Chapter 6: Politics and Religion

21 min readApr 1, 2017


Why am I writing about politics and religion?

Why am I writing about politics and religion?

Politics are important for a few reasons. First, they have a big impact on the world. There are lots of political decisions made and some of them have huge ramifications. Some people have their lives completely changed because of politics. Secondly, people spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about politics. Politics and political news are everywhere now: newspapers, television news, news websites, social media, history books, etc. There are probably more people on Earth publishing their thoughts and questions about politics than ever before.

Politics can be very divisive. It can cause people to dislike each other. It also creates a lot of judgement. For example, you might judge someone as being better or smarter if they share your political views.

My political beliefs

You might be wondering how my political beliefs are the same or different from yours. You might even be hoping that my political views are similar to yours!

In the current spectrum of American politics, I consider myself pretty moderate. There are some issues on which I am liberal and other issues on which I’m conservative. There are some issues that I care a lot about and other issues that I don’t care much about.

In this chapter, I start with sections about some political theory. Then afterwards I discuss some issues that I care about.

It’s important to acknowledge that I’ve only lived in the United States. This has a big impact on which political issues are most important to me. If I lived somewhere else I would have different opinions and ideas.

Solving problems

We face problems and challenges all the time. People have formed governments to help deal with those challenges. The government’s responsibility isn’t to solve ALL of the problems we face for us, but it should help us try to fix some of the problems. The government should also try to prevent new problems. Sometimes an attempt at solving a problem will cause a new problem; this can be seen as a failure to prevent a new problem.

There will always be new concerns and new problems arising. It’s like a never-ending to-do list. There are lots of small challenges and some big ones.

A government should be judged based on how well it handles challenges and problems. A bad government will do a worse job of solving problems and also create lots of new problems. Good governments will solve problems effectively and efficiently.

Solving and preventing problems allow citizens to live happy, healthy, and prosperous lives. Good problem solving requires treating people fairly and justly.

Government’s Responsibilities

Every government has responsibilities. The responsibilities that governments encounter can be divided into three broad categories: keeping people safe, keeping things fair and just, or making improvements that benefit the community.

There is a a lot of disagreement and arguing over what the government should do and how it should work. The disagreement and arguing can be very intense.

The debates and opposing views are disagreements about how the government should handle its responsibilities. People disagree about how to best keep people safe, how to best keep things fair, and how to make improvements without causing future problems. We can also disagree when the responsibilities conflict with each other. There can be conflicts between safety and fairness, fairness and improvements, improvements and safety.

It’s important to note that these disagreements can arise even when competing views have the same goal. Deep down, they might agree on what the end results should be. For example, everyone wants a safe, fair, happy community. Still, how to best achieve those goals can cause lots of disagreement.

Which policies are implemented depends on how people vote and politicians decide. People change their beliefs about the government based on their experiences and knowledge.

The Importance of Free Speech

The freedom of speech has always been a valued liberty in the United States. The idea is that the government should not have the power to punish, censor, or control what you say or how you express your opinions.

Free speech can be a complicated topic. There are a few things you could say that are not protected by free speech. These are cases when your speech would directly create injustice for others, such as slander, lying under oath in court, endangering others, etc. In those cases, it seems fair to put restrictions on the speech. But generally we allow people to share their beliefs without fear of punishment or censorship by the government. This means you’re allowed to share any opinion about the government, a business, a person, a religion, etc.

Free speech only protects you against censorship by the government. Businesses and individuals can still censor you. For example, consider a website that allows users to express their own thoughts on the website (such as Twitter or Facebook). The people running the website can censor or remove what you wrote. They are not obligated to display what you wrote. So if you want to express something controversial, you need a medium (such as a website, a book publisher, a meeting place, etc) that is willing to have your opinion.

There are a number of reasons why free speech (protection from government punishment) is important. It is a form of justice, since allowing the government to punish someone for their beliefs feels unjust. Free and fair democracy requires that people can share their opinion of the government without fear of being punished by the government. It also allows you to hear a variety of opinions. It helps people speak up who might otherwise be afraid to voice their opinions, feelings, and ideas.

