We have all heard the suggestion that in polite company we shouldn’t discuss religion or politics. There is a valid reason why avoiding these two subjects appears advisable. In general, civility, graciousness, and a reasonably calm demeanor are considered requirements in social discourse. However, when discussing either religion or politics incivility is actually considered a prerequisite to proving and maintaining one’s point. Nothing seems to get the blood up like a perceived challenge to one’s theology or political opinions. When one is so challenged, the necessity of being right supersedes any normally accepted requirement to disagree without overt rancor. The deep emotion associated with one’s theology is fairly predictable since one’s eternal destiny is supposedly dependent on that being correct. Why one must be correct politically is partially explained by the connection between one’s politics and one’s theology since an ethical position is inherent in both subjects. In that sense a political challenge is an implied religious one. Additionally politics is just another control mechanism, similar to religion, making both extremely powerful and emotionally charged.
Given the importance of religion and politics in our lives, I don’t think our propensity to resort to uncivil language in discussing either is at all helpful. In the realm of religion, I think we could all benefit from a frank expression of beliefs, thereby learning from one another and at the same time confirming those aspects of our faith that prove worthwhile after exposure to discussion, and critique. In politics, one generally accepted goal is the promotion of the common welfare through agreed upon public policies. That promotion requires a great deal of discussion, evaluation, and even prayerful consideration. Heated rhetoric and ungracious speech hardly facilitate that process.
In effect, the prevailing tone and tenor of both religious and political discourse in our country is a travesty. We are all to blame to a large measure. As long as our competiveness and the associated sense of required superiority allow our egos to dictate counterproductive behaviors, our society will continue to experience frustration over our collective inability to truly hear one another and then develop the cooperative efforts that all human progress ultimately requires.