think that all of them would consider addressing fear as a central priority for those who believe that love, the Love God is, can recast fear into something more positive. Fear recast, love should enable us to regard with respect others and their opinions and work together toward an accepting society.

    "Too many of our religious bodies add to polarization and need to recognize and recover the vocation to which God has entrusted them. Maybe out of these developments we could discover that 'radiant center' you propose."

  7. Local Thinking Friend Steve Hemphill shares this comment:

    "You and Easel have eloquently identified the problem and now convincing all the other 'non-thinking' friends to work toward a solution . . . . I'm not overly optimistic these last few days."

  8. Here are pertinent comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "Thanks for another thought-provoking blog. Throughout my adult life, I would consider myself as an optimist. In my senior years, I'm not so optimistic about the 'radiant center' hope.

    "Frankly, I'm skeptical about the political or religious worlds coming to any kind of consensus. I know this is God's world and he made it perfect except in one respect--free will. There will be no unity or peace until, 'the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. . .'

    "This is a fallen world but I have the upmost respect for those who work for a better world. If we can't get together in the Christian world, it is supremely naïve to believe the secular world can do any better."

  9. Local Thinking Friend Don Pepper writes, "In answer to your query, three elements are necessary for ANY satisfactory, stable, relationship. . . .
    "A. Competent parties
    "B. A common goal
    "C. Mutual respect

    "Do you have a way to foster these in your desired political golden center short of a national crisis where cooperation is necessary in order for all to survive?"

  10. Thanks, Don, for your your answer to my question, and I agree that those are three necessary elements. If everyone was competent, had a common goal, and embraced an attitude of mutual respect, I think the nation could enjoy the benefits of being in the resulting radiant center.

    I am not sure what can be done to increase competency, although continual emphasis on excellence in education ought to help in that regard. I am afraid we will not be moving in the right, though, under the new Secretary of Education.

    The common goal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" used to be enough to cause people to work together; I don't know why that can't still be a national goal that draws people toward the center.

    The third component is a big problem in our polarized society, and perhaps one way to move in that direction would be to push back against all the negativity in the public media as well as in the social media. I am not sure how this could be achieved, but maybe there needs to be a movement asking people to pledge that they will not say/write anything negative about, or make fun of, anyone. There can be room for disagreeing on ideas, but people who hold those ideas should be respected. But, admittedly, that is going to be a long, hard struggle.

  11. In this time of wildly swinging political pendulums, where does one find a center, let alone a radiant center? The best I see coming is a painful right-brain slog through various experiments until we reach some sort of a working consensus. Living an experiment is much more painful that thinking through an experiment, but frequently that is what must be. For example, America and Vietnam hardly knew each other in 1960. We fought a terrible war to a painful peace, but today both sides are slowly building towards a better relationship. In this fallen world sometimes that is the best we can do.

    Wedge issues such as abortion, flag burning, immigration and gay marriage have been convenient political issues as they cost the plutocrats who run America nothing, and they block clear thinking on basic economic issues. They represent real differences between parts of our society, so they are fought with great fervor on all sides, but still they are stirred to heightened tension for crass political purposes, which has lead to increasing discussion of identity politics. Both parties experienced powerful economic revolts this election cycle, as Bernie Sanders nearly took the Democratic nomination as a self-described democratic socialist, and Trump won the Republican nomination and eventually the White House promising to Make America Great Again. Trump, who followed the lead of Bill Clinton in telling people he could feel their pain, defeated Hillary Clinton who thought she could win with pure identity politics without ever strongly embracing the party platform that Sander's campaign had gifted her with. She made the startling discover that you can't beat something with nothing. So now we must follow the non-linear path of social turmoil to a new equilibrium, because both parties have blocked rational economic discussion.

    People who proudly boast "I am not a scientist!" now run America, and they may well do massive damage to everything from the environment to the economy before the voters get another chance to reconsider. Where is the radiant center? Who knows? My best guess is that it looks something like Senator Warren being banished from the Senate floor for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King into the Senate record, during Black History Month, no less. God let the Israelites languish in slavery for four hundred years before He sent Moses to save them. Then Moses led them through the wilderness for forty years before Joshua led them into the Promised Land. Pretty much every election since the turn of the millennium has involved the voters trying to throw the bums out. Obviously a large number of people are very upset with both parties, and the throwing out will continue until some party figures out how to please the voters. The neoliberalism of the centrist Democrats has lived its arc from hope with Bill Clinton to disappointment with Barack Obama. The even worse radical libertarianism of centrist Republicans, especially with the overlay of Trump's radical populism, is also no answer. The rust belt spoke loud and clear, the social contract is broken and someone needs to fix it. If throw the bums out happens again in 2018, has Mitch McConnell figured out who might be surprised?

    See Part 2.

  12. Part 2

    Matthew 24-25 contains several stories that end with the bums thrown out. Some are illustrations from normal life, others specifically address the coming kingdom. Matthew 24:10-12 seems especially relevant to our time, "Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold." That certainly explains what the radiant center would not be. How can we address the wedge issues without our love growing cold? How can we restore the economic justice in a way that provides a solid foundation under our society? Perhaps the answer is in Matthew 25:34-36, "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'" That is the party platform I envision for the radiant center. Personally, I think Bernie Sanders actually got pretty close to it, and so did much of the rust belt when given a chance to vote for him during the primaries.

    1. Craig, you are a loving person. I have tears.

    2. Craig, thanks for once again posting lengthy and thought-proving comments. I like your putting Matthew 25:34-36 in the radiant center, and I may make reference to that again before long.

  13. Bro. Leroy, these comments have been awesome both in your original article and in the comments. The thoughts have brought out the diversity in our country and perhaps a bit of light into what it will take to unify our citizenry. Since our origins we have been diverse in our thinking, e.g. the American Revolution where some estimates hold one third of the people were for independence, one third for loyalty to the crown, and one third for "leave me alone and let me earn a living to take care of my wife and kids."

    In a recent article (sorry it's been lost in the other hundred articles read recently), the author states the radicalism in both major parties has caused the moderates to become independents (guilty as charged). The result is we have the ACLU and the NRA as the last ones standing. My own idea would be to organize all these independent moderates into a new party and let them field real statespersons (is that a word?) for political offices across our country. In agreement with so many comments above, these might at least have a hope of civilized discussion on the subjects causing division.

    Matthew 25 would be a great starting place if we can quieten those who demand entitlement to being cared for without taking personal responsibility and those who demand entitlement to take advantage of those who represent the most vulnerable in our society.

    1. Thanks, Tom, for your pertinent comments. I plan to address this issue further in my 2/18 blog article.

  14. This LINK from Ted Grimsrud's blog provides a thorough discussion of the problem of finding the moral position of integrity in a political environment where everything is based upon the relative position of the current perceptions of left and right.

    If a "radiant center" is to have moral integrity it cannot be defined as being half way between the political right and left extremes. Those extremes have been shifting over time during which many have lost their perspective of the difference between wisdom and foolishness.

    The following is a quotation from the blog article that caught my eye:

    "… over the past 40 years Republican presidents have moved steadily to the right and have moved the “center” with them (some analysts have suggested that Bernie Sanders, considered on the “far left” now is actually pretty close policy-wise to Dwight Eisenhower …)"

    1. Thanks, Clif, for linking to Ted Grimsrud's article. I saw it a couple of days ago and have had brief email exchange with Ted. I plan to refer to it in my 2/18 blog article.

  15. Back in 2011, the year after my book "The Limits of Liberalism" was published, Thinking Friend Craig Dempsey created an elaborate "chart" showing the radiant center. Here is a link to that impressive creation: