“Don’t talk about politics and religion at dinner.” That’s what my WASPy friend’s grandmother used to say. I was already into Aristotle in my late teens, and I was really into politics, so I thought this was a ridiculously stupid rule. Isn’t talking about politics central to what it means to live a fully human life? Besides, what else are we gonna talk about? The weather? This past year has led me to reconsider my friend’s grandmother’s rule.
At her funeral, I learned that she was a deeply religious woman; I learned, too, that she was a deeply political woman (a lifelong activist actually). It’s taken me decades, but this horribly divisive past year has led me to reconsider the wisdom of her dinnertime rule. I can see now, and only in retrospect, that she was policing the boundaries between sacred and profane. She was setting aside dinnertime, family time, as a sacred place.
What’s more, I think she was forbidding the discussion of politics and religion, not because she thought these things were bullshit, but rather because she saw how powerfully divisive they could be. Thinking along similar lines, the Founding Fathers of the American Republic insisted upon the importance of the separation of church and state, not because they thought religion was bullshit, but because they respected its power.
—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)