Faith and Politics

given by Mark Oglesby, Senior Dean and AP U.S. Government Teacher

I am about to talk about the two things we are generally advised not to talk about in group settings – Religion and Politics.

For those who don’t know, I teach Government and have done so for 20 plus years. I have to admit, it has been getting tougher to teach this subject, let alone live it. Over the past couple decades, I have seen a deterioration in our society and our political system.

The past few weeks have actually been worse, to the point where I was feeling heartbroken.

One of my former volleyball players posted on Facebook, “I truly can’t believe some of the vile things I have read, from people I care about.” I also watched a social media fight get nasty between one of my good friends and his brother of all people.

We have this tribalistic US v Them mentality, especially in any and all things political. The way in which the left and the right, Republican and Democrat have reacted with vitriol to each other has been anything but civil.

Vitriol is an interesting word; a strong word. It has shown up a few times in my readings the past couple weeks. It means cruel and bitter criticism.

According to the Washington Post, about half of Americans who align with a political party hate the other party. Yes, I said hate. Having hate in your heart makes it easy to be cruel and bitter.

A recent Political Cartoon expressed Rest in Peace civility and fairness. Think about that – civility and fairness DEAD.

Writing for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, in an article titled “Restoring Civility in a Hostile World”, Russell Roberts wrote, “Civility is out of fashion.” We are “unwilling” to listen to the other side or opposing viewpoints. We “can’t rationally discuss ideas at all, we just yell at each other.”

He pointed out that the media isn’t helping. Journalists violate longstanding norms of their profession by mocking those with whom they disagree or ignoring the shortcomings of those they side with. Like journalists, we often cherry-pick when it comes to making arguments.

Roberts concludes with the idea that “the virtues of humility and decency are timeless.” Humility, our virtue of the month. As Reverend Heller emailed earlier this month, “Humility is not about weakness or bending to the will of another.” Our working definition of humility is “Being humble is considering others as important as yourself. You are thoughtful of their needs and willing to be of service.” I like that Mr. Roberts put humility together with decency, because the decent thing to do is to be thoughtful of the needs of others.

So, how do we demonstrate humility in our supercharged political atmosphere we see today.

Let’s first turn to founder and framer George Mason who wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, “That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to virtue”. He also added it is the “mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.” He didn’t say that we had to be Christian, but that we had a duty to practice Christian forbearance toward each other. This includes toward those with whom we disagree. Where can we find this forbearance, or patient self-control?

Let’s now look to past presidents. Andrew Jackson said the Bible “is the Rock on which our Republic rests.” Woodrow Wilson stated, “America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.” To be completely bipartisan here, remember what Ronald Reagan said, “Inside the Bible’s pages lie all the answers to all of the problems man has ever known.”

How can the Bible help us?

I think the word of James 1:19 should be our guide. It says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” I am far from perfect, if you don’t believe me just ask my wife and daughter. I make mistakes all the time and forget these wise words.

Be Quick to listen

Youth Pastor Chris Miller wrote in his blog, “We have a God-given responsibility to (listen). By not doing so we are telling (people) that we don’t take the Bible seriously.”

Senior, Ali De La Cruz  said it even better in wishing “that individuals in our community could learn how to listen to each other’s voices, ideas, and experiences better.” Because Ali is right; we all matter.

So, take the time to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree or do not know. Put down the devices for long spells and take the time to try to understand others.

Slow to speak

Heed Dr. Goatley’s social media advice – it is easy to post when people aren’t there. Easier to dehumanize someone if you don’t try to know them.

Don’t forget the pause. In the 1980’s there was a good PSA commercial about the PAUSE; about stopping, counting to ten, taking time out when angry. The Pause is invaluable.

Think before you speak or write. Is what you are going to say going to improve communication or discourse?

Slow to anger

In declaring our Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that revolution shouldn’t take place for “light and transient causes” and only “after a long train of abuses and usurpations.” I think the same thing can be said of getting angry.  

Psychologist Jordan Peterson, in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos points out, “We are operating in a destructive positive feedback loop. Outrage doesn’t encourage people to rethink their position, only to ratchet up their own.”

If you jump to anger people tend to stop listening (and we all like to be heard).

This vortex we are in is best describe by William Butler Yeats in his masterpiece, “The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst   

Are full of passionate intensity.

 

We have to do better before we spiral out of control. That starts with us. That starts right here.

How we talk to each other matters; lose the vitriol. Demonstrate humility. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry and we will be better off as a society, especially in the political realm.

Please stand for our prayers.

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