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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sensitive Subjects

In which I break conventional rules of polite conversation, in the interest of having one...

Last night, I got so worked up about things I read on the Internet that I couldn't sleep. One friend had posted Christian pianist Huntley Brown's reasons he wouldn't be voting for Obama.* Another had sent along her own reasons for backing McCain--namely, abortion, the economy, education, and healthcare.** I made the mistake of googling "Christians for Obama," and arrived at a post by the pastor of a Christian church who was supposedly soliciting genuine discussion in the comments of his blog from Christians supporting Obama--but instead routinely "rebutted" each, individually, essentially calling the democratic candidate a baby killer.

Now, I am sure there are people for whom getting worked up, by the Internet or other sources, and thus being too distraught to sleep, is a routine occurrence, but I am not generally one of them. I love working through complex material and challenging subjects, don't shy from rational debate that sticks to the facts--and let very few things interfere with my sleep. For some reason, however, perhaps the emotionally-charged tenor of these pieces, I found myself responding very emotionally and--admittedly and somewhat ashamedly--rather angrily. It's almost as though there's a certain wavelength vibrating through these posts, and one can't help but be infected. I suppose that's why these are Sensitive Subjects.

But what is to be done? Should we simply avoid talking about them, agreeing to disagree? Should we defer to politeness, so that a superficial peace can prevail? Should we attempt to discuss these subjects calmly, respectfully, rationally, and factually, despite their emotionally-hypercharged status? Do facts matter when we're talking about deeply-held, personal convictions based on feelings and, you know, aversion to "killing babies"?


I don't actually know. I want to believe, of course, that facts do matter; that a calm, respectful, and rational discussion might in fact be possible; and that actually discussing these things instead of burning with silent (or not-so-silent) rage is therapeutic and beneficial. But I'm not sure.

On Tuesday, Native American author Sherman Alexie was on The Colbert Report. He said that although McCain has been great for Native American rights, 90% of the Native community is supporting Obama. Why? "We're giving [our support] to Obama," he said, "because unlike other groups of people in this country, we Indians vote for the good of everybody and not just for the good of our little group."

So. One of the most Sensitive Subjects in this election is clearly abortion, and it is closely tied to Christianity. Christians such as Mr. Brown say they can't vote for Obama because "I have to vote Christian," and that Christ has already "'dictate[d] the terms." Huntley goes on to define those terms primarily as being against abortion and homosexuality.

Now, we can debate what the Christ of the New Testament would say about abortion and homosexuality, but it seems likely to me, based on his record, that he'd be hanging out with, and loving, those whom today's Christian community seems eager to avoid and condemn. Would he deny women the right to a safe and legal option when facing the horrifically difficult prospect of an unplanned pregnancy, or deny same sex couples equality under the law? I could not begin to answer. I'm not even sure what role Christianity proper should play in establishing public policy.

What I do know is that gospels show Christ doing a lot of talking about helping the poor and loving each other. I know that the early Christian church out-socializes any state socialism. I believe that focusing on abortion and homosexuality, in the name of pursuing a "Christian" politics, does great disservice to the broader scope of what the Christ of the New Testament seemed to be trying to get across.

I understand Christians being compelled to vote for their beliefs. However, I believe that attempting to do so is a far more complicated prospect than is often implied--and find unjust the assumption that real Christians could only vote one way on a particular issue.

A few questions, then:

  • Should the laws of the land be based on Christian principles? If so, which ones?
  • Should a Christian select his or her candidate based on the candidate's adherence to Christian moral values? If so, which ones? (performing sacraments? personal beliefs? policy decisions?)
  • Does voting Christian mean "vot[ing] for the good of everybody"?
  • Does voting Christian mean voting for the poor? for the environment? against homosexuality? against abortion?
  • Is all life sacred, before and after birth? Should Christians be more concerned about deaths via abortion, via war, via poverty, or via lack of health insurance?
  • Do Christians believe that everyone (of all genders, colors, and lifestyles) deserves equal rights under the law?
  • Which candidates would best safeguard religious freedom?
  • Which candidates would maintain a clearer separation of church and state?
  • Should Christians care about being politically correct? polite?
Obviously, these are just a few of the many question these Sensitive Subjects raise. I'm less interested in theological or political debates than in how these issues impact real people's lives and votes, and why.

