for impolite company

Religion and politics. It’s not to be discussed at dinner parties, cocktail parties, any gathering of people of diverse backgrounds, or Thanksgiving. But I love to discuss either. Till dawn. Ad Nauseam.

I think it all started back when I was in the first grade, and a boy said to me during recess: “Do you go to church?” I answered, “No.” He concluded, “You’re going to hell. You pray to the Devil.” I said, “No, I’m not. No, I don’t.” He wandered off, being all of 7 years old. I remembered, and learned pretty early that sometimes people who believe they are right feel they have a right to hurt others.

I watched the news every night with my parents. I liked President Carter, because he was not associated with that other guy who had to leave because he was, in fact, a crook. My dad encouraged me to write the President a letter. I did. I was 7. The President responded with a nice letter and picture. I learned pretty early that sharing my opinion mattered.

I visited India when I was 10. Children my age begged for food or money, from me. Younger children too. I learned pretty early that I had more than most on the entire planet, and it didn’t feel right.

When I was 12 I saw the biographical film “Gandhi,” which depicted a Hindu assassinating Gandhi because Gandhi was trying to be fair to Muslims. I learned pretty early that religion and politics are mixed on purpose, to no good end.

When I was 17, a dear friend of mine told me he thought he was gay. In fact, he had fallen for a guy he met, and that guy was concerned he had HIV. My friend, raised Catholic, was distraught, and was terrified that his parents would disown him if they knew. He wanted to die. I learned right then that anybody who would make my friend feel unwanted and unworthy was absolutely, undeniably, wrong.

I was a minority growing up in a beige small town in the Midwest (oh, hilarity ensued–I’ve been called nearly every ethnic or racial slur out there, since it was hard for many to pin my looks down to a particular spot on the globe). I learned pretty early that before many people see me, they see the fact that I don’t look exactly like them.

I think about these events, and I wonder what has occurred in another’s life–another, who disagrees with me politically and religiously. And I want to talk about it.

What has shaped the person who believes, for example, that waiting for hours to eat at Chick-fil-A, because Mike Huckabee suggested it, will really show ’em? How is it that they can so easily conflate an “assault on free speech” with “manifestation of market preference?”

I don’t think I believe it’s a simple case of ignorance. I want to know what happened to those folks when they were 7 or 17 or 27. Something shaped them, just like something shaped me.

Religion and politics are said to be unfit for polite company, ostensibly because the topics reveal differences among us, differences that cannot be quickly or painlessly reconciled.

I think those differences can be reconciled, relatively quickly and painlessly, if everybody in the conversation is honest about why they think the way think… and if everybody in the conversation is curious about why another thinks differently.

We all have our reasons. Why do we so often keep them to ourselves?

What do you think?

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