Monday, August 29, 2011

Election 2012 on the Horizon: A Plea for Peaceful Politics

It's that time again.  We spent August maligning the "incompetent" politicians in Congress and their inability to reach a budget agreement.  Now we can go back to picking apart presidential candidates after every public appearance or criticizing the President after every perceived misstep.

Have you ever said you're sick of politics, politicians, and all the bickering and posturing that goes on between the parties?  Have you then gone on to verbally malign a political party or politician?  Ever see the dichotomy there?

I'm guilty of such hypocrisy, much to my shame.  It is possible to have reasoned debates and disagreements without maligning the character or intent of your opposition, but it is very difficult.  It's much easier to say someone is uneducated and backwards (or conversely, say someone is part of the ivory tower intellectual elite) than to say you just look at an issue differently.  It's easier to say someone is unpatriotic, or anti-American,  or heartless, than to give specific reasoning as to why you disagree with their stance.  We learn it very young on the playground-- name-calling gets results.  As adults, we learn that nothing rallies people to our cause quite like getting them royally pissed off at the other side.  So we malign our opponent's character.  We ascribe to them evil intentions.  We consider ourselves the reasoned, tempered ones, while considering our opponents evil scum bags out to destroy our country.

I've been active in both major political parties at one time or another.  This habit goes both ways, because I've done it from both sides.  And it is completely and utterly pointless.  Democracy lends itself to the power of the majority and while the minority is out of luck. But any hope of compromise requires us to see our "opponents" not as our enemies, but as fellow citizens who just happen to look at the problems differently and see different solutions.  It's probably naive to think the tone of our discourse could change on the national level, but at least this change in thinking can temper our political conversations with friends, family, and coworkers.  It can dictate what "news" sources we feed into our minds-- do they inform, or do they agitate?

One final word-  I remember after the 2010 elections reading reports that called the results a "bloodbath" and talked about the "carnage" of the congressional upset.  First world problems, baby, first world problems.  Talk a look at Zimbabwe or any of the many countries where elections aren't free and the price of voting for the wrong candidate can mean death.  We have a peaceful transition of government after every election--no fighting, no blood, no civil war.  So let's not act like we're going into battle in the ballot box.

Dangerous Thoughts or Pertinent Points?

I continue on my journey of undergoing seismic shifts in thinking, beliefs, questioning, and doubts.  It seems the more questions I seek to answer, the more questions I end up asking, with no answers in sight. While it leaves me somewhat disconcerted, I'm trying to make peace with the idea that some questions are just not going to have answers; or at least, no answers that I can cling to with 100% assurance.

I was discussing some of my doubts with a family member a few weeks ago, and while he acknowledged he too had doubts, he insisted that my approach to my faith conundrums was "dangerous."  Dangerous, because I pointed my finger at the church and held it responsible as the source of much of the pain and confusion I've undergone in the last decade.  In essence, he was saying it was okay to question God, but don't go blaming the church for my issues.

I admit, I was taken aback.  Sometimes in church we hear, "Hey, it's OK to express doubt. Ask God these questions. Wrestle with them.  It's normal to doubt and wonder."  Yet when you do those very things, people start to get nervous that you are "falling away from the faith" or bordering on the profane.  How is it "dangerous" to point out where the church has erred?  How is it harmful to reexamine past teachings and beliefs in light of new knowledge?  Do the doubters among us get pushed to the fringes of our faith communities because we think the whole thing will unravel by a question or two?

Asking questions about God, faith, the church--and more specifically, fundamentalist faith--is like a Pandora's box, in that once you start, you can't ever put those questions away.  When you realize you've believed wrong things, you can't go back to blindly believing them. "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."  In that sense, I suppose my thinking is dangerous.  I can't go back to the warm, fuzzy comfort of an unquestioned faith and assurance in God.  But blind, unreasonable faith--that seems to be a greater danger in the long run.

And so, I keep asking.