Always Talk About Religion and Politics

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There’s a weird understanding in our polite culture that we never discuss religion or politics. I say always discuss them.

I don’t mean like constantly talk about religion and politics. But to always make sure and talk about it. And certainly don’t never discuss religion and politics.

Some say it’s not polite. But perhaps that’s because we haven’t learned how to talk about them politely. And perhaps we don’t know how to talk about them politely because we never discuss religion and politics. Perhaps if we did it more we could learn to be more polite about it when doing so. And besides, there are sometimes things more important than being polite.

Why is it that we would be comfortable not discussing two of the most important things in our existence – our freedom (politics) and our purpose (religion)? Kind of strange isn’t it?

It’s quite alright to talk about the game last night, a new pair of shoes, or how so-and-so did you-know-what and can you believe it? But two of the more important things in life are taboo? What gives?

The obvious answer is that they are more difficult to talk about without causing conflict. And we often avoid conflict at all costs. Fair enough. Like most things that are important, such topics are fueled by conviction and passion. But so what? Is that really good enough reason to leave off talking about them all together? Should that not be more reason to discuss them?

Yet we often don’t. We seem to be more comfortable having shallow relationships built on chit-chat and nonsense than to have deep, meaningful, fruitful ones built upon challenge and trial. The latter is the stuff of real friendship. The former has raised a generation illiterate of politics and ignorant of religion.

If we actually talked about it more maybe it would help that.

And we shouldn’t just discuss it in like company. We should especially discuss it in mixed company. This is how we learn from each other. This is how we understand one another.

Doing such personalizes these political and religious issues for us. We can then no longer wrongfully demonize some ambiguous, faceless group of people who strangely believe or support some outrageous thing! For we have met them…and they’re not demons, they’re our friends. They’re our family. They’re our neighbors.

Such discussions encourage us to learn from each other and understand where the other side is coming from instead of tritely discounting their point of view in our head without true effort of reconciliation. We may very well be right on the issue, but surely our goal is to work towards agreeing on the objective truth, not to idly chastise so we feel better about ourselves.

Thoughtful discussions are a great way to encourage people to reason through their positions – which they often have not done (on account of never having to discuss them). And it’s a great way to teach when done out of love.

Oh, and we often learn we aren’t quite as smart as we thought we were, too.

All good things.

21 comments Add comment

Pamela Luther April 14, 2009 at 10:26 pm

You make some very good points. It homes for me. I cannottalk about politics or my Catholic faith with my mom because she is so bitter about it. When I mention anything positive we are doing she is quick to point out that 60% Catholics voted for the current president. The elephant in the room remains. It is sad for me because I cannot truly share the major part of my life. It reduces our phone conversations to a very few mundane subjects. I just keep praying for her…
Thanks for the article!
Pamela Luther
Chicago Roman Catholic Examiner

Jeff April 14, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Very well-put, Matthew. Funny how we tend to shrink when these topics come up…but you’ve got great answers for that. Thanks

Kevin J Jones April 15, 2009 at 12:16 am

“But perhaps that’s because we haven’t learned how to talk about them politely. And perhaps we don’t know how to talk about them politely because we never discuss religion and politics.”

I’ve long thought the same thing.

If people can competently argue over the best quarterback of all time or the merits of movie A vs. movie B, they can do the same for religion and politics. The latter topics just require a bit more involvement.

Mike April 15, 2009 at 5:39 am

I think it’s especially important to talk about these things with our kids. Whether we realize it or not, they pick up a lot ideas about religion and politics from the popular media.

Pamela, you might point out to your mother that among practicing Catholics the numbers are quite different.

Andreas April 15, 2009 at 10:25 am

Hm… In my experience this is a very difficult thing to do. Religion *or* politics is hard enough to discuss without it getting heated.
I think my problem stems from the fact that even though you might have differing views, you can discuss politics based on real observations (statistics, demographics, laws being passed, etc.) And even that doesn’t always lead to the right decisions e.g. the completely failed war on drugs that’s still going on.
But with religion it is about faith and a discussion can in the end not be based on observable facts – it is about belief.
So if the discussion were about gay marriage, I would point to laws, data from states that have allowed it and where *nothing* has happened to heterosexual marriage and other issues – and we can discuss whether these things are important or not.
But when religion comes into this issue it is about whether you think it is a sin or not, and that completely depends on whether you believe in the Christian God or not. You do, I don’t – discussion over.
I doubt I will make you renounce your faith and you will not make me a believer in any one of the gods that people believe in. But we could argue about politics and maybe change our opinion based on the facts, because *that* doesn’t involve faith.

