This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Polarizing fallout

Kyle Hinckley made a stir in the video-game world by successfully completing the hardest mode of Fallout 4 with zero kills. In this popular series of video games set in a post-apocalyptic United States, gamers make their way through a hostile landscape to achieve the goal of the story. Killing nonplayer characters is the usual way, but gamers like Hinckley make it their goal to complete the game with no kills.

Carmen Andres

That’s a challenge, because Fallout 4 doesn’t offer many nonviolent alternatives. In fact, as Mandy Myers at The Mary Sue points out, it seems rigged against nonviolent options.

This invites interesting comparisons to our culture at large, but I find a deeper cautionary tale embedded in this story.

Hinckley readily admits his version of virtual pacifism isn’t traditional. For example, when his character can’t get through a scenario without killing, he exploits the game’s mechanics by manipulating other nonplayer characters to commit the act.

In other words, Hinckley’s character technically doesn’t kill anyone but nonetheless leaves a wake of destruction.

“This is a ‘no-kill run’ according to the loosest possible definition of the term, but it’s definitely not a feel-good path,” observes Myers.

As I contemplated the contrast between Hinckley’s goal and his methods, I found myself thinking about the conflict between our commitment as disciples of Jesus and our actions — particularly when we disagree — in a culture rigged toward polarization.

In this age of social media, most of us rub shoulders with people from a variety of backgrounds, ideologies and theologies. This can be enriching and enlightening, even when we differ on issues where we believe we’re right.

However, people are growing less willing to civilly engage and more hostile toward those with different viewpoints.

In a New York Times article, “Polarization Is Dividing American Society, Not Just Politics,” Nate Kohn reports on a 2014 Pew Research study that reveals how we’re becoming a self-segregated and “divided society where liberals and conservatives increasingly keep apart.” As a result, each party is “more ideologically homogeneous than ever before” and “partisan and ideological animosity is dividing American society.”

Believers are often deeply invested in ideological or theological beliefs because they are based on convictions rooted in Scripture, ministry or their relationships with God. Unfortunately, cultural polarity and animosity has infiltrated the way we approach each other when those convictions conflict. Too often, we manifest hostility and contempt for each other, tossing verbal grenades that destroy both personal relationships and public witness.

Even if we believe divine truth is on our side, we must be careful. “When God speaks to us, it does not prove that we are righteous or even right,” says Dallas Willard in Hearing God. “It does not even prove that we have correctly understood what he said. The infallibility of the messenger and the message does not guarantee the infallibility of our reception. Humility is always in order.”

Even if we are right, says Willard, we should remember “that God’s purposes are not merely to support us or make us look and feel secure in our roles or to make sure we are right.” Indeed, says Willard, few succeed in bearing up under being right gracefully. How we act must be grounded in an overall character of life, which includes humility, faith and, perhaps above all, “hopeful love.”

I’m not saying we mustn’t speak with passion, conviction and even righteous anger. But doing so without humility and love is destructive. While our culture leaves few alternatives to polarization, we are called to walk a different way.

The alternative is costly: We risk becoming Christians in the loosest possible definition, which is definitely not a feel-good path.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.

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