Last night I was angry, then sad, then depressed. I'm not nearly as worked up tonight, but will admit I'm somewhat apprehensive about posting this, because of the aforementioned emotionally-charged nature of these discussions. Still, I wanted to contribute my perspective, and hear your opinions. So there it is.

*Please note that Snopes rated as "true" the fact that the e-mail was sent by this individual, and not its content.
**And for the record, I appreciate receiving thoughtful explanations for why various friends are choosing to vote Republican this year; I think we've seen too few.


Ern said...

I think that treating Christians as a single block of voters is as silly as treating women as a single block of voters. Even back when I subscribed to Christianity in a much more doctrinal way than I do now, I thought that many Christians had hijacked the faith and taken away from Christ's teachings.

Voth said...

If my significant other hadn't had an abortion, I wouldn't be in my homosexual relationship, as she would be dead.

My parents are full of hate on both issues. It hurts that I can't share what is important to me with them. They love to fall back on religious "reasoning". It stinks, as they are well educated and should be more open to new thoughts, but not so much.

I haven't really had many political discussions with anyone who disagrees with me. The issues are a little too personal, and I get very angry. I don't like my reaction, but I'm really sick of hearing that I'm going to hell.

Ah, the midwest...

I Hope So said...

ceri, i'm GLAD that you posted this. these things need to be said and they need to be said by thoughtful, rational, and loving people like yourself. the points you make about how christ would respond verses how "christians" respond is exactly what makes this whole thing so emotionally charged for me. the bible says a lot of things. but from what i remember, the new testament doesn't mandate believers to go out and legislate their beliefs. the new testament calls for evangelism. NOT legislation. and you know what? a good majority of today's christians are failing at evangelism BECAUSE they are so focused on legislation. who wants to be identified with this rabid crowd? where's the love?

Ellen said...

Why are you ashamed to be angry?

I Hope So said...

i'm back. and i agree with ellen. and i feel for you, voth. and my overly-idealistic self is hoping that 8 years of an obama administration might bring back "real" republicans - the ones who are conservative in their economic views yet put just as much emphasis on indvidual rights as the left does. *sigh* that sure would be nice.

Ben said...

Ceri, you said, "I believe that focusing on abortion and homosexuality, in the name of pursuing a 'Christian' politics, does great disservice to the broader scope of what the Christ of the New Testament seemed to be trying to get across." And I agree with you. That statement pretty well summarizes how I feel about all this.

I could go into more details and explanation, tell you what most angers me in these types of discussion for example, but I'd rather not. We're on the same page, I think. And I've already sent in my vote. Not that the discussion can't or shouldn't continue past election day, just that, this week, I've had enough (as I think you have as well).

CëRïSë said...

Ern, I agree. What's more disturbing to me than pundits' or pollsters' tendencies to treat Christians as a single voting block, though, is some Christians' tendency to believe themselves as such, forced to vote a certain way based on a single issue.

Wendy, thank you so much for your post. I didn't know about your parents; that must be awful (even worse than living in Nebraska during an election year, though at least it's Lincoln!).

Mandy, "where's the love?" is such a good question, and it's sad that we have to ask! And a Republican party that supports all individual rights would indeed be a welcome development.

Ellen, I think I felt ashamed because a knee-jerk emotional reaction is exactly what's wrong with the issue; I want to move beyond merely getting angry and defensive.

And Ben, I agree with you that the discussion should continue--and am VERY READY for the election to be over. (Also, I woke up with your most recent song in my head, after listening to it yesterday!)

The Churches said...

I think it's silly to think that because you are Christian you have to vote a certain way. I certainly don't believe that. I do wish that there was a medium between Republican and Democrat (each of which has a vast number of radicals, left & right) because I seem to agree more with the conservatives, but I wouldn't identify myself with gun-loving, war-mongering, immigrant-hating right wings. I also don't believe that Democrats are baby-hating radicals.

