I have had a very interesting weekend. And it all seems to revolve around religion. Religion and politics. The big two things you should never discuss in polite society, and I think I realize why: no one knows how to discuss either topic politely. The thing about religion and politics, especially in America, is that everyone seems to have a very strong opinion, but no one seems to know how to share that opinion with respect for other opinions. There is nothing wrong with having a strong opinion and there is nothing wrong with believing that your opinion is right and all others are wrong. What is wrong is having no respect for others’ beliefs and publicly denigrating all who disagree with you.
The other problem with religion and politics in America is that, despite all efforts and people shouting “Church and State” until they’re blue, it seems to be impossible to separate the two. I was involved in a very interesting Theatre experience a couple of summers ago. A friend of mine was creating a devised theatre performance (a performance that has no set script, but is collectively created by the whole cast, each sharing their thoughts, ideas, lines, etc.) whose original purpose was to explore religion in America. She did a lot of research and interviews with people all across the country, asking them about how they felt about religion, and then as a cast we discussed religion, our views and beliefs and the responses she had received. What was very interesting was that we could not separate religion from politics when talking about religion in America. Quoting from our script, “The United States has a long tradition of separating church from state, yet a powerful inclination to mix religion and politics. Throughout our nation’s history, great political and social movements – from abolition to women’s suffrage to civil rights to today’s struggles over abortion and gay marriage – have drawn upon religious institutions for moral authority, inspirational leadership and organizational muscle. In recent years, religion has been woven more deeply into the fabric of partisan politics than ever before.” I think that pretty much sums it up. Americans want to believe in a “separation of Church and State”, but they want their politics to reflect their religious beliefs. Which is not a bad thing. When I vote for a Representative, someone to represent me in my government, I want someone who represents me in all that I believe. It just makes it difficult to talk about separation of “Church and State”.
I had such a great weekend, preparing and giving a lesson in Church based on a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf from last General Conference titled “You are my Hands“, about how we are the hands of Christ, representing Him and need to act as He would act, were He here. It was a great lesson and led to a great discussion about what we can do to represent Christ and do what he would do, including “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in (Mosiah 18:8-9)”. We took a very literal approach to analyzing those verses and discussed actual, practical things we can do to be more of an example of Jesus Christ. And then that afternoon, after Church, my wife got accidentally involved in a Facebook flamewar about the proposed building of a Mosque in New York City. The guy was arguing that ‘these people’ have no right to be in this country, much less to be able to build a Church, and so close to where ‘they’ had tried to destroy our country. And when it was pointed out how racist and bigoted such an angry response was, he started talking about how he was being persecuted for expressing his beliefs. I have no problem with people who don’t believe this mosque should be built, but when opposition to this building becomes opposition to a whole religion and open antagonism toward the entire religion, that is not right. Especially when coming from those who claim to believe in Christ and His Bible. I have read my Bible pretty thoroughly and I cannot recall a passage of scripture where this kind of behaviour is encouraged. Instead, I remember the words of Christ, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44)”
Religion and politics are so dangerous a conversation topic because everybody has opinions and no one knows how to accept disagreement anymore. We live in a society that takes every little disagreement as a personal affront. If I do not believe the same way as you I am not insulting you. And this is true of both religion and politics. We have long since ceased discussing differences of opinion, we have launched straight into ad hominem attacks and other logical fallacies. We have lost our ability to debate in this country without it becoming a shouting match (for a good laugh, watch this). I love people with different religions from mine, I respect people with differing political views from mine, if they know how to talk to me about them. What I hate, and what I will not accept, is people who try to convince me I am wrong, while they are right, by yelling at me. That and grammar mistakes. It’s true. If you cannot present your argument in an intelligent manner, if you cannot take the time to spellcheck, then obviously your point is not worth my time to read.
The problem I see is that we are all looking for ways to exclude others as much as possible, by defining them, by categorizing them, calling them ‘socialists’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’, that we don’t look for opportunities to include them, to get to know them and what they believe. The attitude seems to be more ‘If they are not like me in every aspect then I must hate them and they have nothing to contribute’ rather than ‘Let us reason together, and come up with common ground on which we can build a friendship’. You do not have to agree with everything a person says or does in order to respect them or befriend them. We should be the Hands of Christ, reaching out to all who need it, as He did, regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Christ did not approve of the behaviour of harlots or sinners, but he blessed them anyway, because He loves them and hoped to bring them eventually into the Kingdom of God. If you want to convince the world that your opinion is correct, then show the world, don’t yell at the world. The louder you scream, the faster we look for an alternative and distance ourselves from you.