Lois M. Collins: In religion and politics, we need respect, civility

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"We are not going to make it as a country unless we do better educating one another about who we are," the man warned. "It's clear in history that unless we address the fear and ignorance we have for one another, we are going to have trouble living with each other."

In this hyper-political climate, as the race for the U.S. presidency nears its conclusion, it's particularly sage advice. But politics and the partisan divide is not what the speaker was discussing.

Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project and a senior scholar at Vanderbilt University's First Amendment Center, was talking to Deseret News reporter Matt Brown about religious diversity and the need for tolerance, respect and a deeper understanding for a story Brown was writing about Buddhists and Hindus.

It could just as easily have applied to those watching the competing messages of the just-completed Republican convention and the ongoing Democratic convention.

We are a country built on tolerance and respect for individual beliefs and the right to express them. But a great many Americans have individually somehow become very dismissive and intolerant, over the course of time, of those who do not believe exactly as they do, whether in the political or the religious realm. Worse, many people demonize and even outright lie about others' beliefs, both religious and political, to further their own goals.

I've been thinking about this a lot because this is the first election cycle where my children, now 14 and 15, are old enough to really pay attention. And it has been interesting to watch them try to figure out why so many different people, all presumably interested in what's best for the future of the country, seem to despise each other.

It has also been a challenge to try to explain it to them.

What they're witnessing is quite different from what I witnessed when I was their age, nearly four decades ago. The political divide was as wide in terms of views on policy and what should take place. But the players were much more polite and respectful.

On the other hand, it seems like the religious divide was much harsher back in the day, the people less apt to mingle and share perspectives with those of other faiths. We all just kept to ourselves and figured everyone outside our group was wrong.

Religion and politics have a great deal in common, one often informing to some degree the other. I find it ironic and odd that it's not generally "politically correct" to attack someone for being different in their religious views but it's just dandy for people, including those who proudly proclaim their religiosity, to be vicious in the political realm. Lies, rumors, aspersions and general lack of kindness are deemed proper currency in the marketplace of political ideas.

This election cycle, I'm talking to my girls a lot about two hopes that I hold dear for their futures. I want them to be involved politically and civically. It's important to study the issues and check their heads and hearts and then vote for and actively work for the solutions they feel will best serve the country I hope they sincerely and forever will love.

It's also important to be involved civilly — to recognize that having a different perspective does not make one evil — and to learn to work side by side with people who see things differently in order to accomplish important goals.

I remind them they disagree with each other about many things, but at the end of the day they're sisters who also share goals and dreams and experiences. They can build a common future on that and live in peace if they don't tear each other apart first. So can the rest of us.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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