Some people will use free speech to say things you don’t like or agree with. If you listen to those people, then you can try to understand and work together with them.

The Importance of Political Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and thoughts. Political empathy is when you understand someone else’s political opinions.

To me, empathy does not require that you share or agree with those feelings, only that you understand them. It’s relatively easy to empathize with the people that you like and agree with. It’s a lot harder to empathize with someone that you disagree with or dislike. That person may be voting or campaigning against what you want. Though difficult, developing political empathy has many benefits.

Political empathy is NOT a form of agreement, support, or sympathy. It’s important to recognize that you can empathize with someone who is evil or wrong without being evil or wrong yourself. In my opinion, empathizing with someone does not lend credit to their claims. It does not validate their incorrect speech. So don’t accuse me of being supportive or sympathetic to anyone just because I try to understand them. It’s possible to empathize with anything, no matter how evil or terrible it is, if you listen to what they are arguing.

Political empathy for someone tries to understand what they want, how they came to disagree with you, and what your best response should be. Empathy allows for a greater understanding of the things and people you are trying to change.You will make decisions based on better facts and fewer incorrect assumptions about your opponent’s beliefs. You will have a better chance of convincing someone to agree with you.

Empathy leads to better solutions. It allows you to be open to different ideas and new information. It creates an atmosphere of cooperation, optimism, and motivation. The best results occur when everyone involved in a project is motivated to work together for the best outcome.

Responding to Opposing Viewpoints and How to Convince Others

When you respond to someone that you disagree with, you want to be as convincing as possible.

There are some criticisms that I see that I don’t think are very effective, and might even be counterproductive. For example, I frequently see people accused of being a “troll,” which is ridiculous. A troll is someone who is being insincere or just wants attention. You are accusing them of not being serious when they might actually be sincere. You should be willing to accept that they can have different beliefs than you.

Don’t call people who disagree with you stupid. Most likely, they are not stupid. They just have different beliefs and experiences than you. Similarly, don’t call them crazy. Very few people are actually crazy. It’s belittling. You’re not giving your opposition the same respect you would like to get from them. Don’t make fun of them personally or attack them personally. It’s not strengthening your logical argument.

There are things you can do that I suspect are very effective at convincing other people to agree with you. Start by believing that they are just as capable of intelligent thinking as you. Recognize that the difference of opinion is a result of having different experiences and information than you. Ask questions. This helps you understand them better and respects their intelligence. Let them come to their own conclusions. The style of debating someone by asking lots of questions is called the Socratic Method.

There is a great book called Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. He says that the most effective way to communicate is to make the other party feel appreciated and listened to. Try to work with them rather than against them. Rather than getting angry or judgmental, you express that you are listening to what the person is feeling and why.

The worst thing you can do is act like you are smarter than them. The best thing you can do to convince people to agree with you is to listen to and respect them. People seem to be convinced more by emotions than with reasoning and logic.

Finally, understand that there are a lot more similarities than there are differences or disagreements. Deep down, everyone pretty much wants the same things: safety, justice, fairness, wellbeing, and respect. We just have different ideas about how to best get those things.

What is America’s role in the world?

The United States is a unique country in many ways. Our history is fairly long and our democracy is complicated. We have a large population with a lot of diversity. We have a large geography and a large economy. Our unique history and position in the world does give us some unique opportunities that other nations don’t have.

Some of the most influential people in world history have come from the United States. This includes politicians, scientists, business leaders, engineers, activists, writers, doctors, military generals, and others. Overall, we have an unusual amount of influence on people living all around the world.

While the United States is unique, that doesn’t mean it is exceptional. In some ways, it is just like any other country. We are not a “chosen” people. We strive for greatness, but so do many other nations.

