Social Conflict and Christianity

It is undeniable that there seems to be a great deal of social conflict between so-called left and right political positions today. Positions are increasingly extreme, and the two sides seem more and more interested in demonizing the other side. Christians seem to be caught in the middle. While the right does seem more interested in including Christians than the left, it is not so simple as putting Christianity in the “right-wing” camp and calling it done. The conflict is more fundamental than that.

The main reason for the conflict, I think, is that the differences between the two sides are not just political, they are philosophical. The two sides have different ontologies. Ontology refers to questions of “being”: what makes something the thing it is. For the right, what makes a thing is the objective truth, the facts, about it. Philosophically, this is a form of realism. For the left, what makes a thing is subjective: a person creates their own meaning, their own “being”, through acts of self-realization. Philosophically, this is a form of secular existentialism.

The difference can be seen in better detail through example. Consider, for instance, adult people with male bodies. For the right, these people are men because they have male bodies, regardless of their own views on the matter. For the left, those people are men if they self-identify as men, but woman if they self-identify as women, no matter the state of their body. In other words, for the right, man-ness comes from the person’s body: their self-identification is irrelevant. For the left, man-ness comes from the person’s self-identification: the body is irrelevant.

When a person has a male body but self-identifies as something else, the right sees it as a misrepresentation of the facts: delusional if believed, and fraudulent if not. But the left sees the self-identification as constituting the person’s being, it is “who they really are”. Thus, for the left, to reject that self-identification is to commit an act of aggression, of hatred or even genocide, as if to “will” the other into non-existence. This explains the increasingly extreme conflicts between left and right: the left views people on the right as being hateful and genocidal, while the right views people on the left as delusional and deceptive.

This difference in ontology is visible in other areas, too. For instance, the right views a human pregnancy as an unborn child, due to the objective facts, regardless of whether the pregnancy is wanted. For the left, the wanting is what matters: unwanted pregnancies are seen not as children but as fetal intrusions that a pregnant person has a right to stop. Another example: the right considers marriage to be something based not only on the self-declaration of a couple, but also on certain objective facts about them (i.e. their respective sexes). The left, on the other hand, sees the self-declaration as all-important: to the left, the objective facts are irrelevant, and their use is prejudicial.

Since the early 21st century, the left’s view has increasingly become mainstream, more and more represented in major media voices, government decision-making, and law. This has caused the right, in recent years, to begin to distrust mainstream narratives. Instead, people on the right seek out non-mainstream narratives, alternate voices that are not associated with the established order. The Internet is fertile ground for such narratives. But because anyone can put almost any sort of content on the Internet, this makes people on the right more vulnerable than on the left to being fooled by charlatans and mountebanks.

Where do Christians fit into all this? For Christians, “being” comes from objective facts, so in this respect at least, Christians fit better on the right. In fact, it is the Christian insistence on the objective reality of things like marriage, gender, unborn children, etc. that leads many on the left to actively reject and oppose Christianity. But Christianity is not just about facts, it is about love. Christians are called to love people unconditionally, as Jesus does, and people who self-declare in ways that do not seem consistent with objective facts are, none the less, deeply loved and worthy of respect. So while Christians are sometimes accused of hate, even genocide, the shoe generally does not (and should never) fit.

Moreover, Christianity believes in God who created the Universe out of nothing with a word, and who, in the Eucharist (despite appearances) through the words of consecration turns bread and wine into Jesus: his body and blood. Is this not a little like existentialism? One big difference is that for Christians, it is God, not the self, who brings things into being. This means that from a Christian point of view, the secular form of existentialism is actually a sort of idolatry, because the self, through acts of self-realization, is taking on the role of God in trying to declare things into existence. But there is such a thing as Christian existentialism, where God is not excluded but encountered, and “being” is found not so much in autonomic self-actualization as it is in a loving relationship with God.

Thus it is neither fair nor helpful for Christians to dismiss the left as mere idolators and take up the banners of the right. Moreover, the right, in seeking alternatives to mainstream voices, does not always settle on truthful ones. Also, while Jesus comes to teach us the truth, the truth is not merely about hard-headed realism, it is about God’s unfathomable, amazing, and transformative love. Yet Christianity cannot simply adopt the secular existential views of the left, either. Love rejoices in the truth [1 Corinthians 13:6], it does not make up its own doctrine according to its own desires [2 Timothy 4:3]. The challenge for Christians is to live within this tension, to understand what is happening and engage with people where they are. Christians need to try to span the gap, calm the discord, and de-escalate the conflict. This can be done with love, compassion and understanding, praying constantly to Jesus for his help and guidance. The conflict is no small thing: it is fundamental, ontological, a conflict of “being”. But as Christians, let us not give up hope. With God’s help and grace, the social conflict between right and left can be healed.

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus

Agapios Theophilus is the "nom de plume" of a catholic layman who has loved Jesus from when, as a young boy in the 1970s, he first learned about him. His First Communion, at the age of seven, was the happiest day of his life, and he celebrates its anniversary each year. He lives in a large city with his beloved wife, two wonderful children, and an affectionate orange and white cat. He has no formal qualifications whatsoever to write about Jesus: he writes only because he has been given the great gift of knowing and loving him, and he would like others to come to know and love him too. See Agapios' posts at and follow Agapios on twitter at

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