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Op-Ed: Go Ahead, Talk Religion and Politics at the Table

Here's a peculiarly American paradox: We are the most affluent country in the history of the world, with an elaborate education system and expansive legal guarantees for free expression.

Yet many citizens are afraid of talking. Outside of the political/media circus in which people disagree theatrically, many people — right, left, and center — avoid thoughtful conversation with those who might disagree.

So, for anyone heading to a Thanksgiving gathering where there will be a variety of people, including some you know you disagree with, a bit of advice: Make sure you talk about religion and politics.

This goes against the conventional wisdom, but there are two good reasons, one selfish and the other moral.

The selfish reason: If we don't talk about religion or politics, what else is there of interest to discuss? Let's define "religion" broadly, as wrestling with ultimate questions of existence that are wrapped up in the query, "What does it mean to be a human being?" Let's understand "politics" broadly, to mean the way we answer, "How should power and resources be distributed?" Those questions make life interesting.

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Onto the moral reason: The conventional wisdom about avoiding religion and politics has not helped us avoid the mess we are in economically and ecologically, politically and socially. The conventional wisdom on most everything hasn't been particularly wise lately. Rather than opting out of conversations, we have a moral obligation to engage these topics.

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So, along with all the food we'll be putting on the table this Thanksgiving, let's put religion and politics on the conversational menu. Let's ask questions about whether our political, economic, and social systems square with our mostly deeply held moral/theological beliefs about dignity, equality, and justice.

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Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin, one of the partners in the community center 5604 Manor. He is the author of "All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice," (Soft Skull Press, 2009); "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity" (South End Press, 2007); "The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege" (City Lights, 2005); "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (City Lights, 2004); and "Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream" (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.



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