Making it personal

My granddaddy once advised me to avoid debating two topics: Religion or politics.

"You can't win an argument when it comes to politics or religion," he said. "People get too passionate about both and that passion too quickly turns to anger. When people get mad they get personal and whenever a debate turns personal, everybody loses."

Granddaddy was right. When people start talking about politics or God, their voices often rise, the hands ball up into fists and, sooner or later, a punch is thrown.

We see it here on Blue Ridge Muse. A few weeks ago, a number of ministers and deeply-religious folks got upset when I wrote a column for another publication that combined God and politics. We saw it again over the holidays when I expressed concerns about the direction this nation is headed under the current Republican administration in the White House and an accommodating Democratically-controlled Congress.

The comments brought a sharp rebuke from a local conservative blogger who supports President George W. Bush, the war in Iraq and many other things that I, and many regular readers of this web site, find deplorable. I don't mind folks disagreeing with me. I enjoy a good debate but the blogger, I felt, called my patriotism and love of country into question and that sort of thing makes me mad. I got pissed. I'm still pissed.

Others joined into the debate and some of their comments got personal, using the debate to unload on the blogger in question and vent their frustrations with him on issues that had nothing to do with the topic.

The result: A lot of anger, a lot of personal animosity and very little reasoned debate on the problems this nation faces.

I went back this morning and deleted the personal, nasty comments that some here directed at David St. Lawrence. They had no place in the discussion and their comments cheapened the debate. I have serious differences with David but those differences are philosophical, not personal. I'm sorry that he felt the need to respond in a way that I and others here felt questioned my love of my country but that bridge has been burned and only the future can determine if will, or should, be rebuilt.

But I'm also sorry that this web site was used for others to vent their personal dislike of someone else. As a rule I don't moderate comments on Muse but the actions of the last few days have made me wonder if I need to start. It should be possible to discuss issues without making it personal.

My granddaddy once advised me to avoid debating two topics: Religion or politics.

"You can’t win an argument when it comes to politics or religion," he said. "People get too passionate about both and that passion too quickly turns to anger. When people get mad they get personal and whenever a debate turns personal, everybody loses."

Granddaddy was right. When people start talking about politics or God, their voices often rise, the hands ball up into fists and, sooner or later, a punch is thrown.

We see it here on Blue Ridge Muse. A few weeks ago, a number of ministers and deeply-religious folks got upset when I wrote a column for another publication that combined God and politics. We saw it again over the holidays when I expressed concerns about the direction this nation is headed under the current Republican administration in the White House and an accommodating Democratically-controlled Congress.

The comments brought a sharp rebuke from a local conservative blogger who supports President George W. Bush, the war in Iraq and many other things that I, and many regular readers of this web site, find deplorable. I don’t mind folks disagreeing with me. I enjoy a good debate but the blogger, I felt, called my patriotism and love of country into question and that sort of thing makes me mad. I got pissed. I’m still pissed.

Others joined into the debate and some of their comments got personal, using the debate to unload on the blogger in question and vent their frustrations with him on issues that had nothing to do with the topic.

The result: A lot of anger, a lot of personal animosity and very little reasoned debate on the problems this nation faces.

I went back this morning and deleted the personal, nasty comments that some here directed at David St. Lawrence. They had no place in the discussion and their comments cheapened the debate. I have serious differences with David but those differences are philosophical, not personal. I’m sorry that he felt the need to respond in a way that I and others here felt questioned my love of my country but that bridge has been burned and only the future can determine if will, or should, be rebuilt.

But I’m also sorry that this web site was used for others to vent their personal dislike of someone else. As a rule I don’t moderate comments on Muse but the actions of the last few days have made me wonder if I need to start. It should be possible to discuss issues without making it personal.

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9 Responses

  1. Rhetoric as faith
    Ignorance as virtue
    Dogma as law
    Platitude as strength
    Violence as peace
    Intransigence as debate

    You make us sound an awful lot like the Islamic nations that we criticize for failing to distinguish religion from law. The sad truth is that we’re on a path that isn’t too far removed from our enemies.

  2. You’re absolutely right on several points. The level of civil discourse in our country is on a precipitous decline. Part of the problem lies in the fact that people tend to form very strong opinions on subjects that they really don’t know anything about. When their positions are challenged, the only defense they have available is a personal attack. A meaningful debate requires informed participants.

    When it comes to religion and politics, it seems that the two are becoming more intertwined with every election cycle. When the democrats start pandering to the Christian right, you know the problem is out of hand.

  3. I’ve sat over on this side of the pond for many years, surrounded by and benefiting from wildly different societies, languages and religions. There are some obscene attitudes, behaviours and xenophobia . . . but on the whole . . . it does work to provide informed debate and gracious compromise. Though unsurprisingly in England where American sociological values are taking hold, social dysfunction is a growing and sometimes lauded standard.
    But while sitting here I’ve watched my country that I grew to think of as a bit of an an ill-tempered too quick to anger but essentially ‘well-meaning’ Uncle . . . degenerate into dementia with.

    Rhetoric as faith
    Ignorance as virtue
    Dogma as law
    Platitude as strength
    Violence as peace
    Intransigence as debate

    America was founded on and by greed, fear and faith, it was the recognition and in defence against of it that our, for want of a better word, ‘cabal’ of Founding Fathers crafted The Constitution. So many of today’s Americans can read that piece of paper yet have no conceptual grasp of its source or meaning and how it relates to their shrinking bubble of reality.

    I’m caring for my Father as he gently slides into the arms of Alzheimer’s and the pain of that personal loss is echoed in watching a nation palpably demonstrate the same degeneration of sentient function and yet with heart wrenching flashes of coherence that remind me of who and what he and it once was . . . I know that my personal path does not have a good ending, I truly wonder if America’s will be any better.

  4. I heard the same thing from a member of HM Navy back in 1970. He was advising us Yanks on how to behave …
    “If ye go into a pub in Glasgow”, he said, “don’t talk about religion, or politics, or football. Because if it’s religion they’ve got Protestant and Catholic, and if it’s politics they’ve got Labor and Conservative, and if it’s football they’ve got Ranger and Celtic. And it doesn’t matter WHAT you say, you’ll be wrong and they’ll beat the crap out of ye.”

  5. Appears I just found your website and am a bit late to the party so to speak. Just have to say that as a blogging website owner myself, that you did the best thing by removing comments which took personal shots at another responder. Discussing issues is healthy until people run out of civil words and begin taking pot shots at one another…. Love the voodoo doll by the way….

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