Additionally, it seems like the world is becoming more connected than ever before. What happens outside of our country can have an effect inside our own country. For this reason, we can’t think only about ourselves. We have to understand ourselves as well as everyone else. This allows us to make better decisions and promote our well-being in both the short-term and the long-term.

Democracy is about convincing others to agree with you

In a democracy, voting has a huge effect on policy. There are different types of votes: citizens vote to elect an official to represent their interests, elected officials vote among themselves to make a decision, and sometimes citizens vote directly on the laws.

In a fair vote, the winning option is not necessarily the best option but rather the one that got the support of enough people. Being persuasive is very important to a democracy.

What makes someone persuasive or charismatic? They have to be easy to understand. They should be enjoyable to listen to. They should also be inspirational. Effective election campaigns make the voters feel like they are voting for someone who will do great things on their behalf.

Voting Takes Effort

Only the people who vote get their vote counted and influence the result. There are a lot of people who are eligible to vote but don’t vote. Sometimes people don’t vote because they don’t have a strong enough opinion. (Or in some cases, they live in an area where their vote doesn’t matter.)

Other times, people don’t vote because they haven’t put in the time and effort to vote. If you want someone to vote in support of you, you have to convince them to actually vote. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy or simple to vote. Even when it is easy and simple, it can still be perceived as being difficult.

The “User Experience” of Being A Citizen

Interacting with the government can sometimes be frustrating or confusing. When it is, this is a bad “user experience” for the citizen.

There is a wide range of frustrating experiences and how bad they are. For example, you might have to wait in a frustratingly long line or “stay on hold” for a long time during a phone call. You might be unsure how to correctly obey a confusing law or unsure how to correctly fill out a confusing form. An extreme example of bad government user experience would be if you were imprisoned unjustly for a crime.

A great government will have a great user experience. Improving the user experience of citizens is a way to improve the government. The “citizen user experience” can influence opinions of the government. It seems reasonable that someone with a more frustrating experience with the government would be more skeptical of government projects. Someone with a positive experience with the government would be more open to new government programs.

Political parties and the political spectrum

In the United States, it’s common to have only two major political parties at a time. Other parties exist but win less frequently than the two major parties. A candidate who can earn the nomination of one of the two major parties will have an easier time winning than a candidate that runs as a member of a 3rd party.

It’s also common to hear complaints about the two-party system. For example, if you don’t like either of the two choices. However, the current voting method discourages third parties because they could “split the vote” and cause a different party’s candidate to win. A politician or voter sometimes supports someone they don’t completely agree with just to prevent someone “worse” from winning. In this way, they are allied to one of the two major parties to avoid losing to the other major party.

The two major parties, Democrats and Republicans, have to remain somewhat moderate in order to appeal to large number of people. Within a single party there can be a wide variety of opinions. The major parties are always evolving over time. Their positions and platforms evolve as new issues become popular. Politicians with leadership positions within a party can evolve their opinions. Influencing one or both of the major parties is probably more effective than trying to influence the public to vote for a third party.

Hypothesis: Running a positive campaign is more effective than running a negative one

My hypothesis is that running a “positive” campaign is more effective than running a “negative” campaign. A negative campaign is where you attack your opponent rather than supporting your own alternative.

People love to criticize and attack the politicians and ideas that they don’t like. This may rally people who already feel the same way, but I don’t think it is very helpful towards convincing people who don’t feel the same way.

Instead, it would be more effective to express your enthusiasm for your own alternative. I suspect that people will be motivated to vote if they are mildly excited about someone/something than if they are mildly against something.

I’m not certain if this hypothesis is correct or not. It reminds me of the saying “any publicity is good publicity”. If you mock or criticize an opponent, you might end up legitimizing them to voters.

The Media

There is more information being published than ever before. However, there is also a lot of misinformation and misleading information that gets published. In order to understand the whole story, readers need to be good critical thinkers and critical consumers of information. The media creators might leave out details or use faulty logic.