So my point is this: I would discuss both, but rather separately because mixing it up just makes it all the more difficult to come to a point.

Phew.

Cindy April 15, 2009 at 11:00 am

Is it possible that people don’t discuss religion or politics because they have given little serious consideration to why they believe what they profess to believe?

gm April 15, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Yes, it is truly important to discuss about these things especially that these are the ones that are very important to our destiny. Maybe people should start talking about them starting at their homes and then to the ones that are more comfortable to talk with about this topic. I am sure that one will find that there are really quite a number of people that are interested.

Phil April 15, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Matt, interesting post. There is always room for further discussion, on any topic, any and all the time. To discuss is to examine, to learn. Objective discussion, that is.

Problem is when someone ‘discusses’ politics or religion, 99% of the time it’s not ‘discussion’. It’s really not true ‘examination’ of a topic. It’s persuasion. It’s person ‘A’ trying to persuade person ‘B’ to see the light, as they see it. We have all done it. There is nothing wrong with it. It’s human to be passionate. In fact, it’s wonderful to be passionate enough about something to want someone else to share that same passion. Kind of like when you see a really great movie or hear an awesome song and you want a friend to experience the same feeling of passion you do. But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to get them to like that song you like,they are not able to share this same feeling of passion. They don’t hear it like you hear it. They don’t get that feeling you get.

My point is, I think that ‘political discussions’ or ‘religious discussions’ are almost oxymorons. I really believe that in order to truly ‘examine’ something, in the most absolute form of the word, it must be done objectively and without passion or prejudice for one side or another.

Thus, the old saying that politics and religion aren’t fit to be discussed. If we were not human, i.e. if we were able to remove the passion and persuasion from these ‘discussions’ then we would probably learn a lot more! Just my $.02.

Matthew Warner April 15, 2009 at 9:33 pm

Great thoughts, Phil! But I think if we don’t attempt the discussion of these important topics (no matter how difficult or frustrating they can be at times) then the prejudice and lack of objectivity goes unchecked – which makes it worse.

I don’t think we can let the possibility of prejudice or passion keep us from discussing these topics. And I think that if you TRULY believe in something and you’re NOT trying to persuade people to it then you probably don’t actually believe it all that much.

I think that hits on another part of the problem – and that’s our age of relativism. There is a loss of the sense of any kind of objectivity in the first place. There is a sense that every point of view must be treated as equally valid simply because somebody holds it. That’s weird. In an objective reality one side will always be nearer the truth than the other on a particular point. Our goal must be to work together to find that objective truth…not to muddle it with uncertainty, lack of discussion, or a false sense of “balance.”

We put it out there (respectfully of course)…however passionate and prejudice we may be and we let it collide with the passions and prejudices of opposing sides. The grinding together is what lessens the prejudice and clears away misguided passions to eventually reveal this objectivity we desire and ultimately the truth.

If we bottle it all up or only express it in bubbles of affirmation, the prejudice and misguidance flourish.

Phil April 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm

“We put it out there (respectfully of course)…however passionate and prejudice we may be and we let it collide with the passions and prejudices of opposing sides. The grinding together is what lessens the prejudice and clears away misguided passions to eventually reveal this objectivity we desire and ultimately the truth.”

Funny, you just summed up why I think they say politics and religion shouldn’t be discussed. Think about the last time you had a politcal discussion. How many of your own ‘misguided passions’ were cleared up in your conversation? Did either party come to an ‘ultimate truth’?

It sounds great on paper, but the reality is it doesn’t work that way. Not to say we shouldn’t try. But ask yourself how many times you have had your own misguided passions er….reguided…after a discussion about politics or religion. I know that just in the discussions you and I have had the answer would be zero…mine would also be zero…funny how that works. :)

I think when it is said that one shouldn’t discuss politics or religion, I think it’s more of play on “why waste your time”. At least that’s how I always perceived that saying.

