Politics and Religion

It is said that one does not discuss politics or religion in polite company. You will offend people or the emotions will overcome any chance for discussion. The cost may be more than the opportunity, in the end, with damaged relationships and hurt feelings. Yes, we must leave politics and religion outside of the room at all times.

But there are three problems that I see with that idea.

First, are we not shaped by our political or religious views and the thought processes that we have that cause us to hold those views (assuming that we have chosen our political leanings and religion and are not simply clinging to the views of our family or region)? There are times when conservatives come to different conclusions than liberals, and Catholics come to different conclusions than Muslims. In a world where people are rational, that is a wonderful thing. It is through differing opinion that we learn new approaches and insights. It is through new approaches and insights that we grow. We may hold different ideas about business, life, happiness, and more, ideas that, properly shared, can help others, even if they are of differing ideology. In the most basic sense, it is impossible to remove politics and religion from the human person because the human person made these things part of their life. That does not mean that you have to ever literally discuss them, per se. No, it means that these forbidden topics will always be part of who the person is and will always shape their interactions with others.

Second, people like to share things that are important to them. People of strong political views or strong religious views WANT everyone to know how they feel. They cannot help it. It is just how they are. Some religions are more likely to do this, such as evangelical Christians (hence the name). It can create an awkward situation when dealing with someone who just HAS to tell you all about how AWFUL some politician is or how WONDERFUL another one is. What makes it worse is when that is the ONLY interest that the person seems to have. Want to talk about sports? Nope, just religion. Want to talk about kids? Sure, my kids and their religion. Want to talk about the weather? The weather as understood by my religion. The absolute worse possible situation is when they ONLY want to talk about that and they have NO idea what they are talking about. You run into this when they want to talk about a different religion or on social media. People share information that is beyond misquoted to the point of being intentionally wrong. And if you correct them, it leads to a fight, assuming they even acknowledge your correction at all. Those who just have to share their beliefs are always an issue.

Third, we are at the point where politics IS religion. It is no longer a situation where person A is for one party and person B is for another. No, today, person A is a true believer who wants the best for this country and person B is a heretic who wants to destroy it all. And it goes the other way, too. Why is this a problem with not discussing the two? Because that person tends to be the worst type of the previous issue. These people do not care what they say, who they offend, or how they come across. Interacting with them in any way creates issues. On social media, they will attack your friends on your posts. They will go out of their way to be firebrands. You will be judged by their actions. If you move to avoid or block them, they will confront you and have others do the same. The current social media attack mobs are fueled by this mentality and can operate through the anonymity of the internet.

Wow. I am completely wrong. These three points are reasons you should NOT discuss politics or religion with most people. They take it personally, they are unable to separate themselves from the discussion, they do not know other topics or even these two topics to the point of being able to have discussions, and they might be zealots demanding ideological purity from all.

So if the old adage is correct, never discuss the two, what do we do on social media? Avoid the posts? Try to find rational people? Start blocking everyone who is a jerk? Sure. Do all that. Do whatever you need to in order to keep your sanity and peace.

How did it get this way? That is a different and much more complex discussion. Part of the problem is that half of all people see the world (and make decisions) based on emotions. That means that anything that they believe is a personal “feeling” and not based upon a chain of logic that can be defended. Another part of it is that we tend to believe what our families and community believes. We prefer to associate with people who agree with us. We are then placed in a situation where we do not understand those who are different and we see their difference as an attack on what we hold dear. Another part of it comes from the media and those of power in the world. They need a level of division among the people in order to do what they want. Conflict sells ad time. Conflict and vilification of the other guy increases political donations. Perhaps the largest problem, though, is found in our educational system. Most people are not taught enough to understand a few key points.

  1. We are all humans. We are all entitled to basic human rights and to be treated with basic human dignity. That means we should have the right to believe what we want without attack or ridicule from others.
  2. We must apply the first one to those that we encounter as well as expect it from them.
  3. There are valid points on all sides of the political debate. It is impossible for someone to be ALWAYS wrong, unless they are intentionally doing so. We must listen to each other to find the common ground before we rule out the other side of the discussion.
  4. People have different values and different understanding of things. Sometimes, these values or understandings are misplaced, but generally, it is just a different point of view. Refer to points 1 and 2 about someone believing differently than you.
  5. Your religion is your religion. Your religion is not my science. My religion is my religion. My religion is not your science. Science is science and is not owned by anyone. You can apply this rule to other disciplines as well.
  6. Learning how to debate is critical. Everyone needs to learn rhetoric and debate. People should understand logical fallacies and how to avoid them. People should verify facts before discussing them. If you do not have the skills to discuss a topic without losing your cool, do not discuss it at all.
  7. Calling someone names, assuming they are idiots or bigots, or any other attack on the person does not establish that you are correct. Not all conservatives are under-educated bigots and not all liberals are free-loaders who want handouts. In fact, most of each group is the opposite. By the way, the average IQ of those who classify themselves as “conservative” is statistically the same as those who classify themselves as “liberal.” Your side is not any smarter than the other side.
  8. No one cares what you think, how you vote, or what you believe, outside of your zone of closest friends. Even they might not care much. What people care about is the value that you add to their lives. If the discussion does not add value to their lives, do not have it.

I can go on. As this election season grinds on, and as you live your life, keep this little talk in mind and apply it. Add value to people’s lives in some form, and if a topic of discussion adds no value, avoid it.

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