Sunday, September 14, 2008

Arguing with god

I recently commented on a post by ash that, via Facebook, I found out my sister was on the Maverick Express and that I planned on asking her why. Which I did in as friendly a way as I could (sis could, of course, be the one providing the bone marrow for a transplant one of these days).

I should mention that my sister doesn't pay much attention to politics, which is no big shakes, considering she's right there with the majority of the electorate. Her reasons for supporting McPalin were that 1)she's conservative, 2)McCain has more experience, and 3)she's concerned that Obama "changes his mind" too much. Admittedly, I did want to sway her, but knowing that lecturing someone isn't the most effective way to change minds, I asked further questions.

What does it mean when you say you're a conservative?

What is it about McCain's experience that appeals to you?

What has Obama changed his mind about that concerns you?

She responded by telling me that she's a Christian conservative, that 20+ years in the Senate plus military experience is greater than 4 years in the Senate, and that Obama's flip-flopping on the war concerned her (she doesn't believe in Obama's plan to "pull out in one day"). She also had a "gut feeling" that Obama wasn't the right person for the job and, as they say, you should "always listen to your gut."

So far, all well and good. I'm on terrain where I'm comfortable. While I might vehemently disagree that people should base political decisions on religious values (whether they be on the left or the right), I've had enough churchin' and independent study to be able to argue about politics on religious grounds. The experience angle is a legitimate point that can be mooted. And the flip-flopping objection is clearly a factual error that should be pointed out for reconsideration.

Knowing that my sister really isn't in to these sorts of conversations, I decided to not go overboard with my response. I left her still very vague definition of conservatism alone and ignored the experience argument. I did, however, let her know that Obama has never been for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and that his position, as shown in legislation introduced in the Senate and from his campaign policy positions, has been remarkably consistent. I also told her that she should rely on her head rather than her gut in making important decisions like this. At this point, I said I'd leave her alone, but offered to talk to her more about it if she's up for it.

Two days later, I get a note from my mom asking me to leave sis alone with the politics. Trés third grade, to be sure, but old familial habits from childhood die hard, I suppose. That would have been the end of it if mom hadn't included in there word that sis wouldn't vote for Obama unless "god told her to." The quotes are from my mom.

This, needless to say, has seriously shaken me up. I can't argue with god, and I sure as shit can't argue with someone who thinks that god is talking to them.

I keep asking myself where the hell this came from. My parents are both religious people, but I'm almost certain that they don't believe that god talks to them. They're more of the "god gave you a brain to make decisions, you know from the good book what god thinks you should do, so it's up to you to do the right thing" school. And while they're socially conservative, I wouldn't put them anywhere near the Dobson camp. They're simply not ideologues. On top of that, sis has a college degree from a Research I public university - it's in finance, to be sure, but it's not like she went to Liberty U.

It's one thing for me to think that a member of my family is making decisions with recourse to values that she's learned that are at odds with my own. Again, there's enough of a common ground to engage and have a serious discussion. It's a whole 'nother ball of wax to have a family member who eschews even the smallest amount of research because she knows how god wants her to vote. I've been stewing all weekend thinking that not only is sis crazy, she's actually a danger to our democracy. She's literally one of the people against whom I've been fighting for my entire adult life.

I keep telling myself I'm overreacting, that she's like any other of the millions of low-information voters out there who will cast their votes on the most dubious of grounds. Maybe it's because she's kin. But this is far beyond anything I've been faced with before, and it's no fun thinking that my sister is a complete fool.


dave3544 said...

I think "god talks to me" in this case translates to "I trust my gut."

I think this is case in most "God" situations. You believe that the chemicals in your brain are conditioned such that when they fire, they are able to make all kinds of connections with things you learned in the past. Thus, you think arrive at the "right" decision because you are smart and trust in the power of rationality and logic. Your "gut" is right because you are smart.

Lots of people have been told or otherwise learned that they are not smart, yet they still have gut instincts. Some have learned that large segments of society will buy, and encourage the notion, that when you feel something instinctively that this is God talking to you (especially in answer to prayer).

Not saying this is necessarily the case with your sis, but something has led her to believe she's better off trust God to work through her gut. If nothing else, perhaps this frustrates people like you enough that you stop asking her to think through her support of positions.

Lord knows (ha ha) that there are enough people out there who believe the country is on the wrong track, so therefore we need to vote for the Republicans.

wobblie said...

You're right, of course. The gut or god arguments are really just a shorthand for people who don't want to put the time in to actually become informed about what's going on in the world because those facts are uncomfortably dischordant with their worldview. And it frustrates me to no end.

And it does miff me enough to stop challenging her, seeing as she has no intention of actually doing any sort of critical evaluation of what she believes. Ugh.

dr said...

Send her a copy of the sermon on the mount.

wobblie said...

Like I said in the post, if she were interested in having a conversation about how religious values inform political decisions, I'm pretty confident I could effectively make my case. The real nub here is that she doesn't want her view of the world challenged and will shut down at any attempt at engagement.

dave3544 said...

Uncle Larry cheated on Aunt Martha. Let's talk about that instead.

It's what Jesus would do.

brown beard said...