Politics and Religion

Originally posted Wednesday, October 20, 2004:You have perhaps noticed that we are in the election season. Most observers agree that this has been a tough campaign; most expect the election to be close. Political organizations of all political persuasions have worked to register voters, and some signs point to increased voter participation this year. Political signs, buttons, bumper stickers, and other displays of affiliation are sprouting up everywhere. Citizen participation is what the American political system is all about, and we should all be proud and pleased to see it happen. Unfortunately, many signs indicate that our nation is bitterly divided; and after next month’s re-enactment of this most fundamentally American tradition, we are likely to find ourselves more bitterly divided than ever. Experts anticipate that election results will be contested in several states. Republicans accuse Democrats of fraudulently packing voter rolls, and Democrats claim that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise opposing voters. Even disaffected partisans who profess reservations about their parties’ candidates believe, and are prepared to repeat, virtually any accusation about the opposite party’s candidate. There are real differences between the parties and the candidates, and what I am saying isn’t meant to minimize those. The stakes are indeed high: I tend to agree with those who argue that this year’s election is the most important in my lifetime. And yet, despite the importance of this election, our political discourse seems to be calculated to produce more heat than light. One of the key reasons for this division is the “echo chamber” effect: people on each side talk among themselves, but neither side talks with the other. On both the right and the left, members of the political class talk among themselves, changing no minds but hardening their own attitudes toward their opponents. (Alert: serious elitist reference coming. Avert your eyes.) One thing enabling this phenomenon is that many thoughtful people take seriously the idea that it’s impolite to talk about politics and religion. When you do hear casual conversation about either, it tends to be remarkably uninformed, because the very people who could add something valuable to the conversation are too well-mannered to join in. I’ve been as guilty of this as anybody. So, for the next few days, I’m going to change my ways. I’ve decided that what America (at least that portion of it that I know) needs is some of my political observations, and so I’m going to share some thoughts. Unlike most of the wienies we read on the Internet, I’ll sign my work. This may offend a few relatives, but family members tolerate each other’s rantings; it may upset a few friends, but most of my friends already know that a certain amount of didacticism is part of my charm. Feel free to use the “reply” button–although chances are that in the weeks ahead, I’ll fall behind in reading replies. Whether you like or hate what I have to say, remember that the beauty of the Internet lies in judicious application of the “forward” button and the “delete” key. You’ll figure out what to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *