Don’t Talk About Politics and Religion at Dinner

image-adapt-990-high-wasps_010914-1389429793710“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)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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