A good friend sent a long response to my recent political essay, taking issue with my comments about what is being said publicly regarding the inclusion of contraceptive care in the health insurance plans of church owned institutions (not the churches themselves).  He and I view things quite differently and the way he explained our differences is significant.

He offered his views in concrete detail and concluded his remarks by wishing that I would “  .  .  .  check [my] thinking in light of [my] experiences.”  He wrote, “I know you have the depth, but apparently not the will – and I wonder why.”

There is a weighty assumption in his comment that I harbor a willful insistence on blindness.  I suppose that’s better than his telling me that I’m too stupid to get it, but a willful blindness?  Why the personal attack?

In another section of his comments he asks if I am, “  .  .  .  so corrupted by the left that [I] cannot look at an issue objectively  .  .  .  “  Of course, the answer to that is no, I can’t look at an issue objectively, any more than anyone else can.  What is more troubling is his notion that I have been corrupted, this view apparently springing from my not seeing things his way.  Through some magical transition, the discussion jumped from the issue of contraceptive care to a personal attack – a charge of corruption.

The admonition to avoid discussing either politics or religion in social discourse exists as a warning based upon limitations of the control we have of our own behavior and the consequences we unwittingly engineer.  Perhaps the weight of the admonition should be squared when both politics and religion are included in a single conversation.  Very often such conversations drift into personal attack, like the comments from my friend and often it gets far worse than his broadsides to me.

To get a finger hold of understanding about this, I consulted The Heart of Conflict, a most accessible text on dealing with conflict.  It was written by my friend Brian Muldoon, who has years of experience working to help people resolve their legal and personal conflicts.  Here’s a piece of what he has to say:

“There are many kinds of intractable differences, but virtually all of them can be reduced to threats against identity  .  .  . “

“When we breach that boundary between what is me and what is not, when my innermost chamber is threatened, the powerful instincts of the survivor are invoked.  At all costs, we defend the “self” .  .  .  Because we humans derive our identity more from our consciousness (who we think we are or imagine ourselves to be) than from our physical form .  .  .  we will fight harder for our ideas than for our actual corporeal survival.”

Muldoon is telling us that we humans have a set of bedrock beliefs that we use to define ourselves and they give us a sense of solidity in a shifting and sometimes dangerous world.  Our religious foundation is key among these bedrock beliefs and our safety is anchored in that bedrock.  When anything comes along that appears to be different, that threatens to shake our bedrock, we sense the threat to our identity, we man the battlements immediately and, “  .  .  .  we will fight harder for our political and religious ideas than for our actual corporeal survival” (added italicized words mine – JA).

That’s how we get religious extremists willing to blow themselves up in a crowded market.  That’s why it’s so difficult to talk about politics and religion with those whose bedrock beliefs seem to be different from our own.  That’s why my friend and I won’t be having any more discussions about politics as we enjoy our occasional lunch together.  Our friendship, after all, is more important than our political differences.

Yet we have a country of 300 million people, each having their own notions of bedrock, many lobbing personal attack bombs on those whom they see as both different from themselves and, consequently, wrong.  Somehow we have to find a way to deal with our quite substantial national challenges, even with our existing bedrock differences.  How will we do that?

Copyright 2024 by Jack Altschuler
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