May03 2010

Why NOT Discuss Politics and Religion?


It’s election time again which means that it’s time for voters to begin the process of weighing out the candidates as well as the issues that are up for discussion.  Once again, friends, family members, and co-workers will engage in discussions that tend to come up during a political year.  Unfortunately, conversations of that nature have a tendency to stir up people’s emotions and before long, what started out as a civil discussion often turns into a heated argument.  Eventually, some well-meaning person listening in will try to ‘put out the fire’ by saying, “You see?  That’s exactly why I say that you should never discuss politics and religion!”  But even though people often say such things, there is a very real sense in which everyone brings politics and religion into their normal, day-to-day conversations and they don’t even realize it.

Take religion, for example.  I often hear ‘unbelievers’ say, “Don’t bring religion into this!”  (By that, they usually mean “Don’t bring Christianity or Christian values into this!”)  But the fact of the matter is that even those who would consider themselves “non-religious” have a ‘religious’ view of their own.  The reason that they may not think so is because most people today think of religion as ‘a belief in God’, but such a simple definition is inadequate because there are some religions (such as Buddhism) that do not necessarily believe in God.  So, that brings us back to the question, “What is a religion?”  A religion is fundamentally a worldview, a perspective, a set of assumptions, a ‘lens’ if you will, through which a person looks at everything in life in order to try and explain how all of life fits together in a coherent and comprehensive way.  It is a ‘framework’ through which a person is trying to make sense of the world around them.  This is extremely important to understand because it tells us that everyone, whether they realize it or not, is operating on a set of beliefs (a worldview).  This means that everyone, including the atheist, is ‘religious’ in that sense.  Furthermore, it tells us that ALL views expressed are ‘religiously motivated’ because they are an expression of that person’s worldview.  In other words, any time an individual gives their perspective on a matter in almost any conversation they are, in fact, bringing their religion into the conversation just as much as anyone else!

Even political discussions are not entirely avoidable.  Why?  Because political issues are ultimately about moral principles.  They have to be.  If you don’t believe me, think for a moment about the kind of issues that we typically refer to as ‘political issues’.  Most political issues involve that which is right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, fair or unfair- all of which are moral issues.  Even the questions of how and why people should be treated equally are moral questions.  In other words, by what objective moral standard did we determine that it is right (morally) to treat people equally and that it would be immoral to not treat people equally?

So, just as with religion, everyone has a moral point of view and they are asserting their moral point of view every time they use words such as ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘fair’, ‘unfair’, ‘just’, ‘unjust’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘should’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘ought’, ‘ought not’, (etc.).   It’s unavoidable.  So, the next time you hear someone insist that people shouldn’t get into discussions about politics and religion, you may want to point out to them that they just did!



6 Responses to “Why NOT Discuss Politics and Religion?”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Marty

    I would like to say that it is very great of you to be talking about these issues since not many people are willing to take that stand. But, I just have some disagreement's with this particular blog that I would like to hear you address.

    First off you seem to equate religion and worldview when you say "A religion is fundamentally a worldview, a perspective, a set of assumptions, a ‘lens’ if you will, through which a person looks at everything in life in order to try and explain how all of life fits together in a coherent and comprehensive way." I'm not sure where you derived this definition, but is this definition acceptable? The Latin word for religion is religiō which has the connotation of a belief in a deity or its involvement in ones worldview per say . By etymology and definition in Webster's dictionary both involve the role of a supernatural creator. So the best definition would be one that involved a supernatural entity in a worldview.

    Secondly what is meant by "You see? That’s exactly why I say that you should never discuss politics and religion!” and your definition are two different things. The philosopher Wittgenstein talks about language games and that when we use a word they can't have completely 100% objective meanings, words differ in the contexts in which we use them. So if I were to say brick to my two year old child I would in be teaching her what a brick is. But if I said brick to a friend when I am outside building a brick wall I am asking him to hand me a brick. The same word with two different meanings. And it is the same case with your use of the word religion. When the person says it in the first context he is very much referring to the practice and worship of a deity, like Christianity or other religions, where the definition you give for religion becomes a fundamentally different word. With these as two different words you cannot logically draw the conclusion, the argument falls subject to the fallacy of equivocation.

    I hope to hear your thoughts if you have the time.

    • Marty says:

      Anonymous,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and to raise some great questions. Hopefully, I will be able to clarify some of my points. Regarding my equating religion to one’s worldview, you asked if my definition was acceptable. I believe that it is, both according to Webster and on a practical level as well. Webster’s defines “religion” as: (def.1) “A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies..” (def.6) “Something a person believes in and follows devotedly.” (Notice that the latter doesn’t require a deity).

      • marty says:

        It’s important to note that definition number one says “especially”, meaning “usually the case, but not limited to it.” Note also that both definitions involve a set of beliefs. Again, even though the word “belief” is typically used to describe a (deity) religious view, it clearly is not limited to that definition. Even my atheist friends have a certain set of beliefs of their own. For example, they have certain beliefs regarding the origin of the universe, an event that neither I nor my atheist friends will ever have access to in order to “prove” empirically. For that very reason, there is a certain element of faith (belief) to any and all views regarding the origin of the universe.

        • marty says:

          Furthermore, I think that my definition holds up for practical reasons as well. Let’s think for a moment about why most religions begin or why they exist in the first place. They are all attempting to somehow make sense of and explain where everything came from, where everything is ultimately going, and how we should live between those two. Yet, even the atheist, through his or her worldview, is attempting to answer those very same questions even though their explanation will be purely materialistic.

          • marty says:

            Hopefully, this will shed some light on your other questions. I don’t think that my comments are subject to the fallacy of equivocation because I wasn’t attempting to change the definition throughout my comments. Rather, I was trying to clarify the definition for the reasons that I’ve stated here and in my article. I hope that this is helpful. Thank you so much for your input. I really do appreciate it.

  2. Hey, Wonderful site, where did you come up with the info in this synopsis? Im thankful I found it though, I will be checking back soon to see what other articles you have.

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