How Not Talking About Religion or Politics Made Us Worse At Both (Pt. 2)

Politics can be a beautiful thing. As the Supreme Court this week just upheld critical components of the Affordable Care Act and ruled on the constitutionality of banning same sex marriage, there is a great deal of excitement and discussion going on. One can only imagine just how historic this weekend’s NYC Pride Parade will be as it celebrates a tremendous achievement in the advancement of gay civil rights.

That all being said, it’s unfortunate that excitement, let alone discussion, of political issues comes after major decisions are made. Significant efforts had to be made to get the ACA case up to the Supreme Court. Years of organizing and jockeying outside the Court similarly elevated the importance of gay marriage. Admittedly, one can make the argument that to discuss gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act would be unfair, especially as it seems that, out of this week’s decisions, the greater focus is on former rather than the latter. While the ruling on gay marriage is, in fact, an historic achievement for the gay community, its scope really only falls within the (admittedly large and growing) gay community (unless you are one of those straight people who believe that gay marriage in some way will personally affect your marriage or relationships).

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act is an enormous document that completely changes the playing field for people who want or need healthcare. In other words, just about everybody. While the scope of the Court’s decision on the ACA is tremendous, I imagine the predominant narrative out of this week will be primarily on gay marriage, a decision that will not directly affect nearly as many people as the protection of the ACA. This also says nothing of the fact that with this fresh surge of ‘good’ news, it will only encourage the media, and by consequence, the general public, to move past the ‘bad’ news of racially motivated violence and inherent racism in this country (but we’ll get back to that in a moment).

The comparison between the ACA and gay marriage rulings isn’t meant to belittle the significance of one issue or the other. However, it does seem to illustrate a problem with how people in general address political issues. By and large, we don’t like talking about politics. Similarly to religion, we expect our beliefs and values to be respected for what they are. Unlike religion, however, the practice of politics is inherently between people; one can practice religion in a vacuum as they only need connection to his/her god(s). A person practicing politics by him/herself is just a person with ideas.

This distinction matters because while there can be some limitation to the challenging of one’s religious beliefs (example: you can worship that pancake that came out in the form of the Virgin Mary all you want), there are considerably less limitations to the challenging of one’s political beliefs (example: your political beliefs lead you to believe that people of color are inferior and we should establish laws to keep them to their rightfully lesser place). A person in the former example is pretty much harmless in a political discourse; a person in the latter is a serious threat to a free society.

The coupling of religion and politics has caused people to look at the values and beliefs in either to be treated exactly the same. In other words, my religious beliefs AND my political beliefs are sacred; to criticize either is an affront to my spiritual being and direct challenge to who I am. This is absurd and breaks down the possibility of being able to have an intelligent conversation about either.

In a time of social media and sharing of everything, this mindset is on full display whenever someone makes a ridiculous post. Luckily, such posts are not difficult to find in the immediate aftermath of the gay marriage ruling

gay marriage

Aside from the immediate frustration at the contents of the meme being shared (which itself could be a pretty sizeable blog post), the statement made by the poster is pretty childish in and of itself. “This is just my opinion. I’m not open for a debate so don’t bother commenting if you have something negative to say.” To voluntarily take up a hot-button issue like gay marriage but then request to only take feedback from people who are being positive is ridiculous. I can understand that people like to live in a bubble, but in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of people use facebook and the internet as a whole. If you want to live in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with what you say, you’re not using the right medium. If you don’t want to get into a discussion (let alone a debate) on serious issues, don’t post about serious topics.

The reason for sharing the above picture is that people who fall into this type of category, the “Here’s my opinion but don’t respond to this unless you’re going to agree with me” crowd are the unfortunate byproduct of narcissism, social media, and a lack of engagement on political issues. The priority for these people isn’t to engage in discussion of political issues, it’s to project their feelings of these political issues, to the point that the priority is their emotions, not the issues. Granted, there are plenty of people who are celebrating the decisions by the Court who have worked hard on getting to this point (and they certainly should be celebrating). However, not every person who is either celebrating or condemning the Supreme Court this week is willing to engage in dialogue on why this issue matters. Posts like the one above illustrate that clearly.

While people like the one above don’t wish to engage in politics at all, you then of course have your “socially-liberal-but-fiscally-conservative” people who will raise the alarm at the first instance of social injustice but shy away from the deeper discussion that necessarily follows any discussion on how to implement social changes. For a real-time example of how this happening, look at how the broader discussion that could be happening on systemic racism and whitewashed history in the US has become concentrated into a campaign to take down the Confederate flag.

Discussion of politics from a perspective based solely in social issues is the equivalent of saying that you’re swimming when in fact you’re just wading at shallow end of a pool. (For more on this issue, I’d highly recommend reading this great piece from Greta Christina).

In essence, we need to roll up our sleeves to engage in discussions of religion and politics. Without intelligent conversation on religion, we will repeatedly demonize, distance ourselves, and fail to reach common ground with those who are different from us. Without conversation on politics, the essence of our discourse becomes nothing more than another place for people to talk about “me, me, me” and less about what is actually going on in the world. We can’t do either of these without engaging with each other on the issues. And that means first opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong (or right!).

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