In this episode, Matt Croasmun, Ryan McAnnally-Linz, and Miroslav Volf discuss the Trump-Biden presidential debate from September 29, 2020, and its implications for public discourse and the very possibility of democratic deliberation.
And yes, we know that that is not the headline anymore. The truth is stranger than fiction—again. The fact is lots of people are still sick. This pandemic is real.
But we’re not trying to keep up with the latest headlines. The purpose of every single episode of this podcast is to help you envision and pursue a life that is worthy of your humanity.
And we think there’s something important to say about what we saw (or maybe more appropriate—what we can’t unsee) in the presidential debate. Something deeply significant for what it means to share common life together and jointly pursue the fullest vision of flourishing we can imagine.
Earlier this week, we saw the symptoms of a truly unhealthy public discourse. But we are not referring to the aggressiveness or the intensity. The conditions for debate assume that we contend, fiercely even, for what we take to be right. But what makes this country’s public discourse so sick, so fragile, is something that has infected it from within—something that threatens the very possibility of debate.
In this conversation, the following two points are foundational, and both come from Miroslav’s book, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
We have two basic responsibilities if we’re contending for particular normative visions of flourishing in a democracy. That is, if you have a vision of the good life and you think it’s right.
First, we need to commend our vision of flourishing life—we ought to defend it robustly.
And second, we must help maintain the possibility of pluralistic discourse—disagreement, debate, deliberation—about flourishing life.
So, we uphold our views, articulate them, defend them, and extend them. But we encourage dialogue. We listen carefully. We’re intellectually hospitable. We’re humble and open-minded and ready to learn.
And if we are not prepared to maintain the possibility of public discourse, or if indeed we imitate the behavior on display earlier this week, well, that’s how you destroy a debate.
- The two responsibilities for flourishing in the public square: 1. Commend your vision of flourishing life. 2. Help maintain the possibility of pluralistic discourse about flourishing life.
- The game of democratic liberalism: self-referreeing, calling your own fouls, and when a pick-up game threatens to devolve to a brawl.
- What goods are there in maintaining pluralistic discourse itself?
- Truth matters for a certain kind of vision of humanity.
- Virtue doesn’t need adornment because it is its own greatest ornament. (Seneca)
- "Democratic practices are expressions of our deep humanity.” (Miroslav Volf)
- What are the deep Christian commitments that cohere well with democratic values? Why should a Christian care about the rules of the democratic game?
- "Because Christians value the salvation of the soul!” (Miroslav Volf)
- Should Christians see winning in democratic politics as advancing the interests of God?
- Seeking whatever means achieve political ends is radically un-Christian.
- The basic commitment is to love one’s neighbor.
- Listening as a Christian practice of love and hospitality. (Luke Bretherton: Christ and Common Life)
- What is the goal of debate? Does the debater listen only to rebut? Or does the debater listen to become wiser?
- Bad faith actors
- Getting drawn into the maelstrom. "They go low, we go high"
- "Be careful not to saw off the limb you’re sitting on."