I remember when adults used to say that there were two topics you never discussed unless you knew the temperature of the room first: religion and politics. These two topics were supposed to be the holy grail (excuse my French) equivalent. If you were ultra-religious or uber-political, the conversation was doomed before it even began, with screaming, yelling, and gesticulating of arms and/or other appendages. I have even been a participant in several such conversations that got blown way out of proportion (Dole ’96 anyone?), but these days such discussions aren’t as volatile as they once were. Case in point: two people from vastly different religions (Catholicism and Judaism) were having a conversation in my general vicinity, talking about the film, The Passion of the Christ, and how “authentic” it was to the Jews and to the Christians. This was a deeply intense conversation with multiple levels, but not once did either of the participants yell, scream, or throw something at one another. Now, I’m thinking that maybe we have grown up as a people (the human race) or people aren’t as knowledgeable so they don’t get offended. You can’t get offended by what you don’t understand because you haven’t taken the time to understand it.
Most people will call themselves religious to an extent, but how often do they actually practice what they preach? Is their religion limited to high holy holidays like Easter morning and Christmas Eve, or do they only visit the temple on Yom Kippur? Did you know that only about 20% of Americans readily admit to going to a religious service on a regular basis, and how many of those people are lying to make themselves look more “spiritual”? So, if a discussion arises about deep, insightful religious topics that should make these people angry, that’s why their ire isn’t raised.They don’t know any better. I remember I brought up the story of Job the other day to prove a point, and not one of the six people I was sitting with had any clue what I was talking about.
As for politics, how many people only pay attention once every four years because the “big one” is up for grabs? They don’t think at all about the elections that matter the most for them, the local ones, and also don’t do their research, preferring to vote for someone because they’ve aligned themselves with the same political party their grandfather always voted for, like blind sheep. I keep looking for the bumper stickers that say, “Vote Nate Johnson for City Comptroller, because he CARES.” We don’t know the real issues, preferring instead to be bandwagon constituents, so we don’t know what to argue about. Do we know who is going to keep taxes lower? Do we know the platforms each candidate stands for? Do we even know what “tea party” means, besides some old folk throwing tea overboard in Boston Harbor? Therefore, the discussions surrounding politics don’t get as heated as they used to get because, quite simply, there just aren’t enough knowledgeable people in the same place at the same time. And when it does happen, it’s at one of the party’s national conventions, and where’s the argument there?
So, if those two topics don’t offer the grump factor, and don’t get people spitting in each other’s faces, what’s left? Sports. We get so adamant about “our” teams, we get so embarrassed when they don’t play up to our standards, and we pretend we are the coaches. Because of this deep connection, we know all the statistics of our favorite players and teams, we know exactly how they stack up against other teams and players, and we will argue to the death about the merits they espouse versus others. The loudest arguments I’ve heard were over football games, as if the people in the argument were members of the different organizations. Isn’t it such a sad commentary that two institutions that really should be at the forefront of discussion and polarization aren’t doing what they were born to do, and something that should be pure entertainment is driving people insane and starting fights, verbally and otherwise. It speaks to what we value as a society, and what a sad commentary that is.