Local View: In pandemic, even religion, politics can be discussed — but not the Great Pumpkin

While such topic avoidance was common practice before the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the recent corresponding massive social upheavals have now forced the subjects of religion and politics to fuse together in most of our public discussions. But we no longer discuss issues like racism, social inequality, crime, police policies, law and order, or protests in an open and frank manner. Instead we put an absolutist religious framework on our civil life. We have divided all of 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 righteousness has begun. If one of our family members or friends or neighbors shows the slightest disagreement with our political position, we are all over them. In social media, for example, many, many people have stated most clearly that support for a candidate or movement they disagree with will result in a blocking or banning of the offender: “I cannot believe you support that insane 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 destiny. But the pandemic has increased political and religious fanaticism amongst even the most rational of us. They take their favorite candidate and give them divine right while their opponent is impugned with the characteristics of Satan. The new norm 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 closely intertwined our destinies are with one another. Each of us is a traveler on the same small ship. What norms should we follow to make our collective journey manageable?

On Feb. 15, 1840, The Corsair: A Gazette of Literature, Art, Dramatic Criticism, Fashion, and Novelty in New York published a letter by John Stager, who suggested 18 maxims to follow when on a steamer voyage. Number 12 was: “Never discuss religion or politics with those who hold opinions opposite to yours; they are subjects that heat in handling until they burn your fingers.”

I believe John Stager had it right over 180 years ago. We know the folks who hold opposite opinions. Why purposely go out of our way to engage them and burn our fingers?

That being said, I do agree that we should discuss sensitive social justice issues — and we have not been discussing them. Given our divisions, we are screaming at each other instead, at the top of our lungs, talking way past one another.

We need to come back to the dinner table for polite and meaningful conversation, understanding social equality is possible, change is possible, and a more equitable world is possible. But these possibilities can only be realized if we can talk in a peaceful, respectful, and reasonable manner with our family, friends, and neighbors. Each conversation is an opportunity to improve ourselves and our society.

We must step back and try to recreate a norm of civility and even levity.

My fellow native Minnesotan, cartoonist Charles Schulz, was right to infuse humor into the old adage when he had Linus state in both a 1961 “Peanuts” comic strip and in the 1966 classic animated “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” that, “There are three things I have 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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *