How to have productive disagreements about politics and religion

How to have productive disagreements about politics and religion

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Psychology research suggests a new tool for your ‘disagreement toolbox.’
Dragon Images/Shutterstock.com

In the current polarized climate, it’s easy to find yourself in the midst of a political disagreement that morphs into a religious argument. People’s religious affiliation predicts their stances on abortion, immigration and other controversial topics, and disagreements about these issues can seem intractable.

The seeming futility in arguing about politics and religion may arise partly because people misunderstand the nature of these beliefs. Many people approach an ideological disagreement the same way they would a disagreement about facts. If you disagree with someone about when water freezes, facts are convincing. It’s easy to think that if you disagree with someone about immigration, facts will be similarly persuasive.

This might work if people’s ideological beliefs worked the same way as their factual beliefs – but they don’t. As psychologists who focus on religious and moral cognition, my colleagues and I are investigating how people understand that these are two separate classes of belief. Our work suggests that an effective strategy for disagreement involves approaching ideological beliefs as a combination of fact and opinion.

Identifying a difference

To investigate whether people distinguish between facts and religious beliefs, my colleagues and I examined a database containing more than 520 million words from speeches, novels, newspapers and other sources.

Religious statements were typically preceded by the phrase “believe that” rather than “think that.” Phrases like “I believe that Jesus turned water into wine” were relatively common, whereas phrases like “I think that Jesus turned water into wine” were nearly nonexistent.

In four subsequent experiments, we asked adults to complete sentences like “Zane __ that Jesus turned water into wine.” Participants were more likely to use “believes” for religious and political claims and “thinks” for factual claims.

Taken together, these results suggest that people distinguish between factual beliefs, on the one hand, and religious and political claims, on the other.

Rather than equating ideologies and facts, people appear to view ideologies as a combination of fact and opinion. In two earlier studies, 5- to 10-year-old children and adults learned about pairs of characters who disagreed about religious, factual and opinion-based statements. For example, we told participants that one person thought that God could hear prayers while the other didn’t, or that two other people disagreed about whether or not blue is the prettiest color. Participants said that only one person could be right nearly every time they heard a factual disagreement, but they gave this answer less often when they heard a religious disagreement and less often still when they heard an opinion-based disagreement.

This result may occur because children and adults think that different types of beliefs provide different information. Participants told us that factual claims reveal information about the world, whereas opinions reveal information about the speaker. They also reported that religious claims reveal a moderate amount of information about both the world and the speaker. People who say that God exists are ostensibly making a claim about what kinds of beings exist in the world – but not everyone would agree with that claim, so they are also revealing information about themselves.

Recognizing the difference in everyday life

So how can you use our results when a contentious topic arises outside the lab?

When you find yourself in the midst of an ideological disagreement, it can be tempting to correct the other person’s facts. “Actually, scientific evidence shows that the earth is more than 4 billion years old and that humans did indeed evolve from other primates.” “Actually, recent data show that immigrants contribute to the economy and commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.”

Yet this type of information alone is often insufficient to resolve disagreements. It’s addressing the part of ideological beliefs that is like a fact, the part where someone is trying to communicate information about the world. But it’s missing the part where ideological beliefs are also like an opinion. Without this part, saying, “Actually, evidence shows that X” sounds a lot like saying, “Actually, evidence proves that blue is not the prettiest color.” To be convincing, you need tools that address both the fact part and the opinion part of an ideology.

There’s a better way than arguing as if over facts.
Andrea Tummons/Unsplash, CC BY

People rarely change their opinions because someone out-argued them. Rather, opinion-based change can come from exposure. People like the familiar, even when that familiarity comes from the briefest of prior exposures. The same could occur for viewpoints that they’ve heard before.

What does exposure look like when talking about ideological disagreements? “Hmm. I actually think something different.” “I really appreciated the way my science tutor was patient with me when I didn’t understand evolution. The way she explained things made a lot of sense to me after a while.” “I’m going to donate money to groups helping asylum seekers. Do you want to join me?”

Maybe you say just one of these sentences, but others pick up where you left off. By walking around in the world, someone might encounter numerous counterpoints to their opinions, perhaps leading to gradual change as other views become more familiar.

It’s not anyone’s responsibility to say these sentences, least of all people who are being harmed by the disagreement. But for those in a position to change minds via repeated exposure, this strategy can be a helpful addition to the “managing disagreement” toolboxes everyone carries.The Conversation

Larisa Heiphetz, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Columbia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Evangelical Christians need an exit ramp from Trumpism

Evangelical Christians need an exit ramp from Trumpism

President Trump greets people as he arrives to speak during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

 

Earlier this month, two important conservative writers explained why honorable Republicans are strongly considering a challenge to Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Writing in The Bulwark, an online publication that took on former staff from the recently shuttered Trump-skeptical conservative journal The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last persuasively argues that a primary challenge to Trump should be expected. Of the last nine incumbent presidents who stood for re-election, five were contested for re-nomination. Trump is almost sure to be one of them; Last has already previewed five potential challengers.

A few days later, in a powerful Washington Post op-ed, Stephen F. Hayes framed the primary challenge as a necessity for the well being of the country and something all people of goodwill should expect and support.

But the coming primary challenge has zero chance of success unless a significant number of white evangelicals, who gave the race-baiting billionaire 81 percent of their votes in 2016, get off of Trump’s Road to Reelection before 2020.

Neither of the two conservative writers above discusses the possibility of evangelicals parting ways with Trumpism. Political observers seem to assume that Trump’s conservative Christian base will follow him no matter what.

And why not? Some of his evangelical disciples have explicitly said there is nothing he could do to lose their support.

Yet a divorce is not impossible, and it won’t require white conservatives to suddenly back a Democrat. Trump’s white evangelical support has already fallen in the wake of chaos in the administration and the longest government shutdown in history. If the walls continue to close in around the president, he may yet lose even more support.

That may come as a surprise to those who think that Trump has brainwashed evangelicals somehow into believing he will restore a Christian America. Though many commentators, including me, have often questioned how the unchristian Trump could mesmerize professed believers, the truth is that the brainwashing began with the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. If you tell people for 35 years that they must vote for one party as a matter of religious devotion because the other party is so god-awful, they do it.

But what politics grants, politics can take away. The white Christians, Protestant and Catholic, who embraced Donald Trump made a fairly ordinary bargain in our transactional, interest-group-oriented politics, even if it looks strange for people whose Savior preached and practiced holiness: they gave their votes in exchange for a promise to enact their agenda.

That’s why they could be taken back by a candidate who makes a serious effort to offer them a decent Republican alternative, a person who does not destroy their integrity or make a mockery of their supposed values. And for the sake of the country and the Party of Lincoln, every patriot must hope it succeeds.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan departs after his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 16, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan is the first Republican governor to be re-elected in the state since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Republican leaders have already begun encouraging potential candidates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is reportedly considering a primary challenge to Trump, contrasts with the president in ways that should matter. He is a decent and competent man of quiet strength and dignity. Hogan would give social conservatives almost everything Trump has offered but will not demand they squander their integrity as a down payment.

A cancer survivor who leaned on his faith during that battle, he has a story that resonates, and, perhaps more importantly, is a proven fighter — anyone facing off against Trump will have to prove his willingness to stand up to the president’s excesses in ways that will invite and inspire conservative evangelicals and Catholics.

The most obvious group of defectors are those who will jump at any other candidate with conservative policy views. For these people, the 2016 nominating contest led them to Trump by default. In that crowded primary season, a majority of voters preferred a candidate other than Donald Trump, but studies show that some subset of voters simply wants to “back a winner.”

If 2019 unfolds badly for Trump and he looks weak in 2020, many voters, even evangelicals, will flock to a superior candidate, especially if she or he looks, talks and acts like a winner.

President Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Oct. 26, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Others agreed to vote for Trump because they expected that he would rise to the stature of the office. They may now accept that he won’t. Even those who expected a certain amount of incompetence, corruption, and lies may be persuaded to think that a line has been crossed.

My conversations with Washington insiders have convinced me that the primary challenge will happen. If it does, Trump-skeptical evangelical leaders who are despondent about the past three years need to do everything they can to support the effort, even if behind the scenes.

I have opposed evangelical Trumpism from the beginning. Some of those supporters are members of my own family. As long as there is a chance for decency and honor to prevail, I will make the case to them. I will not give up on my family, just as I will not give up on my country.

I will work alongside evangelical friends who stand on the biblical promise, “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle” (Psalm 18:39). The 2020 GOP primary is a fight for the soul of conservatism. Evangelicals should not sit it out, and it cannot be won without them.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.

