Politics and Religion

Matt Yglesias observes,

There’s I guess a convention in America that it’s impolite to talk about politics. That’s a convention that, I think, ultimately grows the level of ignorance in the country and advantages those who would take advantage of the public’s ignorance. People who are well-informed ought to discuss the issues with friends, family, and colleagues who may not be so well-positioned.

Doing that, especially when starting with the premise that you’re much better informed than your conversation partners, is likely to annoy them.  Still, Matt’s right that talking politics among friends and family shouldn’t be taboo.

The conventional norm against talking about “politics and religion” applies to casual acquaitances or situations where avoiding controversy is desirable.  One shouldn’t foist one’s political views on associates at the workplace — unless one works at, say, New America’s Foundation or Atlantic Monthly or The American Prospect and discussing politics is the focus of the job — because doing so makes people uncomfortable and creates friction. People should be able to go to work without being harrangued about why they’re idiots for liking Sarah Palin or unpatriotic for supporting Barack Obama.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Law and the Courts, Popular Culture, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. My pastor explained why he avoids discussing politics with the congregation ibecause two members of the congregation can be sitting side by side, seeing the exact same information and coming to exactly opposite conclusions as to who should be elected. It isn’t his job to change either of their minds, but trying to do so would interfere with him doing his job. On the other hand, he has received more than one poke in the ribs from his wife while he tried to change a taxi driver or the like’s mind on religion.

  2. rodney dill says:

    Even when discussing differences at a policy level, things can get rather heated here and in other blogs. In casual conversation outside of blogs, a starting statement might be, ‘I can’t believe anyone would vote for that effin’ moron _______.’

    Does tend to make keeping quiet on the subject look more appealing.

  3. Wayne says:

    Much of it has to do with individuals. Politics and religion both relies heavily on one’s beliefs. Many consider it a personal attack when you question their beliefs. It has little to do with the situation. Many heated fights between family and friends have been known to happen while discussing the two subjects. That is why so many avoid the subjects.

    Personally I try to figure who are easily offended, screamer of opinion, willing to carry on an intelligent discussion or whatever. Then I avoid the heated confrontation situations although I won’t stand by idle why someone goes off on something I believe in. Hard balance but I try. I usually enjoy an intelligent conversation with someone I disagree with more than someone I agree with.

  4. Floyd says:

    What one believes on both counts should never be left to fester in the dark, but should be tested in in the light of public scrutiny.
    Manners is another subject entirely.

  5. Bystander says:

    I actually enjoy being challenged as to how to think about a matter(if the opposition can try to use a little finesse, it helps), but I absolutely abhor being told what to think about a matter!

  6. The problem with discussing politics with friends and family is that too often you encounter someone like young Mr. Yglesias for whom being well informed is apparently synonymous with “of course, only a fool doesn’t agree with me.” Still, I think the problem is less of the lack of knowledge ignorance young Mr. Yglesias speaks of and more of the kind that Mark Twain noted when he said:

    It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    And Matt knocks another one out of the park…or maybe not…more like an unintended bunt.


    Maybe he needs a pinch hitter on his blog.

  8. just me says:

    I have no problems talking politics around friends/family, but I refuse to talk about it at work (school) or out and about picking kids up from activities or talking to other parents at sporting events.

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    The separation of religion/politics and discussion is just another liberal ploy to keep the stupid man uneducated and voting democrat.