Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How do you talk about Religion + Politics?




Wow. There is so much is happening in the world and in the media right now that is making my head spin. Election season is upon us, add to that recent world events including the new issues such as do we let Syrian refugees in our boarders? (to be fair, another viewpoint) and if you haven't heard there has been a lot happening in the LDS or Mormon church these past couple of weeks that is really causing some unprecedented (but not uncalled for) waves in our faith community. There is so much to think about, process, wade through, consider and most days my head is like an alphabet soup of mixed up ideas and ideologies that I can't seem to string together.  

But I don't want to talk about religion + politics per se, I want to talk about how we talk about religion + politics. Or how we don't talk about them as the case may be. 

I was not very politically minded as a youth, and so when I finally became interested in political issues as a young adult I started to ask questions. Especially when someone was really sure about a particular stance and I considered them to be a smart, thoughtful person. I wanted to know why they felt this way! And how they arrived at this conclusion! Was this this truly something they felt would be better for the whole, or just something they preferred themselves and didn't care how it affected the whole? My brain naturally switches to a devil's advocate mentality when I'm trying to figure out what I believe--I do this to myself inside my own head all the time as I turn an issue around and try to look at it from all sides--So naturally I did the same thing to the people around me by asking tough and challenging questions about the issues, without trying to come off as personal attacks or challenges.  

Except, I found out that I wasn't very good about that second part. 

I quickly learned that when I asked these kind of pointed questions people tended to believe that I was attacking them, or perhaps they were just uncomfortable with my passionate debating method... not sure which.  For years I would say that all my Democrat family and friends thought I was a Republican, and all my Republican friends thought I was a Democrat. Looking back I wish I would have prefaced these conversations by simply letting them know I didn't really understand this issue (or I just wanted to know more) and would they mind if I asked them some challenging questions? Yeah... in hindsight that would been too easy. Glad I didn't go that route! 

The problem is, instead of figuring out a way to have these deep and potentially powerful conversations, I learned to stop asking questions. I took the idea to heart that you don't talk about politics and religion in polite conversation. (Except that sometimes I still try and thankfully with some groups of friends I have been able to have some wonderful and enlightening conversations surrounding touchy subjects.) There are so many things that I haven't really worked out in my head and so many things I would like to discuss with intelligent people who are really educated about specific issues but I don't feel like there is a great way to discuss these things without stepping on toes or bruising friendships. Which probably has a lot to do with me and my style. That being said, even when I try to bring up sensitive topics in a sensitive manner, I often feel the room shift into nervous energy and I think, Oh! I'm making everyone uncomfortable...I guess we're not supposed to talk about this!

Enter Facebook. 

Ugh. Lets just all agree that the constant smattering of political and moral agendas can get a little annoying. From BOTH sides of the fence. But it can also be a great way to have these uncomfortable conversations as well. We all know the pitfalls of safely hiding being behind a computer screen makes it all too easy to say too much and to be too honest, but in certain cases that safety allows us to share, read and view opinions that we and others might not otherwise feel comfortable saying out loud. Yes I could and perhaps should do my own research to form my own opinions, but in our information overload age that's actually quite difficult. Added to the fact that different media sources are biased. (And please, it's not just Fox news...though yes, them too.)  But I really just want to talk about these things, like civilized 

Honestly, I'm a sucker for good, meaty conversation but it's been so long since I've had a group of friends I could sit really dig into the juicy stuff with. Yes I find these kind of conversations fascinating, but they also help me fetter out my point of view and really decide how I feel about an issue. I would also add that I don't enjoy having 'conversations' with people who don't really want to converse or tell you about their beliefs as much as they want to convince you of the rightness of their way of thinking. When this is the case, I avoid political and religious discussions like I avoid bad breath. Like I said, I'm happy to hear from people who are passionate and well educated about their beliefs as long as they aren't pushy about it or offended when I'm not on board. I don't want to be coerced into someones point of view, but I do enjoy a back and forth, even passionate debate. Mutual respect and an underlying friendship that won't be broken over differing points of views is key to these kind of conversations don't you think? Even then it can be tricky. 


I am so curious, who do you talk to about your political + religious beliefs? Is it productive--meaning do you enjoy the conversations and do you feel like the conversation actually helps you figure out what you believe? Do you ever change your opinions? Do you have a safe person or a group of friends you can share your thoughts with, even when they are still in their fetal stage--meaning they're not fully formed and maybe even a bit crazy looking? Ha! I feel like I'm in that stage a lot and am always grateful for the few people I can really talk these things through with!

And if you want to know if I'm a republican or a democrat... I'll tell you. I'm neither. :) I'm a registered independent. I have to say I often find our polarized political system baffling and I have little tolerance for people on either side of the fence who can't admit any fault in their own party or see any good in the opposing party. I really don't get that. 

art: Untitled, Lygia Pape, 1958

9 comments:

  1. Hi Miggy, long time reader.

    I grew up debating politics and religion at dinner every night, encouraged by my faithful Mormon mom and atheist former Mormon dad. Nothing was off limits, everything was on the table. It took a long time to learn to practice discretion (and one brother never really did) and be more selective. Interestingly, in my 40s I've found myself working my way back towards openness and owning my true self regardless of the audience but with less emotion and anger than I used to have. I am a progressive Mormon and a feminist, but sharing my perceptions without the chip on my shoulder (using my discretion to judge when not to share) has let me to believe that I am less alone and less different than I spent my 20s and 30s thinking I was.

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    1. So late on the replies here!