Laquan McDonald:  Forgive, Don’t Forget, and Then Fight

Laquan McDonald: Forgive, Don’t Forget, and Then Fight

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes speaks to reporters at the courthouse Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, in Chicago. Former Detective David March, ex-Officer Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney, three Chicago police officers accused accused of trying to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014, were acquitted by a judge Thursday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

I’m in Chicago and we’re reeling over a judge who acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. It’s hard not to feel some kind of way (insert eye roll here), even though officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the case and sentenced to 81 months in prison. There were no cheers today. It’s almost like you could predict that someone had to take the fall, but the Chicago political machine that created an environment for this to happen churns on and it’s a win for the so-called police “Code of Silence.” Ironically, today I happened to be reading a lot of Bible verses on forgiveness. “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:4).

I remember when the Charleston church shooting happened a few years ago. I was in awe at relatives of the victims who stood up and bravely told that heartless crazy man that they forgave him.  It was a powerful message of forgiveness. So what about these cops? Do we just pray and let it go? Not so fast. God knows what we did, where we did it, and who we did it to. He still loves us and forgives us. But that doesn’t mean he has forgotten about it. He expects to see a change in us. Why shouldn’t we expect to see a change in police accountability in Chicago and across this country? I’m sure the Charleston relatives haven’t forgotten about Dlyann Roof and his Bible study attack either — they choose not to let their hearts be bitter (Hebrews 12:15). With that example, they changed the angry — and potentially destructive — conversation. And I’d like to believe their silent strength thawed a few bigoted cold hearts out there.

You could argue that a court acquitted the three police officers so there’s nothing to forgive. They are “not guilty” of this crime, so says a judge. Why doesn’t that make us feel better? Roll the video evidence, please. It doesn’t lie — even when law enforcement does.

So where does that leave us with these Chicago cops? We forgive, but continue to collectively fight the injustice that plagues our communities and demand change. Urban Faith has a list of faith-based social justice organizations that you can look into as a way to channel your frustration and maybe even fear about things happening around you that feel are out of your control. On that note, shout out to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Yeah, you may think he was a part of your mama’s Civil Rights Movement, but Dr. King and his bus-riding, arm-linked marching, boycotting activists clearly understood channeling those feelings of anger and frustration into positive actionable change.

 

 

 

Ethics Under Attack: The Truth Will Set Us Free

Ethics Under Attack: The Truth Will Set Us Free

Emerging from a season that primarily represents joy, unity and faith, fear and distrust lead the way. Whether you are a part of the faith community or not, you witnessed a 2019 new year governed by a democracy that was less than fully functional. In fact, it rapidly progressed into a historic government shutdown. Call it what you want, but many people are anxious about all types of potentially damaging effects of some degree of personal and publicly traded financial free fall. At the core of the matter, can we consider that perhaps the lack of ethics was a major culprit in this dilemma? If we all authentically ponder this idea, we may find some eye-opening premises.

Years ago during my college days, my roommate and I would joke about advice that her parent would often tell her when she was growing up. Almost always when she responded with her version of various explanations to her parents’ inquiries, they were met with the response from the parent “now lie to me the truth!” Of course, it was a laughing matter then, but now it is a demand within every part of our culture. One fact that will always remain, regardless of what Christian apologists or universal pessimists choose to teach the masses, truth is the cornerstone of ethics. The quality of being honest will always win. In the context of biblical teaching, 1 John 3:18 encourages all Christians to “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” But, who’s perfect?

For the first time in history, 2019 has presented us with the longest federal government shutdown ever.  Mired by future uncertainty, lack of confidence and blind allegiances are rampant and send alarming signals projecting harm on others  and fail to be in the interest of anyone but a few. There are more questions than answers and even less tolerance to resolve the obvious ills that plague all of us. If we struggle to depend on our nation of laws, then where is the teaching and intervention from the church? Have we all tossed our consciousness out the window?

The Wall, Conspiracies, and Indictments

There are multiple contexts given these are subjects that intertwine ethics and faith. However, it can be assumed that some of these most recent circumstances are not all negative or intentional. Perhaps there is a spiritual message that reminds us of lessons from the ministry of Christ. Christ and his disciples worked to teach the meaning and the importance of the necessity to respond to the concept of ethics to the nations. Their message essentially resounded that love and care for all people was good. Selfishness and lack of respect, not just the love of money, is equally the root of all evil. However in these times, self-preservation has become a common mantra and the Apostle Paul’s brutally honest confession in Romans 7:15-20 (NLT) simply has been lost in the sauce. Paul honestly explained that 15 “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” Does this sound familiar as reflected in our current state of world affairs and personal choices? Can we at least give Paul credit for acknowledging his truth to others? His statement was not an excuse to continue his inappropriate behavior, but a truth of his own self-awareness that as human beings, our faith can be a saving grace that begins to address the issues that contribute to corruption in our society and to the human spirit.