Matthew Warner April 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

Actually, I totally disagree with that. I’ve learned quite a bit from our discussions (which is exactly what they were).

I can say very similar things about discussions and relationships I have with many of my good friends with whom I passionately disagree. When I wrote this I wasn’t basing it on theory. I was basing it on experience.

I think maybe you’re looking at the wrong measuring stick. I’m not saying people’s minds are necessarily totally changed on their fundamental position. But I can definitely say I come away understanding the other person’s point of view a lot better. And I can definitely say that I’m much less likely to sum up that person’s belief as stupid or unthoughtful. And I definitely come away understanding a little bit more about why that person disagrees with me in the first place.

And if I was acting with any ill-prejudice I can guarantee you it’s been exposed and I embarrassed for holding such. And if I was being completely illogical there’s a good chance that’s been pointed out to me now causing me to rethink it a lot more.

And on the flip side, I can’t begin to count the conversations I’ve had with people on a topic like religion where it caused each of us to think about a particular point more deeply than we’ve ever thought about it before.

I’m fairly sure you can say the same. I hardly think that’s a waste of time. Those are all good things. We need more of it…not less.

Michelle Leslie April 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Great blog!

Glad somebody wrote about it.

Julian May 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Chesterton I think said something along the lines of all disagreements are based on religion in one way or another. I do love to discuss religion and politics, and in fact any topic of depth, but I have found most people like to keep their conversations superficial since that is their area of expertise. Also, if one is interested in searching for the truth or is curious about the faith, that is quite different than talking to those arguing against it with a closed mind. I avoid the latter since it leads to them usually saying something insulting or unnecessary. Anyway here is an interesting article on debating politics like a gentleman (the site has other articles that I have found useful and not oppositional to Catholic sensibilities).
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/09/21/how-to-debate-politics-civilly/

Matthew Warner May 25, 2010 at 1:29 am

Sweet article, Julian! Thanks for sharing. And a really cool site as well to go with! I like what I’ve seen on it so far.

Gordon May 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm

I find humor works well. Like with this blog I put in as a web site I like to read. Humor can expand the mind and relieve the tension of the discussion, esp., if its done in a slightly absurdest way, much in the same way that science fiction can detail things, reflect things back at us about our selves, our culture, but its ok because its about aliens.

Patricia Weber July 29, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Great ideas Matthew.

“Why is it that we would be comfortable not discussing two of the most important things in our existence – our freedom (politics) and our purpose (religion)? Kind of strange isn’t it?” Part of it IS that we were taught not to. And then THAT myth just perpetuates. So then your operative word of having “thoughtful” discussions rarely happens because we are frozen with those old limiting beliefs.

Thank you for saying that it is OK and even right to do so.

lozen March 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Gordon you are so right. I love George Carlin’s book “When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?” I especially like this rant: ‘People who believe in UFOs are thought of as dingbats whereas those who believe in an eternal, all powerful being who demands to be loved and adored unconditionally and who rewards and punishes according to his whims are thought to be worthy, upright, creditable people.’ Know what I mean? Jelly bean.

W kernaghan April 3, 2013 at 2:42 pm

It seems to me, you are trying too hard, too goody goody. Too religious perhaps.

As an atheist I may be excused thinking this.
My experience is entirely the reverse of yours. I love to talk about religion but from experience find those of a religious background have little time for a conversation about what I call a conversation pertaining to religion, as opposed to their wish to talk only about the bible. How quick they are to quote chapter and verse. Personally I would like to discuss God. After all God introduced us to religion.

EPH April 9, 2013 at 2:10 am

Yes, indeed, if there is one thing that all citizens of a ‘democracy’ ought always be discussing, it is politics!

Being fearful of conflict in such a way is indicative of a lack of discrimination between discussion and argument being a collaborative effort with the aim of bettering the quality of the views of all involved or a hateful struggle between two or more opposing sides to demean and dismember the others with the hope of standing victorious on their mangled remains.

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