Monday, October 13, 2008
by Denise Beck-Clark
The great thing about Blog writing and reading is that they stimulate thought. The Blog written by Jim Aiken relates to something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years: the relationship between religion and politics, and, specifically, how it impacts on personal relationships.
My late mother, who identified herself as “a Democrat,” was married to a man who believed that Ronald Reagan was too liberal. I would always ask her on the phone, for this was when I was an adult, and didn’t see her much in person, how could she even be in the same house with someone with such views, no less be married to him, my belief being that a person’s character and his/her politics are inseparable. Her answer: We don’t talk about politics. Now I realize that there was another reason that explained the feasibility of their relationship: they weren’t religious. I never realized that before, but I do now. If either one of them had been into God, they couldn’t have stayed together. But just their political beliefs were avoidable.
It often happens that people with certain religious beliefs also have certain political beliefs. But this is not always true: there are many Democrats who have a strong belief in God. What separates them is the desire to impose their beliefs on others. That’s also where religion becomes pernicious. What would it matter if most of the world had strong religious beliefs if they didn’t condemn me for not having them. Religion, when it is done sincerely, can have very positive effects, viz., a Mother Teresa. Unfortunately, so many people get more caught up in imposing their religious beliefs on others than in the beliefs themselves, to the fanatical extreme of incarcerating or killing people who don’t agree with them.
But I digress. Recently, something interesting happened with a colleague at my job. Though she is a strong believer in God, she and I were becoming quite friendly, being aware of and tolerating each other’s differences. Until one day recently the talk turned to politics and she started to rant and rave about “those Democrats.” I said to her, “Betty, I am one of those Democrats.” Since that day our friendship has cooled. It was as if we could tolerate the one major difference, but add to that the political thing and it became too much. Oh, we are still friendly, we still talk and like each other superficially, but we know this friendship can only go so far; ultimately, there’s too much about each of us that the other doesn’t like or approve of.
Is there a conclusion here? Yes, and I think it’s the same one that Jim was given as advice by people who responded to his Blog. Above all, most of the time we do what is practical. It’s practical for Jim to smile at his mother’s neighbors so they will look after her. It’s practical for me to be friendly with my colleague at work. It was practical for my mother to be married to her husband. It’s when people’s actions go beyond the practical and focus more on principle that the stakes get higher. So the real problem is when people act on principle; that’s when relationships, be they of a personal or a societal nature, become strained and people get hurt, individually or en masse.
On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made for acting on principle, but that’s another essay.