Polite Company

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other night I was looking for a writing prompt to get the old creative juices flowing and came across one about discussing religion and politics in polite company, especially with strangers, and whether or not raising such topics was a good idea. I wrote down some stray ideas but didn’t come to any satisfactory conclusions, except that discussing politics with anyone these days is never a good idea. I thought I was done with the topic but it keeps coming back to me, so this is a further working out of some these thoughts on the matter. I still don’t think I’ve come to any satisfactory answers, but perhaps someone might come across this and be able to fill in the blanks.

The reason I don’t like discussing politics with anyone, not even strangers is because minds are made up, or rather, opinions are set in stone. There isn’t any longer any common background among people in the country that grounds the discussion in some core set of principles. Unlike the situation that prevailed in the U.S. until the end of the 1940s, the common Christian culture wasn’t openly called into question. It was assumed that prayers to the Christian God would be prayed in schools and before the opening of Congress. After that, not so much. And there’s nothing to replace it in the way of supporting moral, virtuous behavior among the people. Nor is there any educational background in classic philosophy and theology to provide a basis for discussion. In other words, one persons idea, however ill informed or poorly thought out is considered to have the same authority as Plato or Aquinas, or anyone else for that matter. Intellectual anarchy prevails and in that kind of situation, there’s no point in having a political discussion. There’s no changing of anyone’s mind.

Religion on the other hand, presents a slightly different picture. I think one result of what’s happened as a result of the every worsening political and cultural situation is there is some underlying hunger for Truth and some level of sub-conscious recognition that that Truth must be found in the spiritual realm. The ever growing interest in eastern religions, meditation, yoga, etc is certainly an indication of it. But I’ve seen some personal signs of it too when I bring up my journey eastward.

Every once in a while, in the past, I’ve tried to bring up the subject of faith when talking to friends. I’ve done this both as a Presbyterian and even more as a Catholic. In most cases, the atmosphere grows chilly and my discussion partner quickly finds some way or other to change the subject. It’s obvious they just don’t want to talk about it. But, in the four or five times I’ve mentioned growing interest in Orthodoxy, the reaction’s been different — people have actually been a little bit willing to let the discussion go on. My wife has had the same experience; in one case even getting a chance for a second discussion and having the person even ask some questions. Now, I’m no John the Baptist, I don’t go crying out in the wilderness, so this is an unusual and unexpected experience, to be sure.

Why the difference?

There’s a few reasons I can think of. First, curiosity. Orthodoxy is strange, quite unfamiliar to most people. I think it’s perceived as being exotic, not something you read or hear about every day. It’s natural that, if you bring up a novel topic for discussion, people get interested. When that topic is something within the spiritual realm, their interested in piqued even more, and their open to going a little deeper.

Second, both Protestant and Catholic Christianity carry a lot of baggage. Both imply a certain level of judgement against the sinner. The common conception is that, if one becomes a Protestant or Catholic, from that point on life as we know it stops. The future holds nothing but a diet of bread and water and contemplates never being able to laugh or do anything fun again. A Christian is a dull, sad, person. Orthodoxy carries none of that baggage; nobody knows anything about it.

I’m inclined to think that this represents a real opportunity for Orthodoxy, but when I consider that, I see it’s putting too much of a marketing spin to the thing. What it does represent is an opportunity for some to find an easy way into Christian faith. If there is the real spiritual hunger out there, and if both Protestant and Catholic Christianity, might not Orthodoxy provide a new way into the Church?

Conclusions?

Well, concerning politics, I never discuss it with strangers and try to limit discussions even with friends. I hate talking about it. About religion, I’ve been really surprised how relatively easy it’s been to discuss religion when the topic is Orthodoxy but I’m not at all sure where it leads.

Questions?

The question that has me stumped is, what exactly might this openness to Eastern Christianity really mean, both for me and for Orthodoxy? I know Orthodoxy isn’t in the business of just growing numbers, it’s much more about individual repentance, and so what does this mean? Should I even think about it as some sort of opportunity for me or for the Church? I don’t know, do you?

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