One example of misleading information is a misleading title or headline. Some websites (such as Reddit) allow the users to submit links to other websites and also give custom titles to that link. The custom title may not accurately reflect the information content at the link. People who simply read the custom titles rather than the original content will get a different story.

Additionally, it’s nice to get your media from a variety of sources so that you get a variety of opinions. Otherwise you may only hear part of the story or some of the ideas. There are dozens of sides to every story.

Many websites are popular because they reinforce what the reader already believes. This can lead to misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the other side. It is better to practice listening, understanding, and empathizing towards people you disagree with.

Opposing political opinions can be stressful

When I was younger, in high school and college, I used to get stressed out and frustrated by seeing so much opposition to my political beliefs. But that frustration didn’t help me in any way. All it did was make me feel horrible about the world. If you try to fight an issue while frustrated, you’re going to waste a lot of energy dealing with your frustration.

Now that I’m older, seeing people who oppose my politics doesn’t bother me at all. I can still oppose them with the same conviction. The difference is that I don’t let the opposition worry me or cause me to feel miserable.

Environmental issues

We want a healthy, safe environment for ourselves and for everyone else. We use government to decrease the risk of environmental problems and to decrease the damage caused by environmental problems.

Global warming is a very difficult environmental issue. For one thing, global warming is a non-obvious problem. You typically don’t even see global warming unless you are a scientist studying the Earth’s climate. The biggest effects of global warming are that some farmable land is becoming arid desert and that some useful land is becoming part of the ocean. When these things occur, many people elsewhere don’t even notice. This makes it harder to convince people to take action.

There are also costs to combatting global warming. For example, decreasing the use of coal is costly to the coal industry. Using other resources for electricity may be more expensive for consumers.

There are non-financial obstacles as well. For example, people may also have a lot of misconceptions and habits that make combatting global warming difficult. So there are many challenges that environmentalists face when trying to manage climate change.

In addition to global warming, there is a lot of pollution that is harming human health. This is another great opportunity to improve the quality of life for people.

There is also a lot of willingness to make changes in order to maintain a great environment. Some people are willing to be scientists that study climate. People are willing to learn more about how their actions impact the environment. People are also willing to make some changes to their lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly. Some politicians are willing to change policy to try to protect the environment.

Gun violence

Murders are tragic. My sympathy goes out to the victims and their families. I’m interested in making the world safer. I’m curious about how we can decrease the rate at which people are killed by other people.

Honestly I don’t know a lot about gun control laws. There might be many improvements to gun-related laws that the government could make. However, I’m more interested in learning why murders take place and what can be done to prevent them.

I want to reduce the number of people who are interested in committing murder. For example, if people are committing murder because they believe that is the best way to solve their problems, we need to better equip people to solve their problems. If people are committing murder because they have poor mental health, then we need to improve the mental health of would-be murderers. Some cases might be prevented by better training for conflict resolution.

I think we, as a society, will do the work necessary to decrease the likelihood of violence. It might take new efforts by everyone: psychologists, parents, teachers, volunteers, non-profit employees, for-profit employees, government workers, law enforcement, etc.

Some people who want to decrease the number of Americans killed by firearms focus on decreasing access to firearms. But this is a tricky area because there is so much resistance to gun control laws.

Preventing Terrorist Attacks

How we decrease terrorism? What causes people to act in ways that we consider to be terrorists? How do we reduce the appeal of committing terrorist attacks? How can we reduce the appeal of joining terrorist organizations?

Terrorism is a difficult, complex problem. Good security can help protect us against attempted attacks. A well-trained military can help us combat terrorist leaders. We also want to decrease the likelihood that any person is motivated to become a terrorist.

For example, the military has to be very careful not to harm civilians. Otherwise this could motivate or inspire new enemies. Terrorists believe that their own actions are justified. Fighting terrorism includes making people believe that the violence caused by terrorists is unjustified.

Changes in Population

Governments need to scale their services properly with the population size. Hopefully, the government is making decisions that are effective at the scale they are working on. This is difficult when a location’s population rapidly increases or decreases.

