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October 22, 2015 / BTM

Are Religion and Politics Taboo Around Your Dinner Table?

not welcome.

Last week I read a blog post that suggested that religion and politics no longer be discussed on Facebook – ever, by anyone. The person advocating this position is a strong believer in God.

A few days later, I was listening to a radio talk show program and was very surprised to hear all three of the program’s hosts agree unanimously that religion and politics were not allowed as dinner table conversation topics in their homes. One of the personalities even admitted that they would say grace before the meal, but that was it as far as religious conversation was allowed around the table.

Do these comments strike you as strange and sad? They were made by people whose life work involves either religion or news and political comment!

I know that the notion of religion and politics being ‘taboo’ topics is not new, but there is something very strange about not being free to discuss topics that address the fundamental and ultimate questions of our existence. Parents in particular should ensure that religion and politics are welcome discussion topics at the dinner table.

What has happened to make religion and politics ‘taboo’ topics in our society?

Are you someone who makes people not want to talk about religion and politics?

 

What has happened to make religion and politics ‘taboo’ topics in our society?

There are probably a lot of answers to this question, including:

A decline in belief in God or adherence to a religion

People are not interested in the subject; religion has ceased to be important or taken seriously. The idea of making religion and politics taboo may have originated in the desire to silence people who wish to have these conversations.

This kind of conversation makes people feel uncomfortable

Either from a sense of guilt, a sense of being unsure, or a vague sense of judgement, people don’t like to feel uncomfortable. Plus, many of us don’t like want to make others feel uncomfortable.

We tend to avoid ultimate questions

Life is pretty busy and there are a million distractions. Death and ultimate reality feel, at least to people in the ‘West’, fairly far removed. Its not something many of us think about and often we don’t have many answers to the questions. This makes conversations about them awkward.

Ignorance

Many of us are unsure of the implications of various political ideas and policies. The sheer number of religious beliefs overwhelm us and we don’t know where to start or if it even matters.

The biggest reason: conversations on these topics have gone badly

This was the reason put forth in the blog post that I mentioned earlier. The reasoning was as follows: if you discuss politics or religion you might disagree about something with your friends, and (inevitably it seems) you might end of ruining your friendship over such trivial matters.

And yet, like it or not, how we are governed politically affects so much of our life and freedoms that we really shouldn’t avoid thinking about it and discussing it with others – particularly our children. Plus, the ultimate questions about God, meaning, and death are ones that no one in their right mind should avoid. You should at minimum come to an informed decision about these issues.

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Are you someone who makes people not want to talk about religion and politics?

If you are this person, you may well know it. If not, you most likely know someone who is. What would you suggest needs to happen in order to prevent some of the most important issues humans grapple with from becoming taboo?

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Humility

It’s hard to be humble when you’re sure you’re right, and especially when you know more about the topic than your conversation partners. Its very hard to be this way when you feel that the people around you are completely ignorant or talking nonsense. But that doesn’t matter – what matters is the conversation and bringing others into it. People will talk to someone who is humble.

2. Ask more questions

Do you sincerely want to know what others think about something, or do you just want them to listen to you? If you do care, try asking questions to better understand their position (rather than assuming it).  Then ask more questions to find out why they have come to their conclusions (aka Greg Koukl’s Colombo Tactic). Questions are disarming and invite conversation in a way that opinion statements do not. People tend to make a lot more progress in their thinking when they are processing the information through questions, rather than being asked to accept an opinion.

3. Be reasonable with your questions

If you’ve ever had Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door, you know that they like to use questions of the ‘garden path’ variety – you feel like you are being lead down a very particular path to a particular conclusion. No one should feel tricked or cornered by the questions you ask. Are you genuinely interested in others’ answers, or only in getting to yours?

4. Know when to let a conversation die a natural death

I first heard about this idea from Greg Koukl. If interest in a topic is waning, its waning. Sometimes you can fan it into flame; sometimes you can’t. Rather let the conversation die in a positive way that leaves the door open to future ones.

5. Model these at home with your children

It is VERY easy for parents to ‘preach’ rather than ‘discuss’ issues about politics and religion with their children (see point #1). In my opinion, this will not accomplish anything other than: obedient nods, borrowed faith, and lack of critical thinking skills in our kids. The whole point of raising kids who can survive in the culture is getting our children to be able to think and express their thoughts for themselves, not quietly accepting or rejecting ours. Practice points #2-4 instead.

Here’s the bottom line: I’d like to see politics and religion become welcome conversation topics around the table again. What about you?

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One Comment

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  1. AZ / Nov 5 2015 5:54 am

    Both politics and religion are pretty much discussed all the time on facebook. Thats how many elections are won.

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