There’s no escaping binaries these days. Every conceivable detail of modern life seems to be reduced to digital 1s and 0s. As computing technology encroaches ever further, it makes resisting binaries seem harder than ever. In/Out, Left/Right, Same/Different, Them/Us.

This is not to deny that some aspects of reality genuinely are clear-cut. Some choices do fall into the life/death, and even into the right/wrong binaries, despite what many in our culture insist. But our fallibility is such that they constantly need handling with caution.

Of course, the human tendency to simplify everything into two categories long predates the digital era. We always seem to have been quick to identify our threats, our rivals, our enemies.

As this week painfully reminds us.

  • Srebrenica 1995: Sat 11th July is the 20th anniversary of one of the Balkans War’s darkest episodes: over a few days, more than8000 Bosniaks (mainly men and boys) were rounded up and executed by paramilitaries under the command of Republic of Srpska general, Ratko Mladić. UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, described this as the worst crime on European soil since the World War II.
  • London 2005: Tuesday was the 10th Anniversary of 7/7 – the horror of coordinated terrorist attacks on public transport at rush hour. This was the UK’s first experience of suicide bombers, and London’s agony seemed all the bleaker because of the euphoria at winning the Olympics bid just the day before.
  • Sousse 2015: only a fortnight ago, 38 people died in a shocking attack on a Tunisian hotel by a Kalashnikov-wielding ISIS-linked killer.

Each atrocity was an outworking of the extremist’s binary. Those who are not with us – different from us, opposed to us – have no right to exist.

But the fact is, only God has the perspective that makes ultimate binaries possible and ever just. That is perhaps why one of the Bible’s most surprising refrains is for people to resist them. Consider:

  • the valued place of the ‘foreigner’ within Israel (Leviticus 19:33-34);
  • Jesus’ explicit command to ‘love your enemies’ (Luke 6:27);
  • Paul’s insistence on the gospel breaking down the binaries of male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile (Galatians 3:28).

Which is why we should take Jesus’ parable of the wheat and weeds (Matthew 13:24-30) seriously. Only God can discern the difference at the final harvest. In the meantime, we are to treat everyone with equal grace and generosity. Others’ differences can never justify discrimination, let alone atrocity.


This was written for LICC’s Connecting With Culture (a weekly mailing), sent out on Fri 10th July 2015

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Simon

    Ai c.1500BC

    “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”

    Genuinely – how does this particular ‘extremist binary’ mesh with the biblical worldview you espouse in your musing?

    1. quaesitor

      Hi Simon – thanks for your comments. And you are exactly right to rase this and it was a problem I genuinely wrestled with writing the piece (and have wrestled with this for years). I took the decision not to touch on it in what had a strict 400 word limit because this particular column is meant to be a provocation and thought for the day kind of thing (rather than folly-orbed thesis which ties up all loose ends).

      But it is a genuine problem – and it seems to conform precisely to the extremist binary we’re talking about. I don’t want to deny that, nor to gloss over it with a trite over-simplification or soundbite. It requires a carefully thought through answer.

      It depends on a number of factors:
      – is there a God who speaks and reveals his purposes? If not, then this kind of event is clearly a theologising mask for the usual skullduggery and criminality of warfare. If so, then more is going on here than meets the eye… Which raises the next question…
      – is this a God who acts consistently within a matrix of goodness, mercy, justice and sovereignty? It is certainly how the Bible presents him. But that is so hard to handle when we live in a suffering and painful world – one or more of those characteristics seems utterly implausible. And yet, it is precisely this matrix that the Book of Job wrestles with in the Old Testament. No trite or neat answers. Just a resolution in coming to know the character of God.

      So could it be at all possible that this attack on the Amalekites is just? Well, weird and even terrible though it might seem, I believe that it could well be.

      But for more on that, I’d thoroughly recommend my colleague, Chris Wright’s book The Good I Don’t Understand. He is a renowned OT scholar and he tackles this head on. It started out as a series at our church ( and was published some time later… (

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