The demographics of the population can also change. The population can become greater, smaller, richer, poorer, older, younger. It can also change in regards to ethnicity, race, language, religion, etc. The best governments are able to govern effectively even after changes in population. The solutions need to be flexible enough that they can be effective even when the population changes.

Alternatives to government

Government is useful for influencing people and making changes in the world. But politics is not the only way to make a difference. Businesses are also very influential to what goes on in the world. So are non-profit organizations, clubs, groups of friends, and even individuals.

The world is a result of everyone’s actions. Citizens outside of the government can be hugely influential. Your ideas might be relevant outside of politics and government.


Religion and spirituality have a huge influence on the lives of many people today. In religion, just as in politics, there will always continue to be new influential leaders and thinkers.

What are my religious beliefs?

I was raised as a Methodist Christian. I participated in many church activities while growing up. I met many cool people through it.

My favorite church activity was the volunteer work that we did. As a high schooler, I went with a group of people from church to do charitable volunteer work. We even traveled to different parts of the country.

I still consider myself a Christian, even though I haven’t been to many church activities lately. But when I do go, it is fun and helpful. Do I believe in God? I don’t know, I am still figuring it out. But I do believe that the universe is special.

What are my feelings about religion?

Religion can have many benefits. It can help you make a lot of great friends. It can bring communities closer together. It can be a “support system” that people go to for help. Religion can also do a lot of good for the world in the form of charity and kindness. It can help educate people. Spirituality, prayer, and faith can be a source of motivation, strength, and hope.

Religion can have a lot of drawbacks that we need to be careful about. Religion can sometimes have a negative effect. It can cause people to ignore scientific evidence and reason. It can sometimes lead to bad morals (for example, if it encourages violence or hatred). It can cause distrust, such as a distrust towards people with a different religion. In that way, it can be divisional rather than unifying. Religion can sometimes lead people to act irrationally and even violently.

Religion and Government

I think it’s important that people are free to practice whatever religion they want. You should be free to do whatever you want as part of your religious beliefs (as long as they aren’t harmful or against the law for some other reason).

I also think the government, as an institution, should not favor one religion over another. In order to be effective, it needs to be fair.

I hope that my politicians make decisions using logic and rationality. I don’t think politicians need religious influence in order to make good laws. But I also respect their right to be religious and use religion as a decision-making tool.

What are morals?

Morals are what we consider to be right or wrong. They can be taught through religion, stories, or culture.

Morals develop because they are logically based on what you believe. Morals are logical conclusions drawn from assumptions and understanding. Our morals change over time as our understanding changes. Different morals come from different logic, assumptions, and evidence.

Why gay marriage is still an important issue

Currently, gay marriage is legal everywhere in the United States. The Supreme Court ruled that gay couples have a constitutional right to marriage.

I sometimes hear the opinion that we no longer need to talk about gay marriage. Or that it gets too much attention. To me, it is still a very important issue.

There are still many people that disagree with gay marriage. There is still unfair discrimination against LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people. Discriminatory laws exist and discriminatory behavior occurs.

So while the Supreme Court’s decision is great, there is still progress to make. The Supreme Court might be in favor of gay marriage, but how much discrimination occurs depends on the hearts and minds of the people.

Why I am in favor of gay marriage

I have a gay relative, but even if I didn’t, I would want people to be treated with fairness and to live happy lives. That is why I support legalized gay marriage. I think we are required to do so in order to treat them justly.

The government should act in ways that promote fairness and justice. If it doesn’t, it cannot be a great government. We want our legal policy to consist only of fair laws. If we find that we have laws that are unfair, then we should work to fix them. America has always been about evolving our laws to have a better set of laws over time.

Gay marriage is not an easy issue to talk about. It’s awkward, strange, and scary to many people. Homosexuality raises legal questions, social/moral/religious questions, and scientific questions. By being supportive of the LGBT community, the government demonstrates that it is willing to act justly, even when it is awkward, unusual, or unpopular.