The good news is that the cornerstone of Christianity is still built on righteousness, not perfection. Although our government and its leadership have an obligation to be lawful, our community of faith has a job to also be accountable to teach more truth and empowerment. There are biblical laws that are universal.  The lack integrity can bring on harsh consequences that spare no one. For example, we can begin with the Ten Commandments.  They are regarded to some as ancient fairytales that have less relevance in our lives, yet disobedience of either of them can literally wreak havoc on our well-being as well as our quality of life or even our very existence. Biblical principles must be taught purposely for both salvation and survival and not in vain.

Ethics begin and end when there is a conscientious shift that keeps us in tune with truth that transforms us to intentionally think more in-depth about our ethical life choices or outcomes.  The old must make an honest effort to teach the young. The self-absorbed must realize that they can make a difference to the less fortunate. Leadership is far more effective when leaders deliberately learn strategies without an ulterior motive that connotes deception or intent to hide true motivation. While there may have been many reasons for an action, the intent should reflect the true thing that is trying to be accomplished. No matter how insignificant an issue may be, a little white lie is still deception. More than ever before, there is a critical need for leaders of all levels to learn and continue to re-learn contemporary and more influential leadership skills that help those who follow them better understand that hopelessness is a choice and not the norm. As one of the wealthiest nations on earth, we have the resources, ability, and heart to be the ethical beacon of light that practices the type of equality that pays employees on time, feeds the hungry, provides a fair system of education for all, helps those who are giving their all to escape persecution, and most of all, as the Bible instructs “obey the laws of the land.” This is emphasized in Romans 2:13 —  13 ”For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight.” This logic should make sense, especially to those who follow Christ’s teachings.

Before we as a nation pay to build more walls for borders, let more individuals within the community of faith tear down unnecessary walls to embrace those who seek refuge. This is also embodied within the ministry of Christ. Keep in mind that all efforts to conspire against anyone or anything is unethical. Nevertheless, let the church continue to maintain its major role to inspire hope and spiritual awakening. Believers in Christ, let’s not allow ourselves to become desensitized to anything that resembles less than the truth. It carves a path that may lead to eventual indictments on the message of love we attempt to send throughout the world. For indeed, it is our privilege to be vigilant in recognizing the opposite of what is right and ethical to further strengthen faith in the face of fear. The freedom of truth is the most ethical contribution to mankind. Jesus was very clear about this in John 8:31-32, 31 Those that had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two-Minute Podcast Shorts on Martin Luther King, Jr.

 A father and son stand together at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, inaugurated in 2011. They are looking at a quote by MLK which reads: THE ULTIMATE MEASURE OF A MAN IN NOT WHERE HE STANDS IN MOMENTS OF COMFORT AND CONVENIENCE BUT WHERE HE STANDS AT TIMES OF CHALLENGE AND CONTROVERSY.

R. Kelly and the Generational Curse of Suffering in Silence

R. Kelly and the Generational Curse of Suffering in Silence

The instinct to protect our own is so ingrained in Black culture that it’s become a haven of toxicity instead of comfort. After the airing of Lifetime’s docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, social media and news outlets roared with condemning thoughts on the matter and, unfortunately, some defended him. This valid reaction does not attack the root of the cultural problem — silence on abuse in the Black home and community. This is not the first time R. (Robert) Kelly has been in the news about his alleged predatory sex escapades and accusations, but now through the brave testimonies of his victims, it seems as if we are ready to stop the cycle. Although sexual abuse hotlines saw a 20% uptick in calls, there are still many who have not spoken up because they were raised to be silent and carry on.

The documentary and an article on Ebony magazine’s website revealed that R. Kelly and his brother, Carey Kelly, were sexually abused (at ages 10 and 6) by their older sister and never spoke about it to their mother. The reason:

“I was afraid to tell my mom, because of the person, who they were. I-I [sic] didn’t know if she was gonna believe me, so I was afraid to tell her,” Carey Kelly explained on episode 1 of Surviving R.Kelly.

Imagine a young woman shuffling home terrified after a brutal sexual encounter with her uncle and while quivering she bravely tells her mother what happened. With a stoic restraint the mother hugs her and forces her daughter to forgive him and deny what happened to save the family name. This type of forced denial is not uncommon because it’s hard to believe that someone who is loved and respected could ever commit a heinous act.

