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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Walking in the Middle of the Road

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

Walking in the Middle of the Road


Recently I read Anne Applebaum’s book, Twilight of Democracy, the Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. In it was a quote from John Francois Revel’s book, The Totalitarian Temptation. That quote has haunted me. It is this: “Unity is an anomaly, polarization is the norm.”


This says bluntly, that while unity may be a brief reality, the normal human story is one of dissension and division. I did not want to believe this, but, as I looked further into history and current culture, it seems hard to deny.


Today, we live in a world of extremes, the gaps seem to be growing, and unity appears to be less and less likely.


The institutional church continues to fracture along lines of theology, behavior, organization, music, personality, money, and many other issues.


At one extreme are those who believe they are the only ones who have the truth, and at the other extreme are those who believe that everyone is free to create their own truth.

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Although some states have increased their minimum wage, In 2009, the federal minimum wage was $7.25/hr. In 2021, the federal minimum wage was still $7.25/hr. However $1.00 in 2009 was worth less than $.75 in 2021.


The already great discrepancy between rich and poor is widening. By someone’s measure, the top 9% of investors now own almost 90% of stock market value, and the top 1% own 52% of that. So, while the few continue to increase their wealth, for a growing number of people, owning a house is becoming almost impossible.


John Taylor Governor of South Carolina (1826-1828) understood the danger of this to our country. In his book, "An Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the Government of the United States,” he wrote: “Wealth…must be considerably distributed (no, not equally, but considerably distributed) to sustain a democratic republic; and hence, whatever draws a considerable proportion of wealth into a few hands, will destroy (the country). As power follows wealth, the majority must have (some) wealth or lose (all) power.

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Maybe the most glaring extremes, and definitely the most talked about, lie in the political arena. A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with a former h.s. student of mine who is now a U.S. Ambassador. I asked him to give me his perspective on the current political landscape. Without hesitation he said, “The moderates are leaving.”


The government continues to move toward an ongoing battle between the extreme left and the extreme right. The voice of reason and compromise, on which our country was founded, seems to be disappearing.

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In a study known as “Hidden Tribes,” 8000 people were surveyed nation wide. It revealed that the far right, or the ones they called devoted conservatives, made up only 6% of those surveyed, and the far left, or the ones they called progressive activist, made up only 8%. Yet these two groups are responsible for approximately 70% of all political content on social media.


The study characterized these two political extremes in this way:


The Extreme leftclaims that America has been unjust and repressive, however, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes great progress is being made. They are not concerned with individual rights or opportunities but tend to focus only on social outcomes. (This tells me that they are more concerned with statistics than people.) People who disagree with them are called racists, marking them as one who harms marginalized groups.


The Extreme rightfears immigrants, are bothered by complexity (and diversity), and seek answers In political language that makes them feel safe and secure. They prefer a society tied together by a single narrative, and they are very susceptible to conspiracy theories. People who agree with them are called patriots. Those who disagree are called traitors.

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It appears to me that the extreme left often ignores or runs roughshod over the Constitution, while the extreme right seems to worship it (or at least parts of it).


I believe that the United States Constitution is a great document. I think it should be respected, and care should be taken whenever it is changed, however, it was never intended to be viewed as infallible or untouchable.

Thomas Jefferson, said as much in a letter to James Madison, September 6, 1789) “…it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation, the dead have neither power nor rights over it…. Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19. years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.”


Are you kidding? The extreme left seems to want to change it every 19 days, and the extreme right would not want their favorite parts of it changed in 19 centuries.

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Is there hope for America? Is it possible for us to move beyond factions, and partisan politics and reclaim the common good? Maybe. But I am not naive enough to think that it will come by way of Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or any other president or political guru.


In a democratic republic like ours, it will depend mostly on “we the people….” As Louis Brandeis, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939 said, “The only title in our democracy superior to that of President is the title of citizen.”


I admit that I am being skeptical. I feel, however, that I stand in pretty good company with some others who have expressed their skepticism:


…The innate human proclivity is toward faction…Mutual animosity…They are much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.” James Madison—Federalist papers #10


A somewhat obscure quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Of all the forms of government we could have selected, we have chosen the one most likely to self-destruct. We have greatly overestimated human nature.”


“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” —John Adams to John Taylor, December 17, 1814


“Few men are capable of making a continual sacrifice of all views of private interest, or advantage, to the common good.”—George Washington to Continental Congress Camp committee, January 29, 1778


Washington, in his farewell address after his second term as president, expressed that the worst enemy of government was loyalty to party over nation. Washington feared it would foster a “spirit of revenge,” and enable the rise of “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” From an article in History, by Sarah Pruitt


Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, and others were skeptical of the new government that had been created. But what were they to do? The founding fathers had had enough of monarchy (a king for life), They did not want a dictatorship (the rule of one). They did not choose an aristocracy or oligarchy (the rule of an elite few).


Instead they chose a representative democracy. While they were not overly optimistic, they had more faith in all the people than they had in any one person, or just a few people.


They believed that Instituting a system of checks and balances in government and encouraging a free thinking and involved citizenry would perhaps serve as a safeguard against power falling into the hands of extremists, or those whom philosopher and historian, William James, called “rabid partisans.”

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With the growing addiction to information, social media fans the flames of dissension, as the voices of the extremes lash out at each other. Sometimes the mainstream media is little better.


The extreme left and the extreme right constantly scream at one another, seeking to prove and defend their positions.This is to be expected. It is the accusation, the innuendo, and the half-truth that must be defended loudly.


Truth and wisdom often whisper. They do not need the defense of words, their proof lies in the living, not in the talking.


Don’t misunderstand, sometimes truth must be defended and wisdom spoken. Sometimes extreme measures must be taken. Sometimes compromise is not an option. Sometimes a line exists which must not be crossed. But I do not think that this occurs as often as the extremists would lead us to believe.

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Where is the voice of truth and reason today? Where is the voice of peace and unity? Where is the voice of wisdom?


Deuteronomy 2:26-27, From the Desert of Kedemoth I sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon offering peace and saying, “Let us pass through your country. We will stay on the main road; we will not turn aside to the right or to the left.


Later, this experience became a metaphor for obeying God. Deuteronomy 5:32, So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.


Ecclesiastes 7:18 states it plainly, Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.


Walking in the middle of the road is not always being wishy-washy or lukewarm, as the extremists would tell us. I think it is the moderate voice, that is often the voice of reason, peace, and wisdom.

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A good friend of mine and I were discussing a current social controversy. In frustration, he said to me, “You just need to take a stand.” I told him, “I think it is more important how I walk than it is where I stand.”


Jesus said, “…wisdom is proved right by its actions." Not by its talk, by its twitter posts, by its Facebook page, or by a blog, but by its actions.


And living wisdom simply means doing the right thing at the right time.


I can’t change the world. However, as author, historian, and poet Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”


I am reminded of a scene in the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is a conversation between a very discouraged Frodo Baggins who is trying desperately to make a difference in his world, and the wizard Gandalf, Frodo's mentor, guide, and friend. The words of Gandalf are as true in our world as they were in his:


“Frodo: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.


I believe this is the task for all of us: We must each decide what to do with the time we have on this good earth. As we do, May we avoid the angry rhetoric, finger pointing, name calling, and bandwagoning methods of the extremes.


Since we are all fallible humans, may we walk in humility, and be slow to draw conclusions. And may we attempt to be truth speakers, peacemakers, and hope givers In this fragmented world in which we live.
































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