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Politics, Religion, and Family Debates

Politics, Religion, and Family Debates

The first lesson I remember my father teaching me was pretty simple.

“Never discuss politics and religion in mixed company. Ever.”

As a child, I took this to mean anyone. Even family. It was such an ingrained lesson that I didn’t even know my own mother’s politics until the 2008 election cycle when I learned she was as excited by Barack Obama as any 20-something.

I have very clear political and religious opinions. I don’t share them often because my father’s voice (deceased for 13 years) still lingers in my mind.

But, sometimes, even I can get dragged into a conversation. For the record, my own comfort with a person is an indication of how much I’m willing to share. To my surprise, my stepfather is often the one to draw me out. Of course, he also raises my blood pressure in the process.

He’s mellowed over the years. What used to be an inflammatory statement made about a group of people, any group of people, simply to get a reaction from me has now become a question of, “What do you think…?” “How do you feel…?”

The good thing about these debates is that my opinion becomes more concrete. I’m able to voice my thoughts clearly. Sure, I’m willing to change my mind, but as a staunch liberal, I have a clear point of view.

The last debate was Father’s Day. My blood pressure went through the roof as I mentally and physically prepared to go to verbal war with a man who is firm in his own outlook on the world. (I sweated through my shirt and thought I must be very agitated – turns out, our air conditioner was crapping out.)

At the end, we agreed to disagree, which is how it should be. Neither of us spoke with the goal of changing the other person’s mind. (That’s a recipe for disaster).

After it was all said and done, I realized I’m pretty clear on a few points:

On Religion

Believe whatever religion you want but don’t expect me to join in. If I, as a questioning person, can respect your beliefs, surely others can respect my own – or lack there of. Unless you’re a follower of Thor and Odin who went around making war on everyone, the deities of the day preach love in some form or fashion. But that seems to be the first attribute forgotten once people are ready to defend their beliefs.

The Bible is a fascinating piece of literature and history but I don’t believe it should be taken literally. The principles are sound – love thy fellow man, don’t kill, don’t steal. That being said, while I don’t understand or agree, I will fight for someone’s right to choose their religious beliefs and texts.

On Immigration

Illegal immigrants are not the enemy. In many cases, they should be admired. They battle deserts, oceans, starvation, bigotry, and hatred to come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their families. They accept back-breaking work for low wages when they may have been highly educated people in their home countries.

Most are law-abiding (outside of the immigration part) people. How are they any different from the English and French who arrived on America’s shores a few hundred years ago or those who arrived on Ellis Island less than a century ago? They aren’t. Every time I hear a white person tell a Hispanic person to “Go home,” regardless of their immigration status (known or unknown), one of my Native American ancestors rolls over in their grave.

On Race

The Charleston shooting was absolutely racism at it’s worse, no matter what some media outlets say. Let’s call a spade a spade and stop with all the crap. A white guy, fueled on paranoia and racism, sat with church parishioners for an hour, listened to them pray, and killed them in cold blood. He’s not a lone madman, he’s a terrorist.

I’m a Southerner, born and raised. No, I don’t like the Confederate flag, and I definitely don’t think it should be flying over government buildings. When I was growing up, it wasn’t used as a reminder of heritage or history – it was typically worn and flown by people who thought the races shouldn’t mix and segregation was a good idea. But they’d usually only say that if the group they were in was all white.

White privilege exists, and while I don’t always recognize it (as someone who benefits from it daily), when I do, I’m willing to admit that’s exactly what it is. I’m not worried that other groups are demanding equal and fair treatment and the same benefits I’ve experienced my whole life. I find nothing threatening in it – it’s only right. No one is “taking over” my country. They’re simply standing up and demanding recognition and a voice. (Yes, I recognize that as a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination, but my life as a white woman has still been much different – and better – than that of many minority women.)

If we won’t categorize all white people (and by we, I mean, other white people) as evil or bad based on the actions of a small few, we shouldn’t do it with any other group – black, Hispanic, Muslim, doesn’t matter. The actions of one black person don’t make them all bad. The actions of one group of Muslims doesn’t make them all terrorists. If white people aren’t a reflection of the actions of our race or religion, neither is anyone else.

On Poverty

This is pretty simple. I don’t have a problem with my tax dollars helping people in need. I don’t mind feeding hungry people. I think the states that refuse to expand Medicaid based on political reasons are awful (my own included). Do I think there’s abuse? Of course – someone will always try to take advantage of a system.

Those in need far outnumber the cheats and thieves.

For those who believe it’s an issue of race, think again. More white people are on food stamps than black people. And the fears that illegal Hispanics are on food stamps and using all our resources just don’t play out – only 19% of food stamp recipients are Hispanic.

What I would rather have is a thriving middle class, an education system that works for all the people – not just those with the most resources in the richest neighborhoods, and a living minimum wage. That’s how you get people off welfare permanently.

The rest of the world doesn’t see the United States the way we see ourselves. This is a great country (the amount of people desperate to come here should prove that point) but that doesn’t mean we always get it right. We’d do better to be honest about that than pretend that we’re superior in every way. I can still love my country and realize there’s room for improvement. I’m no less a patriot for believing it’s okay to try tactics that work in other countries – healthcare, gun control, hell, even Irish voters supported gay marrage. You’re going to tell me the United States couldn’t do that for ourselves? Really??

Oh, and I’m going to be very sad when Jon Stewart leaves The Daily Show. Very, very sad. I hope he continues to use his viewpoint and his voice to point out hypocrisy and BS in the media and government.

So why talk about religion and politics when I was taught not to do it, and it’s so easy to get people riled up? Because if more people spoke up and entered the debate, those who feed off of hate and misinformation might finally find themselves outnumbered. Instead of just being shocked during election time, maybe they’d realize that the tide is changing (regardless of the screaming headlines online, in newspapers, and on TV). Those with no voice are finding theirs – and I have no problem lending mine to the mix.

Image via Kozzi (G20 Protest, Toronto, 2010)

Michaela Mitchell Visit Website
Storyteller. Writer. Introvert. Mom. Sarcastic, caffeine-fueled, type-A, over-thinker.
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