Monday, August 29, 2011

Faith in Politics

Interesting article from the NY Times regarding the place for religion in politics.  Read it here, then a few thoughts below.  Thanks to Brian for the link!

The article brings up a compelling argument while stating what should be obvious -- Politicians are people, and people have beliefs.  The idea that politicians' beliefs and faith background shouldn't be publicly scrutinized knowledge or relevant to their office has always been somewhat ridiculous to me.  However, this article does exactly what disheartens me in politics and media in general, which is to define a person simply by who they are associated with.

If the Facebook Age has taught us anything, it's that you are who you surround yourself with.  The people and things that you involve yourself with say a huge amount about who you are as a person.  But too many times, and especially in politics, we choose to single out one or two of the associations that we don't agree with or don't like and assume that the person in question is a perfect microcosm of that association.  Can you honestly pick any single person, organization, hobby, belief or ideal that completely defines you or that you completely parallel in your daily living?  I would contend that most of us couldn't even make a short list that felt like it accurately described us to someone who had never met us but was familiar with all of the items on the list.  In a striking conundrum, we are who we associate with, yet our associations are what we make of them -- it's a two way street that is never static.  None of this even takes into account the fact that the same ideal, belief or organization represents different things to different people in perception, whether in minute or gaping degrees.

So let's do something different for once.  Maybe instead of just assuming that Mitt Romney is a polygamist due to his association with the Church of Latter Day Saints, or that Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry are anti-gay due to what you've heard about Evangelicals, or even that the author of the Times article is a liberal who clearly disagrees with Republican-based positions and views based on his writing style and subject, we could actually come up with ways and take the time to find out who these people really are.  Is Barack Obama a racist because of the views that his pastor had?  It always seems so clean cut when we're the ones judging, but there is a lot more gray area when we're the ones being judged.

The questions posed in the linked article are a great start, and we should be encouraged to ask them.  But are we really ready to accept the answers?  Or will we simply reject the ones we don't want to hear...and then throw the candidate back into the assumptions that we started with...and define them as who we want them to be rather than who they are.

This all leads to a much bigger question than politics.

How would we want people to define us?

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