For instance, even though I tend to vote "Republican" I believe that abortion is necessary under certain circumstances and I believe in free agency. I am appalled by the number of people who abort simply because they made a mistake or do not want the child, but that is their choice and I do not think there is a fail-proof way for government to regulate without taking away a much needed legalservice.

Maybe this is a simplistic view since I do not follow politics closely, but I think it is up to the public to vote for the party who's values they most identify with and then temper the radicals by staying involved in the community and writing their public officials when called for.

CëRïSë said...

Adrianna, I don't think that's a simplistic view at all; the opinions you've expressed here are thoughtful and nuanced! I'm also glad that you're not a "gun-loving, war-mongering, immigrant-hat[er]" or think that I'm a "baby-hating radical"!

Curly Sue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curly Sue said...

I agree with your questions, Ceri. It's also difficult for me to talk about these things. I'm always afraid I'm going to slip into offending someone because of what Ern said above.

I have the same question as your first one. I don't think that US political and social policy should be based on a religious tradition...anyone's religious tradition. A lot of Americans tend to assume that everyone is a Christian, therefore everyone thinks exactly the same way.

It's sad that issues like abortion have become the fault lines for political beliefs. What should be a personal decision is so heavily politicized that it hardly seems like the terrible thing it really is.

Here is my question: why do Christians think they get to decide what's best for me? Why do so many Christians think that their religious tradition is the only acceptable worldview? Why do some nutjobs like S. Palin get to decide what kind of medical care I can access?

CëRïSë said...

Adrianna, this is delayed, but I realized almost immediately after my last comment that I had a couple of questions for you! First of all, would you say you tend to vote Republican because the Republican candidates' values consistently happen to be the ones with which you most identify? And secondly, what values should count politically? Christian ones? Entirely individual ones? Or ones that suggest the best for the entire community?

And Leah, tough questions. I think I find the country assuming it has a single, unified religious tradition and past less troubling than using permutations of that understanding as a basis for providing or denying rights granted by the state--especially as one of our founding principles is separation of those two powers.

The Churches said...

Good and thoughtful questions as always Ceri! I really had to think about this one.

First, I do tend to vote Republican because I feel the candidates more closely embody my idea of good government than the Democratic candidates.

And, second, I would like to think I vote based on what I think will be the best for society as a whole- not just for me. It won't matter if it's good for me (or just a few) if, meanwhile, all of society is falling to pieces, right? Then we'll all be up a creek together eventually.

I do think that religious beliefs play a large part of my character formation as a whole, therefore my ideas of what make good government, and therefore the way I vote. My religious beliefs may dictate how I feel about certain political issues, but I can see the folly in voting strictly based on those feelings (IE. I am pro-life but see the need for the nation to be pro-choice).

There are some issues I am fighting to protect based on my religious beliefs though too and I think the interpretation of "separate church and state" for me is to not have our nation run by "the church" as was England and others. I do believe that some religious values (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc) have to hold sway in our government for the good of the nation and the people and I do believe that our founding principles were based on such.

In fact, I think much of the good in our constitution is being eradicated by anti-Christian zealots who are afraid of offending others when the majority of this nation are Christian, and nearly all believe in God (in some form or other). If you want to see this nation fall apart, remove religious values from politics.

CëRïSë said...

Adrianna, thanks for humoring me, and again for your thoughtful response. I'm still confused, though, as to what, specifically, the religious values are that should count politically, or the eradication of which would cause the collapse of the nation. But maybe I'm asking too much!

The Churches said...

I don't think I'm qualified to answer that question- I don't know politics inside and out. I only know that there are a very few political issues that I would vote on one way or the other based on my religious beliefs (which I don't think I'll outline here for fear of offending others unnecessarily), but the rest of the issues I don't think need an assessment of religious conscience. I guess that's the beauty of Democracy- that we each get to decide what values should count and vote accordingly.

Which ones do you think should count, if at all?

CëRïSë said...

Adrianna, sorry for the delay in my response!

I've been thinking about it, and I can't think of any specifically religious values that I feel are necessary in politics. Although I believe ethics and morals are important in politics as elsewhere, they can exist independently of any religion.