When I was about 14, my father gave me the first rule of polite conversation: “Son, never ask anyone about their religion or their politics.” When I pestered him as to why, he told me, “You just don’t do it.”
I believe that the phrase “Don’t ask about politics and religion” is a euphemism for “do not speak of what a man believes” because politics and religion are the ways someone expresses his beliefs. It is a rule for avoiding conflict in conversation, and I have found it to be about as pointless as mud flaps on a rowboat. I’ve actually found quite the opposite to be true.
Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been about personal beliefs, and they’ve often been with people who disagree with me. I was told not to speak of these things in polite society; I have found that I should because then I will find who is not polite at all. It is through discussing my Catholicism or my conservatism that I have found people who, while claiming to see the virtue in all things, choose only to see the vices of everyone’s view but their own.
For this disease, I have one diagnosis: lack of sunlight. It is natural for individuals to have differing views of the Bible, and of the Constitution; just as it is natural to have differing views of The Great Gatsby and the New York Times.
What is unnatural and ineffective is to discuss the latter pair of texts vehemently, while ignoring the former pair with all of our strength. It seems that we have become so worried about not insulting another man’s opinion that we have forgotten to nurture our own opinions. The best way to nurture viewpoints, as with plant life, is to shed some light on them.
Beliefs are like seeds. They start small and require care to grow. Sometimes, they are misplaced, like a rose in sand, and wither. That doesn’t mean the idea is automatically faulty, but maybe that its foundation is poor. That’s why it must be exposed to light and open air.
More than anything, the biggest crime of an educated and polite society is not to merely misunderstand ideas, but to misunderstand why others believe in them. To not merely misunderstand the plant, but to even misunderstand the soil in which it’s planted.
It is bad sense to say a subject is off-limits to prevent inadvertently saying someone’s idea is laughable. If it is laughable, it should be called so. Maybe people should laugh, and the believer should laugh loudest of all. It is no shame to call something laughable. A man can only laugh at something which seems secure and harmless to him, not something which is dangerous.
A man can easily laugh at a skyscraper because it is firmly set in stone; he cannot laugh at the Sword of Damocles because it dangles by a thread. The believer should laugh loudest because he is the most secure of all; if he cannot laugh, he should run before he finds himself hurt. If a man cannot laugh at something, it is because he is afraid of it, and a man should never place something he fears in his personal creed.
Fear implies a lack of faith, and a man should be faithful to his beliefs. They should be as close and as vital to him as his own heart, and just as deadly to remove.
Beliefs are vital to a man, and he should be proud of them. He shouldn’t hide them, but willingly speak them when asked. The phrase “no comment” is a politician’s answer because it says nothing. They don’t give straight answers because they don’t wish to alienate voters.
We’ve chosen to never discuss our personal beliefs because we don’t wish to alienate anyone as well. It’s like we’re all running for political office and trying to get everyone to vote for us. It’s a waste. You learn about a man when he actually answers a question, and even if you don’t agree with him, you can respect his honesty.
Whether a man shouts his support of gay marriage in front of the Westboro Baptist Church, or shouts his dissent of abortion in the middle of Planned Parenthood convention, he states his beliefs and goes to the grave an honest man.
Despise what he says, but never despise him. Voltaire once said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” and I agree with him. There are many opinions and beliefs, each one carrying varying degrees of validity.
They should all be heard, but they never will be if manners and politeness decree that we can’t speak of “politics and religion.”