Don’t Toss Away Your Friends and Relatives because of Politics

Your best friend blocks you on Facebook and hangs up when you call. You are having a pleasant conversation with your niece, but when she asks you about politics and you reveal your views, she says, “I’m ashamed you’re my aunt!” and hangs up. A family Thanksgiving dinner degenerates into a near-fistfight, and many relatives leave, never to return. In a sane world, such things would not happen, but they do. What is the source of such collective madness that drives apart families and destroys close friendships, sometimes even leading to divorces among married couples?

Politics is a small part of life. We live our lives getting up on the morning, to the bathroom, getting breakfast, brushing our teeth, going to work, taking care of children, going shopping, calling the plumber for a leak in the toilet — all sorts of routine things that have little to do with politics. Many people consider religion a major part of their lives, and this is a dimension that involves spiritual matters, and while religion may have political implications, it is so much more than mere politics. We go to plays, movies (at least until COVID), play outside with our children, make love to our spouses, go to bed at night, worry about getting sick or dying, sometimes to the point of considering the meaning of life in general. In the United States, where a growing number of young people leave organized religion and older people become less involved in it, people are seeking meaning. If religion doesn’t fill the meaning gap, something else will. That something may be dabbling in the occult, losing yourself in your job, becoming fascinated with a hobby or a sports team — or politics.

In the 1960s, some people said that “The political is the personal.” This attitude in itself can destroy relationships and cause conflicts. Bar owners know what they are doing when they forbid discussion of politics. Now a slogan would be more accurate: “The political is religion.” Many Americans, bereft of a belief in anything else outside the self, turn to politics to give them meaning in life, a sense of purpose, to make society better, perhaps set up a kind of Utopia on earth. Instead of Christ in Christianity or the Messiah in Orthodox Judaism or Allah in Islam coming at the end of time, a near-perfect society is coming in the future. Utopia is the eschatology of many Millennials and members of Generation Z. They embrace a set of dogmas, enshrined in the creed of their particular political party or faction, and accept those dogmas as dogmatically as any Fundamentalist Christian or Fundamentalist Muslim. To question those dogmas is heresy, and the penalty is cancellation. When the cancellation involves separating from family and friends, this causes great pain and heartache. Cancellation is the excommunication of the new political religions.

This trend is unfortunate for human relationships. In the past, people got along in families and friendships persisted despite political differences. I had relatives who were die-in-the-wool Democrats and others that were hard-line Republicans, yet we loved each other despite our differences. People had more maturity then and knew that the only way to keep peace and harmony is to disagree agreeably. That is the only sane route forward in a divided country and in a deeply divisive election. If we do not take this route, the alternative is unthinkable. What happened to Christians who were excommunicated in the days that the Church carried out capital punishment for heresy? That is the logical end point of the current divisions in society. Surely we want to avoid something like the Thirty Years War that wiped out a third of the population of some parts of the German states. That was a great war between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. No sane person wants another religious war, yet if the current divisive trends continue which have already caused violence, remember that divisiveness and cancellation leads to violence, and violence leads to more violence. At the ordinary level of ordinary people, please try to get along with those with whom you disagree in order to avoid the heartbreak of losing lifelong friends and shunning or being shunned by close relatives.


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