By Herb Silverman
I grew up hearing that it was impolite to discuss in public the three most interesting topics—politics, sex, and religion. Discussions about politics and sex are omnipresent today, with religion often used to justify views on politics and sex. For instance, many liberals promote a social agenda with passages like Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor,” while many conservatives promote a different social agenda with passages like Leviticus 18:22, which refers to male homosexuality as an abomination. But you rarely hear them cite other abominations in Leviticus, like eating pork, having tattoos, mixing seeds, or wearing a garment made from two kinds of material.
We all have the free speech right to quote selected passages from holy books or talk about religion to anyone who will listen. However, I wish politicians would recognize the importance of separating personal religious beliefs from legislation that affects those who don’t share their beliefs. The more a politician equates public policy with religious belief, the less likely I am to support him or her.
Politicians aside, when should we talk about religion with family, friends, and others? A recent piece in the Atlantic categorizes Americans according to the frequency with which they talk about religion in public. Only a third do so at least once a month. Evangelicals do it most frequently, minority religions less frequently, while atheists and agnostics are the least inclined to talk publicly about religion.
Understandably, we like to talk about things important to us. That’s one reason evangelicals talk about religion more frequently than atheists. I grew up as an Orthodox Jew in Philadelphia, so religion was an integral part of my life and I often talked about it with my Jewish friends. But unlike evangelicals, I didn’t discuss religion with people outside my “tribe” because I had neither the interest nor the belief that I could “save” someone from eternal damnation.
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