Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I've taken to putting some of what I consider to be my better posts onto facebook for people to read.  It took awhile for me to get around to this, but longer posts from guys like science fiction writer David Gerrold and others I admire gave me the courage to do so.  And I've had some very good results so far, lots of discussion, lots of opportunity for me and others to refine and articulate our views.  I'm also very slowly learning how to talk to conservatives, and be heard, about controversial topics.  Not an easy task, but I think it can be done.

So I posted last night's Real Art entry on the social network right after I posted it here, and a fabulous discussion ensued.  But there was one comment that forced me to think for a while before responding:

Susan You have a lot of free time.
My initial reaction was to return snark for snark, to say something like, "No, it's just that I don't waste a lot of time watching television," or "You think reading and writing about the important issues of the day is a pastime?"  But I went to high school with Susan.  She is, or at least was back in the day, not much of a debater, and it was significant, I think, that she took the time to comment at all.  So I waited a few hours and thought about it.

Here's what ensued:
Ronald @Susan: Oh, come now, Susan, you should join the discussion! This is an important topic!

Susan OK Ron.. My only comment is this: I hate to see anyone criticize religion and reject it because of what someone else is doing in the name of religion. Maybe that isn't as profound as some of the other debaters, but to me, it just sounds like a reason to not be religious and not go to church. It is hard not to judge fellow Christians (I think I do it every day in some form or fashion), but we should all try to be true to ourselves while trying to please God. This is what I believe.

Ronald @Susan: Thank you for participating in the conversation. Of course, I have a response:

"Maybe that isn't as profound as some of the other debaters"

Your thoughts are legitimate simply because they're your thoughts, and I welcome your articulating them. After all, our democracy cannot exist without citizens participating in the "marketplace of ideas." So whether you think you can hang with people who argue all the time is irrelevant; you're doing your patriotic duty by joining the talk.

That is, discussing the important issues of the day isn't simply something an American does when he has "too much time on his hands;" rather, it's something Americans must do every day, or the country just doesn't function the way it ought to. I think the mediocre field of candidates with which we all have to contend year after year is testament to the fact that we, as a people, no longer fulfill this duty of citizenship.

And that kind of leads me into my second point.

"I hate to see anyone criticize religion and reject it because of what someone else is doing in the name of religion."

The old adage is that one should never talk politics or religion. But I think that's more about cocktail parties than it is about civic life. That is, politics and religion are two of the most important topics with which we need to wrangle. Who are we as a people? What does it mean to be an American? What is the proper role of government? And each of those questions heavily overlaps the notion of religion. Indeed, we also, as a nation, must continually be asking what role religion ought to play in public life.

And that's where it gets dicey. Religion, to the faithful, is extraordinarily important, rising to the level of personal identity. Insult a man's religion and you might as well be insulting the man himself--for believers, it is hard to say where religion ends and the individual begins. And religion is also culture, which must be respected simply because it is culture.

Conversely, however, religion is also a set of principles, ideas, and attitudes about how we ought to live our lives. And when those principles, ideas, and attitudes are taken out of the religious sphere and inserted into the public discourse, they then become part of the marketplace of ideas, where they must contend with the ideas of others who do not share the same kind of faith.

So what do we do? Do religious ideas get a fee pass simply because people believe them so strongly? Or, from the other way around, should religious people keep their mouths shut because those ideas are meaningless to people who believe differently?

Personally, I think both of those questions miss the mark. We can debate religion in the public sphere, easily. Participants just need to respect each other as individuals and fellow Americans. It's kind of like hating the sin but loving the sinner: I disagree with your ideas, but I respect that you have chosen a way of life that is deeply meaningful to you; OR, I understand that you are criticizing my views, but I see that you are not condemning my religion, not condemning me. This requires sensitivity and patience from all involved, to be sure, but it's not impossible.

Besides, if religious ideas aren't important enough to assert or defend, then they must not be really important. And this works both ways, for both liberals and conservatives. Remember that many leaders in the Civil Rights Movement were Christian ministers; remember that one of the great progressives in American history was William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist Christian. Everybody's got money in this game, whether you're a believer or not.
Of course, if you're a regular Real Art reader, you're already familiar with my ideas about discussing religion in the public discourse, but I've never stated them in quite this context.  That is, my words here are meant to be heard and understood, and perhaps even embraced, by a conservative Christian.  And I think I did a pretty nice job as far as that goes--indeed, another fellow commenting from a fundamentalist perspective clicked "like" on the comment.  So at least I got him to listen.

And that's all in a good day's work!