The Importance of Common Ground
“Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” John 18:38
Much has been made about the extreme polarization that has developed across the country. This is most in evidence in the world of politics and media. It is a detriment to the country and should be a cause for concern. How did this happen?
Recently, I had a conversation with a politician/legislator who I believe put his finger on the problem: the lack of any common ground based on shared truths. In the past few decades it has become increasingly common for truths, especially moral truths, to be relegated to the level of opinion. Public schools, and the public square in general, are restrained from even having conversations about such topics. In such a scenario, there is a vacuum. When no commonly shared truths exist as common ground, everything becomes about power—getting it and keeping it. The result is bitter polarization in politics and in other areas of our common life.
While this is lamentable, it highlights the important role of the Church and other communities of faith and civic organizations at the local level; what are sometimes called “mediating institutions.” Along with the family, these local institutions serve to strengthen the community by transmitting the truths that are necessary for a common ground to exist whereby civic discourse, debate, and unity can be achieved.
Christians, and people of other religions, in a spirit of mutual respect must have the courage to participate in civic life. By living by the moral truths that come from faith, we are better citizens; by participating in civic discourse, we help craft good laws, promote justice, and the common good. It will be ever more important for our country for us to stand on truths, otherwise more common ground will be surrendered to the quicksand of polarization and division.
This also highlights the value and importance of Catholic education. There we have the freedom to not only pray, but to be shaped by moral truths, cultivate virtues, and train our children to think and reason by a path which is grounded in reality. Religion and reason are complementary and are brought together in Catholic education leading to wisdom and goodness.
In this season of Advent, let us all open our lives more fully to receive Jesus Christ, “the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
+ Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr.
Catholic Key, December 8, 2017 issue