      Yes I STILL have problems with discretion...I never say things in a way that suggests that I assume everyone is on the same page with me (one of my pet peeves! I have some family members who will do this a log--start complaining about the President, certain hot topic issues in front of people with the assumption that everyone feels the same way they do. Grrr...) but sometimes I ask questions I probably shouldn't ask and say things that should be left unsaid. I'm working on it. And YES to sharing your perceptions without a chip on your shoulder...it really does make a difference does't it?

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  2. My husband decided to leave the church 10+ years ago when our family was very young. I have wrestled all of these years trying to figure out how to comfortably live in a home that is not unified. I use to live in fear of honest conversations with our children because I didn't want them to be "tainted" with his view points, because that is what we are taught at church. I hate that I feel like there is no where to talk openly and honestly about concerns or questions. When church members discover that he is a non-believer we sort of become blacklisted (strong word, but not sure how to articulate my feelings). No one is openly unkind, but there is always a level of discomfort when spending time with members. We are "those" people..you know the ones that the devil has infiltrated. I have so much frustration over how if a family doesn't fall into the "check off the list of milestones" in the church you become like second class citizens. For example, girls won't date/marry your sons because they choose not to serve a mission. I guess my point in commenting is I so so wish there was a willingness to allow people with different opinions a place to have honest discussions.I wish I had had a support group, that was unbiased, to help me navigate the new world I found myself in. I wouldn't say I am 100% ok with how things have turned out, but I dearly love my husband and am unwilling to allow the difference of opinion tear us apart.

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    1. I'm so sorry you are blacklisted by members in your ward. I feel like this was commonly done decades ago and is slowly starting to wear away...probably depends on where you live honestly. I actually try to have very open conversations with my kids about what I see as the contradictions in our church. I feel like this is one of the biggest problems we have in the church--selling our kids on life/church being a certain way and when it inevitable doesn't shake out that way people start thinking, well what the hell was I doing all that for? I really think it's important that my kids can look at issues and analyze them individually, rather than painting everything in broad brush strokes. And yes, open, honest discussion is so very important. I feel lucky that I have friends and family I can talk candidly about these things with. My husband and I sometimes differ in our views, but we still share them all and I'm grateful for that.

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  3. Anonymous12:17 PM

    I've steered clear of Facebook since the new Church policies were leaked and the subsequent pr that followed. It's important for me to personally come to an honest personal view of the policies without reading the opinions, pro or con, of the Facebookers. It's going to take me a while to come to that view I'm afraid. Much pondering and prayer on my part and the policy is still "quacking like a duck" for me. The frustration for me comes with wanting to have an open discussion with other Church members but I sense I will be judged for even bringing it up. As a convert I'm often frustrated by the lack of depth in discussing politics or controversial/potentially polarizing Church policies with other Church members. I yearn for simplicity - love God, love others and be good.

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    1. What a great idea. In this sense FB can be terrible--very extreme on both sides. I will say I've felt lucky to have a few friends who take a very balanced, thoughtful approach to these issues and share them on FB... I have found that to be very helpful. But yes, figuring out for yourself first is a brilliant way to go.

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  4. I liked what you had to say about this - I often want to talk about things to help myself figure them out. I think it is part of that process. I do think with access to so many opinions now days you do have to use discretion as you think and examine your beliefs. I feel like my best thinking "sessions" involve face to face conversations with individuals (not usually groups), personal reflection and writing. It makes me sad to hear when people are afraid to share their questions, thoughts, etc with their friends because they worry about how they will be viewed, just as the previous comments stated...but I know many people feel this way. I always feel that the Prophet Joseph Smith would be so sad to see that in the church today. He was the one asking questions - looking for truth and desperately wanting to know that truth in his soul. I think there is always room for positive (meaning - no name calling or being mean/or unwilling to see another's viewpoint) conversations between people who call themselves Christians or human beings for that matter. Aren't we all here to help each other try to figure out our faith and our paths and to share our experiences with each other? I know there are a lot of things I don't have figured out completely in my mind, but as I do work on them, I appreciate people who let me talk to them freely. I try to do the same for others - even when we have VERY different opinions. I think we all can be part of the solution by not fearing judgment from others as we share our genuine thoughts in respectful ways. I think as we all do this - more beautiful conversations will happen and feelings will be shared and polarizing issues will become less so - as we see each other as people - not stereotypes. I personally feel like often times - the best place for these kinds of sensitive conversations are in small groups or between you an an other person. It just seems like it works best that way (and just another reason FB is maybe the worst place to look to have a convo like that :)
    I love what Anon said about yearning for simplicity...and I believe it is still there. Even through the loud voices shouting from all directions... It's shining bright. "Love God, love others and be good." That's what life is about. And we are all here to help each other along. And if you ever want to talk, I'd love to :)

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    1. "I think we all can be part of the solution by not fearing judgment from others as we share our genuine thoughts in respectful ways. I think as we all do this - more beautiful conversations will happen and feelings will be shared and polarizing issues will become less so - as we see each other as people - not stereotypes." YES to that. And I agree, I think small groups or one on one conversations do tend to fare better in both understanding and mutual respect.

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  5. love this! While I often want to talk about religion (not as much politics) I refrain for the same reasons. I do talk to my closest friends and my boyfriend about religion/politics. We really know each other so if the wrong thing is said, we know where the other person's heart is coming from and we're not easily offended. I wish their was more open-mindedness and discussion about these topics because we all have a lot we could learn from each other.

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