The Naughty Baptist

How to Talk About Politics Without Being a Jerk

It's getting closer to a presidential election which means, of course, most Americans collectively lose their minds. It has become increasingly harder to find any real debate. Instead everyone seems intent on stupid, mean jokes at the expense of the "other side," spending most of their time arguing against strawmen that represent the beliefs of no one.

This saddens and frustrates me. I love a good debate, a really enjoy lively discussions. It's just hard to find those. What saddens me even more, though, is people who claim to be Christians acting in ways that are frankly inexcusable for those who say they follow Christ. What I'm writing about has little to do with any particular position on an issue; it instead has to do with attitude people have. There is a distinct lack of grace and class, and little concern for anyone who disagrees.

With that in mind, I humbly offer four suggestions that, I hope, may help people think and discuss politics without being jerky about it. The suggestions are:

  1. They dont exist
  2. It's complicated
  3. All sources are biased
  4. Be primarily Christian

1. They don't exist You know they. They are the ones who always want to do bad things, no matter how you want to define "bad things." They just want to sit at home and collect welfare. They just want to do away with any assistance programs. They want to send the police to seize your guns in the dead of night, and they want everyone to own at least one fully automatic assault rifle.

They don't exist. They are actually individual people, real people with real problems. Some of them are misinformed, and some may be crazy. But we are not talking about an abstract "they," however, we are talking about real people.

This matters because it is easy to hate when they are just abstracts to you, some straw man you've concocted with people who agree with you. It's simply a way to dehumanize people, to make them something less than you, and then you don't have to feel too bad about making fun of them or calling them stupid.

This is why a very racist person can know (for example) an African-American that the racist actually kinda likes. The individual is a person to them, while the rest of the people "like them" are less than human.

2. It's complicated I like simple explanations. As someone who has done a lot of teaching in various settings, and who enjoys explaining things, simple explanations are good. But we can easily confuse simple, which may just give a rough overview, with simplistic, which ignores complexities at the situation to make it easier to just give an idealogical answer.

Even a good, simple explanation can become simplistic if you never move beyond it. To really understand an issue you have to delve into the complexities of it. This is a problem, but our society doesn't like complexity. We want to find the one weird trick that will fix the deficit, not really examine where the money comes from, where it goes and what to do about it.

That said, it's not really possible to be an expert on all topics. I do think, however, it is possible to be a well-informed generalist. A good first step is to at least be suspicious solutions that start with, "The one simple solution is..."

3. All sources are biased There is no such thing as an unbiased source in journalism. Nope, not that one. That one isn't either. Nope, sorry.

Everyone has a point of view. All of us bring assumptions from our upbringing, experience, education, ideas we got from our friends, just to name a few. We all have our biases.

Here's the thing, though: That's OK. It doesn't mean we can't be objective. Just because I have a particular slant to my views doesn't mean I can't be honest about what I'm saying. All media is biased somehow, so we need to find several that still manage to be objective.

Here's the trick to this: Don't rely on a single source. You need balance. Find a liberal source to act as a counterweight against what you get from your conservative source. If you read all the liberal blogs, toss a couple good conservative ones in. Don't go for the wingnuts here, the ones that are easy for you to dismiss. Find ones who really believe in what they are saying, and work to explain it well. This will probably challenge your views. That's kind of the point here. It will keep you honest, and you can help keep them honest, too. It will also help you balance the bias in all the sources.

4. Be primarily Christian Obviously this one only applies if you are, indeed, a Christian.

My identity has to be primarily in Christ. This is true in two ways: Primarily in Christ means first, before whatever I may pick up from my political party. And it means primarily as in of primary importance and weight. Put another way, where Jesus and my party collide, Jesus wins.

For the Christian, our primary allegiance is to Christ and his kingdom, not a particular political party, or even a particular country. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be patriotic. It does mean we have to filter our patriotism through the Bible.

I see some people try to make the Bible say all sorts of things it certainly does not say about politics. This is a terribly dangerous error. No less dangerous, though, are those who try to ignore Scripture entirely. Both major US political parties are at odds with the Bible on different points. I believe a Christian can still in good conscience belong to those parties if they so choose. But their primary identity and allegiance has to be to Christ. And if that means you must disagree with the party line in certain areas, then so be it.