Local view: In a pandemic, even religion, politics can be discussed — but not the Great Pumpkin – Duluth News Tribune
At different times in our history, the old adage of never discussing religion and politics in good company has been used by many. It is a way to avoid heated arguments in various contexts. A number of families have changed the maxim to state, “No discussion of religion and politics at the dinner table.”
While such topic avoidance was common practice before the global coronavirus pandemic, recent corresponding massive social upheavals have now forced the topics of religion and politics to merge in most of our public discussions. But we no longer discuss issues such as racism, social inequality, crime, policing policies, public order or protests in an open and candid manner. Instead, we put an absolutist religious framework on our civil life. We have divided all our politics into “good” and “evil”, “right” or “wrong”, “blessed” and “damned”.
There is no middle ground anymore.
The gloves are off and the battle for justice has begun. If any of our family members, friends or neighbors show the slightest disagreement with our political position, we are all on them. On social media, for example, many, many people have made it very clear that supporting a candidate or movement they disagree with will result in the offender being blocked or banned: “I can’t believe that you support this crazy candidate. They want to destroy our country! You are no longer my friend or a member of my family.
Elections are about leadership and direction, not absolute truth or fate. But the pandemic has increased political and religious bigotry, even among the most rational among us. They take their favorite candidate and give him the divine right while their opponent is attacked with the characteristics of Satan. The new normal among all pandemic politicians is: “If you are not with us, you are against us.
If the pandemic has shown nothing else, it has shown how intertwined our destinies are. Each of us is a traveler on the same little ship. What standards should we follow to make our collective journey manageable?
On February 15, 1840, The Corsair: A Gazette of Literature, Art, Dramatic Criticism, Fashion, and Novelty in New York published a letter from John Stager, which suggested 18 maxims to follow when traveling by steamship. Number 12 was: “Never discuss religion or politics with those who have opinions opposed to yours; these are subjects that get heated by manipulating them until you burn your fingers.
I believe John Stager was right over 180 years ago. We know people who have opposite opinions. Why go out of our way to engage them and burn our fingers?
That being said, I agree that we should be discussing sensitive social justice issues — and we haven’t. Given our divisions, we instead shout at each other at the top of our voices, talking to each other.
We must return to the dinner table for polite and meaningful conversation, understanding that social equality is possible, change is possible, and a more equitable world is possible. But these possibilities can only be realized if we can speak peacefully, respectfully and reasonably with our family, friends and neighbors. Every conversation is an opportunity to improve ourselves and our society.
We must take a step back and try to recreate a standard of civility or even levity.
Fellow Minnesota native cartoonist Charles Schulz was right to inject some humor into the old adage when he had Linus’ condition in both a 1961 “Peanuts” comic strip and the animated classic. from 1966’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” which, “There are three things I’ve learned not to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”
Happy Halloween and Happy Election Day everyone!
Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for nearly three decades at Inver Hills Community College. He wrote this for the News Tribune.