In an essay that appears in a book he edited, Imaginative Apologetics, the theologian Andrew Davison tells about being in India and coming across a person with leprosy. As a Christian, he saw the leper and felt compassion and aided him, though much to the unease of Indians. It then struck him that those who believe in karma and reincarnation, as Hindus do, see a leper as someone atoning for past sins and doing what needs to be done for a future, and better, reincarnation. So they interpreted aiding the leper as doing something inappropriate.
Davison wrote, “We do not first see neutrally, and then interpret. The leper is seen as unfortunate, as someone upon whom to show pity, or seen as a miscreant, as someone to be reviled. Axioms operate at this very direct level as well as in more discursive reasoning.”
Professor Davison uses this illustration to show how our worldviews shape our interpretation of events and reality, to demonstrate how people can see the same situation and react to them in wholly different ways.
This doesn’t mean there is no such thing as objective truth. I’m not post-modern enough to believe that reality is something that is simply shaped by, and objectionable actions can be simply excused by, interpretation. But Davison’s illustration can help civilize our politics just a bit. Let me explain what I mean.