I think it also increases happiness and self-esteem in the gay population, and that helps the overall population.

Why I don’t support the arguments against gay marriage

One argument is that homosexuality is a sin according to religion. But our laws should be based on reason and fairness, not religious rules. Furthermore, It’s not even clear that the belief, that homosexuality is bad, is supported by Christianity. Christianity is supposed to be about treating people with fairness, kindness, and love.

Some argue that gay marriage is wrong because homosexual couples cannot naturally have children. However, this doesn’t matter to me. Why should this exclude them from the institution of marriage? It’s still good to give them the option to get married. Others might argue that homosexuality is unnatural, useless, or a choice. I don’t agree with those conclusions. But even if I did, I think those conclusions would be irrelevant to making fair laws. In order for the government to justify treating someone differently, there needs to be a very good reason to do so. It doesn’t seem like that is the case.

I’ve also heard a “slippery slope” argument gay marriage might lead to other things in the future, such as pedophilia, beastiality, or polygamy. But this is not a strong argument. For one thing, neither animals nor children can consent to a relationship. Accepting homosexuals as equals does nothing to change our definition of consent. Polygamy is a separate issue and should be treated as such.

How to treat opponents of gay marriage

If someone is against gay marriage, that is totally fine. They are entitled to their own opinion. I don’t want to argue with them, make fun of them, attack them, discredit them, or silence them. Instead I want to listen to them and have a dialogue with them. I want to be considerate of their concerns. I want them to enjoy justice and fairness like everyone else.

Should abortion be legal?

I think it should be legal for women to have abortions and for doctors to perform them. I understand why this is a controversial statement. Losing a fetus is a tragic loss. It is unfair and unfortunate for the unborn child. I think everyone can agree that abortions are undesirable.

That said, legalizing abortions is ethical. And criminalizing it would be an unethical injustice. Women deserve the legal right to have terminate an unwanted pregnancy if they decide to. Women should have that control over their own bodies. Neither the unborn child nor the father deserve to have that control over the woman’s body. Thus, doctors deserve the right to perform legal abortions.

Better ways to discourage abortion besides criminalizing it

I sincerely want to decrease the number of instances of abortion. There are ethical ways to decrease abortions, but they do not include legal restrictions.

It starts with decreasing unwanted pregnancies. This could be done with better education about sex and contraceptives. Better education about dating and relationships would help too.

I predict that as time goes on we will get better at preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Also, some people who are against abortion try to convince women who are considering one not to go through with the procedure. I think that is better than trying to convince lawmakers to criminalize the procedure.

Accepting and empathizing with the opposition to legalized abortion

I have respect for people within the Pro-Life movement. I respect their opinions and experiences. I will not try to attack their character or silence their opinion. And I recognize that I probably still have a lot to learn about this issue. I think it is great that they are willing to fight for rights of the unborn, even though I disagree with their conclusion about what rights the unborn should have.


I want women to be treated fairly. To me, the purpose of feminism is to help ensure that women are treated fairly. I am compelled to stand up for women when I see them being treated unfairly.


Prejudice is when you are suspicious about someone before you get to know a person enough to know if your suspicion is true or not. There is a lot of prejudice in the world. Prejudices exist against groups of people based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, class, education, etc. Prejudices can be conscious or subconscious.

Society tries to fight prejudice in order to be prevent injustice. Prejudices hurt our ability to accurately judge people. Prejudice can lead to discrimination, racism, oppression, or violence. Prejudice damages our society because it causes our society to act unfairly. Actions that are unfair or unjust cause people to be hurt without good reason. People are right to be outraged over this.

For example, it’s important that everyone is free to practice whatever religion they choose. People should be judged on their actions, not on their religious beliefs. To do otherwise is unfair.

How can we fight prejudice? One good way is to develop friendships and role models across different groups of people. Another way is to think about how you would feel if the prejudice was applied to the groups of people you belong to.




Kevin Verre, software engineer and writer