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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ISOLATING FAITH

"'You know she's a Republican, right?' whispered another member of our weight-loss group after I took her card."

Wisconsin Death Threat
Recently on Slate a piece ran written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner which is one of those feminist names that always give me a sour taste in my mouth to begin with. She writes about friends she met, and how one of them turned out to be an unrepentant Republican, and worse one of those Tea Partiers of all things.
She does not pretend she is just a fiscal Republican, or just a Republican for Israel, as so many in our Jewish community are. She is a real, live, voting Republican. She likes Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. She admires Sarah Palin. She is for the defunding of NPR and Planned Parenthood. She is against "Obamacare," and she is for parental notification of abortions. Right now on my Facebook page, I have linked to a New York Times article on how women's rights are being violated by South Dakota's new abortion laws. Janet has just posted on hers -- I'm not kidding -- video footage of her and her husband at target practice.

She owns a bust of Ronald Reagan and cried when he died, proving that she, perhaps alone with Nancy, had remembered that he was still alive. There is a bumper sticker on her very, very large SUV that says "REPEAL," and I believe it refers to the healthcare bill.
No, the bumper sticker refers to the health insurance bill; it didn't deal with care in any way, just access and insurance. That's OK though, a lot of people make that mistake.

The entire post is a mix between "see how tolerant I am" lines mixed with an overall tone of horror and intolerance. She finds everything this woman stands for to be not just mistaken but reprehensible, ghastly, idiotic, and wicked. Further, she mocks this woman's positions without bothering to even consider them.

To her credit she admits something that many on the left do not seem to consider:
And yet, I think having a Republican friend is making me a better liberal. We need friends who differ from us. It's easy to watch Republican extremism and think, "Wow, they're crazy." But when someone is sitting face to face with us, when someone we admire and respect is telling us they believe differently, it is at this fine point that we find nuance, and we begin to understand exactly how we got to this point in history. We lose something critical when we surround ourselves with people who agree with us all the time. We lose out on the wisdom of seeing the other side.
Not the wisdom of the other side, mind you, the wisdom of being exposed to it and reinforcing your own beliefs. For example, when confronted with different ideas, is her response to consider, reflect, analyze, and challenge herself?
She told me she didn't believe government had any business funding it in the first place. That this isn't about abortion or hating women but ways the government doesn't need to be involved. She told me Planned Parenthood was well-funded and won't even miss the money. "Planned Parenthood will be better off without government funding and all the strings that are presumably attached," she said. "I sometimes wonder why liberals, who are so enamored of the freedom to do any damn thing they want, even take government money when it constricts their freedoms."

I closed my eyes and breathed through what she was saying.
That would be "no."

Her response is to utterly disregard it, not even attempt to discuss or debate it, not to take what is said and rationally examine it. she simply rejects what her friend says as if she had to sit through a Yoko Ono concert played on a chalkboard with nails. Sure, she believes in principle that you should challenge your beliefs by broadening input, saying "Too many liberals I know are lazy, they have a belief system that consists of making fun of Glenn Beck and watching The Daily Show." But when it comes down to it, she doesn't either.

This woman exposes herself to alternate beliefs like going to a horror movie; the threat is perceived but unexperienced. There's no challenge or consideration here, just a false bravery of being around someone so toxic and horrible they think government ought to be smaller and taxes lower. She says that people should expose themselves to strange and evil thoughts such as a woman who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, but when exposed to it she holds her breath like a 9 year old and hopes it goes away.

Was her friend's argument wrong or mistaken? She doesn't even address that or consider it. The argument is about something that she has a priori decided is not just wrong but horrible and doesn't engage it at all. Defunding Planned Parenthood is simply inconceivable, no matter what she's told.

This reminds me a lot of a certain type of religious person. This is the kind of person who buys only from shops that have a fish symbol in the yellow pages, only has friends who go to her church, only listens to music that is put out by "praise bands," and walks on the other side of the street to avoid a bookstore that has New Age stuff out front. They may work somewhere that has non-Christians around, and they boldly go in the door each day with a deep breath to face the horrors of someone who thinks differently, but never once considers anything they say.

Christianity is supposed to be a belief characterized partly by debate, study, reflection, and questions that end up strengthening faith. Isolation from other ideas doesn't cause growth, it causes stagnation and as ms Brodesser-Akner writes, you cannot really understand why you hold a position if you never question it.

The sort of religious zeal that some political people display on the right and the left (although these days it seems like the left are far more isolated, insulated, and dismissive of any variation than the right - it was reversed 40 years ago) reminds me of exactly what leftists like to mock in movies like Jesus Camp. Can you believe it? People really believe like this!

Yes, and so do you. You have your unshakable, unquestioned dogmas, your saints and heroes, your icons, your sacraments, and your scriptures. They just aren't a recognized part of organized religion, but that doesn't make the faith any less real and the religious zeal any less glassy-eyed and dogmatic.

It is okay to be adamant about what you believe, it is fine to be unshaken in your faith. What isn't okay is to refuse to even consider anything that varies from that dogma, to never question yourself, never consider the other side. This woman exposes herself to the ghastly radiation of a conservative, but she doesn't grow from it, she hardens. She doesn't show the slightest sign of considering and reflecting on what her friend says, she writes about closing in and taking deep breaths until the bad thing goes away.

The basic thrust of this womyn's post is fairly wise, but the truth comes through it. She thinks we need to be exposed to alternate viewpoints to understand our own, but she never once considers that we need to be exposed so that perhaps we can learn and change as well.

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