There are many, many disagreements going on in the world. That isn’t new. What might be new for many of us is the intensity of the disagreements. I think one of the reasons why disagreements have become so heated is that there is no longer agreement on basic foundational premises. Organizations reflect this. People reflect it also.
A premise is “an assertion or proposition which forms the basis for a work or theory.” (Source)
A premise is foundational. Some basic premises are that the sky is blue when there aren’t clouds out. That 2 + 2 = 4. That there are 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. If we can agree to these premises that we can have conversations about the weather, math, and time. These are so foundational that for the most part we don’t even bother to set the record straight and get any type of formal agreement of the premises.
But I’m really wondering if we should start being clear about our premises and the premises of those we talk with. Because what I observe is that there is a high likelihood that many of our disagreements stem from disagreement over basic foundational premises. This is why it seems as those people are in separate universes. In a way, they are.
We have to start with agreement of basic premises if we are to have a conversation. Without this basic agreement, we are wasting time with each other. Unity, the thing many claim to want and many see as the ointment to our current sickness of division, means agreeing to basic premises. Healing won’t happen until we have an agreement on basic premises.
Take for example the insurrection against the seat of government on January 6 in Washington, DC. There is disagreement over what language to use for what happened. Those disagreements stem from competing premises that do not share any values. Those competing premises on display are the premise that the ends justify the means versus the premise that the means are as important as the ends.
Those who see nothing wrong or support the attack are operating on the premise that the ends justify the means. When the ends justify the means, there is room for all sorts of things. Conning people is acceptable because it is the ends that matter, not the means. Lying is acceptable too. So is accommodating conspiracy theories. The ends are what matters after all. And if the ends are securing power, then according to the premise that the ends justify the means, then any method of obtaining that power is acceptable.
I disagree with this premise. It goes agains the core tenants of the faith that I adhere to and practice – Christianity. All of Scripture declares that the means are as important as the ends. Jesus, who is the Savior, preaches against the idea of the ends justify the means.
If we can not agree on the basic premise, then what am I to do? I am to live out the premises that I accept as true. And for me that means I will see the image of God in you and I will work at moving towards shalom – completeness and wholeness.
I also have an obligation to oppose competing premises that are dangerous and destructive. Not by using violent means or using means that dehumanize or destroy. That would go agains the basic premise that I adhere to – that the means are as important as the ends. I will oppose and stand in the way of premises that cause harm to others because of the set of premises that I live by. Opposition to destructive premises is one of the most loving things I can do.