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23 October, 2015

THERE IS FUTILITY IN "CAN'T WIN" RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL DEBATES

In retrospect, I am absolutely convinced that I was a much happier person when I was not influenced by politics and religion.  In fact, for the first naive third of my 77-plus years, I flatly refused to become involved in conversations relating to either subject…And that is an unusual concession coming from someone who eventually became a no-holds-barred editorial commentator and in later years, an appropriately-designated lay pastor.

Life plays funny tricks on us and we do indeed experience twists and turns at various stages of our journey to senility.  There was a time when I did not think that I had anything of significance to say and when I eventually realized that I did, I found that by and large no one really listened.  The world that I lived in had become confrontational, complicated by stubbornly-held opinions and biases.  Generally, today we beg to differ with just about everything and we do not hesitate to vent our spleens, regardless of who we offend -- even our friends.  In ignorance we become over-night experts.  In obscurity, we feel safe to become very bold on worldly issues.  We do not have to know what we are talking about, we just have to be a squeaky wheel long enough and loud enough in order to get attention.  In a way, I guess, it is symptomatic of frustration in a society struggling to find a common voice at an agenda-driven-time in our history.
Knowing what I now know, I try especially hard to balance most of what I write today -- appealing to sides, if there are any and generally there are.  Lately, however, I have come to realize the futility of such lofty motivation.  So deep are certain self-ascertained convictions that people only read what they want to read…The ability to analyze and rationalize has become a lost art.  Likewise, I stopped spending 35-40 hours a week preparing thought-provoking sermons and worship programs for delivery to a couple of dozen people in brief hour-long Sunday morning services.  More often than not, I came away with the feeling that it was a going-through-the-motions exercise for the most part and that there was certain resentment in the fact that I was so bold as to lead the customary order of service from the sanctity of a church pulpit. After all, who was I? When did I get so holy and high and mighty?  I began to ask myself those very same self-defeating questions.

Believe it or not, in encountering the politics of religion, I voluntarily walked away from the church, somewhat disillusioned but much the wiser.  In removing myself from the pressures of attempting to be all things to all people, I have re-discovered some of the aforementioned youthful joy and peace of mind that long ago became lost as I followed well-intended spiritual impulses.  It is no longer my role to preach or to convince anyone of anything, religiously or politically.  I merely pass on duly-acquired information from my storehouse of experiences in the hope of stimulating thought.  Take it or leave it.

Allow me to expand on where I find myself 10/23/2015.

If you wish to cobble together a collection of “facts” to support a particular religious view or political philosophy there are plenty of sources to draw upon, including:
  •  Thousands of years of recorded human history
  •  Thousands of human cultures with differing perspectives 
  •  Thousands of authors and sacred texts, past and present
  •  An internet that helps us find reference sources for all of the above
  • A daily stream of current events and editorial opinions served up by the internet and traditional media sources.
The internet is particularly problematic because it allows easy collaboration among people who would otherwise be separated by extreme geographical and cultural distances, as well as extreme political and religious views. To put it a bit starkly, the internet allows a handful of far-flung radicals and individuals with strong biases who would otherwise have no real voice, to assemble in online communities that provide each other with substantial comfort and reinforcement for their ideas, no matter how odd they may seem to the majority of us!

The point: No matter what political or religious viewpoint you select in order to breathe meaning into your life’s unique miseries and joys, if you take the time to search, you will be able to find ample evidence to support it.  Most of the time our hard-won vision of how the world works remains quietly concealed in our hearts. Yet it is always there, just below the surface, waiting to explode all over anyone foolish enough to challenge us with a severely contradictory vision. After all, we have way too much effort invested in this world view to allow it to be quickly changed by anyone. The result: Whether we like it or not, is that we sometimes stumble into one of those intense, no-one-wins verbal battles we all find so frustrating.
Think about it: How can we ever know enough about the experiences and struggles, for truth that lay beneath another person’s world view to enable us to adequately judge validity? Can we really presume to be able to stand back and critique a world view that is built on a foundation of countless unique, idiosyncratic pains and joys that we ourselves have never experienced? Certainly not! That’s why if we try making such judgments, we soon learn that the emotional energy behind our listener’s world view generates a vigorous argument that ultimately leads nowhere… aside from an exchange of philosophical generalities supported by carefully-chosen (and highly idiosyncratic and personal) anecdotes.

The bottom line: It’s a waste of time (and toxic to your relationships) to indulge in arguments over religious or political philosophies.  As Star Trek’s Borg might say: “Resistance is futile!” One well-intentioned passionate assertion bangs against another well intentioned passionate assertion. Or one negative rant is met by an opposing negative rant. Either way, smacking together all these visions and theories and end-point conclusions and derived meanings simply gets us nowhere.
Instead of getting ensnared in one of these pointless interchanges, I have learned to actively imagine the cloud of experiences that a fellow debater (someone with a contrary point of view) has experienced. In the process I have been able to strengthen my beliefs/convictions.  There have been times too when I found it necessary to modify those beliefs/convictions.  An open mind is a learning mind!  That's why I have a habit of asking questions.

When you hear a political or religious assertion that starts to make you crazy, maybe it would be best to say something like this: “Wow! That’s interesting! How did you come to that conclusion? Tell me more about what led you to this perspective.”  If a rational reply is forthcoming, then try to see the links between personal experiences and formal philosophy.  
In becoming an amateur anthropologist of sorts, we can learn exactly what dwells inside that unique cloud of experience that has formed the other person’s world view. We do not necessarily have to be in agreement to be accepting of an opposing point of view.  Of course, if the individual insists on being argumentative or insulting, then it is time to withdraw totally from the exchange in which there will be no winners.  Friendships have ended over less.  As Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand than to be understood…The deepest hunger of the human heart is to be understood, for understanding implicitly affirms, validates, recognizes and appreciates the intrinsic worth of another."

We (you and I) have to decide if it is worth it to be this open and understanding in a world that does not necessarily always return the compliment.  Personally, in the future I am committed to happily taking all of my convictions under advisement and selectively acting accordingly!  My time has become too precious to waste or to give away to hopeless ends.  I will continue to derive happiness from the belief that there are those who will understand (not necessarily appreciate) where I am coming from.

I will give fools their time and space, but no one says I have to suffer them. Ignorance is bliss!...So is ignorance by choice!!

 

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