Some thoughts on inherent dangers of not doing nuance |

Some thoughts on inherent dangers of not doing nuance

Rev. Jack Van Ens

“I don’t do nuance,” George W. Bush said to Joseph Biden, his Democratic Party critic of the war in Iraq. Our president prefers a bumper-sticker mentality. Aim for what is clear and concise. Don’t tolerate layers of meaning. Leave no room for ambiguity. There’s a right and there’s a wrong. The ancient Manichaean way of looking at life is Bush’s. Chop the world into good and evil camps, with little merging of the two. The president’s followers believe that by ditching nuance, not examining tough problems from several angles, he shows fierce resolve. Already in 1992, Bush told us, “As you can probably tell, I don’t see many shades of meaning.” Complexity invites nuance; simplicity denies it.Lacking nuance opened the White House door for a second Bush term. He knows his strengths. He may muddle syntax when speaking- “nuclear” will always sound right to him as nuk-u-lar-but when dealing with Iraq, Bush moves straight ahead. He minces no words. Evil lurks in Iraq. A divine destiny calls us to rub it out, replacing fanaticism with freedom.Obviously, the majority of voters in the last presidential election don’t do nuance, either. At first the values issue explained Bush’s victory. He stood for strong morals, strong families, strong Christian faith, strong allegiance to the Ten Commandments in the public square, and strong protection of life amid rampant abortions.With distance from the election, we now understand that it was lack of nuance, more that religious values, that catapulted Bush back into the Oval Office. Citizens remember how fearful they became after 9/11. Bush offers them security. He might not be on target with warring foreign policy, but no one denies that he has a target in sight.As “Othello” begins, Shakespeare introduces us to a Moorish general who fights battles in stark black and white. Othello reminds us that doubt and uncertainty find little place when attacked. “To be once in doubt,” declares Othello, “is once to be resolved.” As soon as he has clarified a situation, removing its nuances, he fights quickly and resolutely, without further question.Bush defines himself as a “war president.” Like Othello, he dismisses as dilly-dallying accessing situations from different angles. For Bush nuance means holding back, biding time, rarely coming to conclusions, and equivocating when shaky times demand stern action against evil.Is Bush precise or petulant? Steadfast or stubborn? Decisive or demagogic? Confident or cocky?Who else doesn’t do nuance? Fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.They deny the biblical truth that in this life “we see in a mirror dimly,” I Corinthians 13:12. Ancient people in the Apostle Paul’s day used burnished copper plates as mirrors. They had no glass. When peering into these metal plates, they faintly saw their images, wavy, distorted, indistinct, like contorted pictures we see of ourselves at county fairs when looking into a mirror that bloats or diminishes us.When people are scared, nuance becomes scarce. Peace activist William Sloane Coffin warns of the malady afflicting us, Islamic terrorists, and even a president who doesn’t have the capacity to admit error because his mirror for war is bright, not dim.Coffin, in his punchy book Credo, tells how dangerous life is without nuance. “Fundamentalists are no different from the rest of us. Just as often as we do, they use the Bible as the drunk uses the lamppost: for support, not illumination. And consider this: Perhaps God approves the struggles of the human mind to try to interpret God’s designs. ‘The unknown is the mind’s greatest need, and for it no one thinks to thank God,'” Emily Dickinson.Coffin believes doing nuance is absolutely necessary. “So far from being a danger to it, difference of opinion is an essential ingredient of religious life, just as difference of opinion is no danger but an essential ingredient to a healthy political life. So interpretation is not only inevitable; it’s desirable.”Doing nuance slows us down when we are too quick on the mental draw. It saves us from equating opinion with conviction. A fire brigade may be alert to flames, smell acrid smoke and heroically bust a door down to rescue those trapped inside. But if they knock down the wrong door because they are too eager to immediately snuff out flames, firefighters may prove their own undoing. They open doors with no fire victims behind them.Rushing to victory in Iraq hasn’t doused raging fires of animosity toward the U.S. Bush’s foreign policy experts forgot to do nuance when planning for peace in a Muslim culture so different from ours.Abraham Lincoln did nuance. In the 1850’s, abolitionists denounced slavery owners as un-Christian. Lincoln didn’t curse those owning slaves. He said, “They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up.”Lincoln cautioned in another address that “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation” would only make matters worse. Denunciation would be met with denunciation, “anathema with anathema.” Not doing nuance is dangerous and dumb. The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the tax-exempt nonprofit Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado

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