“Robert, him being my big brother, I brought that to him and told-told [sic] him what happened to me. And when I told him what happened to me, um…he didn’t, he didn’t really respond to it like I felt that he should. When-when [sic] I told him, he said, ‘Nah, that didn’t happen, that didn’t happen to you.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it did,’” shared Carey Kelly on episode 1 of Surviving R. Kelly.

Carey continued to describe how he was trying to “test out” whether or not he should tell their mother and since his truth was negated he left it alone. When their sister began to molest R. Kelly, he too kept it quiet and allowed it to continue for years. Not being able to communicate your pain for the sake of your assailant’s reputation is a form of gaslighting and is a common practice in these circumstances.

After he rose to stardom, his trauma turned into a habit of conquering younger women so that he may no longer be a victim. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Candice Norcott, childhood sexual abuse translates into seeking power and control through sex. Kelly did this by embodying his nickname, “The Pied Piper,” and luring teenage girls into the studio with promises of their own fame or fame by association. His trauma and silence transformed him into a version of his assailant, where he had the illusion of power and total control over the situation.

On social media, men weighed in on how this was another attack like Bill Cosby’s allegations. Unfortunately, like Cosby, Kelly, too, is guilty, but that did not stop Rico Love from weighing in and defending Kelly’s legacy. Upon further reflection, Rico Love changed his mind. However, it brings to question, how many times must a harsh truth be told about someone who is admired before it is believed?

The Community of Silence

Kelly is ingrained in our culture and, for many millennials, part of our youth was memorizing the lyrics to “I Believe I Can Fly.”  His dual power of celebrity and nostalgia served as a cloak to his wrongdoing during the first two uproars surrounding marriage to a 15-year-old Aaliyah and the infamous circulating tape that featured intercourse with a 14-year-old girl. Enablers of Kelly, such as his manager and bodyguard (featured in Surviving R. Kelly), turned a blind eye to his pedophilia due to their loyalty to friendship, fame, and legacy.

“The story of sexual predation as an inconvenience in popular music is so old. It’s been going on for decades, for centuries. Nobody wants to give up the music they love. And nobody wants to think badly of the artists they love,” said Ann Powers, music journalist, on Surviving R. Kelly.

Some in the Black community voice the distaste for their friend or relative’s abusive actions, yet do nothing because of their adoration or sympathy for the individual. By carrying on with a “no snitch” and “do you” culture paired with empathy for the root of a predator’s actions, we give passage to an unremorseful and relentless tirade of causing others the same pain they experienced. The loyalty to not destroying a community, family, or legacy is louder than the crime.  And that is worse than the silence itself, contributing to untreated mental health issues, loss of faith, and possibly the secret dying with them.

In the era of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, forgiving and forgetting is slowly fading away. Women are awakening people blind to rape culture and toxicity of keeping “the little secret.” Youth and older women are emboldened to tell their stories in order to prevent future injustices for young women. Unfortunately, both men and women still shudder at coming forward because of the shame of allowing this to happen.

People were asked on the Whisper app if they had ever been sexually assaulted and why they did not speak up, these were some of the responses:

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To err is human, to forgive is divine, but where is the line drawn?

Forgiveness is a staple of Christianity, however it could be to the detriment of someone’s mental state if justice is never served. The Kelly brothers were abused by their sister, but no one would believe them if they spoke up because she was a “good member of the community.” Even if they were believed, would she have been punished for her actions or excused under the law of the faith?

We need to stop allowing ‘the cloth’ to blind us from the reality of a person or situation. Community worship, having a relationship with God, and practicing the word of God are three very different components of Christianity. The assumption that someone is active in all three components because they hold a position in the church is asinine. The false anointing given to people who have a proprietary role within the community or church assist in the damage created when the abused are silenced and forced to forgive; sweeping away the mental and emotional turmoil that morphs the innocent into a person like R. Kelly. Therefore, without support and justice for the crime, the cycle continues.

#UnMuteUs

Is this our fault?

Yes.

We have celebrated R.Kelly for his musical genius and ignored his scandals, reducing them to jokes. Similar things happen in families where traumas are pushed aside or made into comic relief that masks their disappointment. It is not R.Kelly’s fault for the trauma he experienced, but it is not an excuse to torture young women because therapy was not considered.

If we are going to protect our youth, they need to be educated on how to advocate for their mental health and safety. We need them to understand that trauma can happen and there is help available to redefine their lives beyond it. We’ve seen the damage caused by someone who could not advocate for themselves.

To break the cycle let’s do something we’ve never done before… watch and listen.