Taboo: Discussing Religion and Politics at a family gathering
I heard my Mum say to my Dad on numerous occasions, “You know what happens when you talk about religion or politics…”
I’m having a meltdown. Over something and absolutely nothing. To the point where I didn’t sleep last night. Actually, you can take that last statement with a pinch of story-tellers’ salt; this had nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t sleep well last night but it sounds good and it fits. So, as they say, if the glove fits… I didn’t sleep well last night because my mind was churning with conflicting thoughts. My adult, educated, resourceful, analytical mind is rolling its eyes and telling me not to be ridiculous. My six-year old inner child is telling me something completely different: I’m in mortal danger.
My Dad, bless him, will vehemently deny that he can be just a little bit obstreperous. He’d be totally insincere in his vehemence and we all know it. In fact, he’s highly likely to be so insincere that his vehemence is spoiled somewhat by the sniggering that’s happening under his breath during his denials and that overly innocent expression that he puts on his face. I’m certain, however, that age has tempered his obstreperousness somewhat. As a teenager… well, let’s put it this way, if punk had been birthed when my dad hit 15, he’d have been there with safety pins on, in some band, unable to play guitar and knowing that didn’t matter one iota, dressed in his ripped clothes, hair sprayed within an inch of its life into a Mohican, giving the finger to society in general and his parents in particular. When I look back at our visits to his parents’ house when I was growing up, I get the impression that dad would a) avoid topics he didn’t want to talk about, or b) get back at my grandparents for something, or c) just plain amuse himself by making some random but well-chosen and highly inflammatory comment about religion or politics.
You see, I come from a long line of hard-working, poverty-stricken Labour supporters. On both sides of my family. Dad’s been a hard-line Conservative his whole life (“Go, Maggie Thatcher”, he would yell in the 80’s). My Dad’s family are all Anglican, Dad was a choir boy and chapel server. He married a Methodist (my Mum). Dad’s mum was so appalled by this horrifying turn of events that she almost didn’t go to the wedding, and she certainly didn’t want to welcome my mum into the family with open arms, for sure. For those who don’t know, Methodism is a branch of Christianity that was big in Scotland, and Mum’s side of the family came from Scotland, which was yet another nail in Mum’s coffin as far as my Gran was concerned. So, Dad was in this incredibly powerful position of being able to upset everyone in the room with one tiny little comment. And he wielded that power regularly with incredibly predictable results: there’d be a big argument, Mum would cry, Gran would cry, Dad & Grandad would yell at each other and then Mum, my brother Alan & I would be bundled into the car and driven home. Now I think about it, I’m wondering if he didn’t use that power when he felt like not having to give up his Sunday evening to go and visit his parents for a few weeks. Trust me, it would have been a lot easier than trying to explain to my Grandma why he didn’t want to go down to their place for Sunday dinner. The fact that it was an hours’ drive each way was totally irrelevant; good children do whatever it takes to visit their parents as they ought and Dad, despite his willingness to poke a proverbial stick into the ants’ nest of his parents’ politic and religious views, always tries to do the right thing by people. There was no way he was ever going to be able to say to my Grandma that he needed a quiet Sunday evening and could we all give this week a miss.
In case you think I’m exaggerating here, and of course my dad could have had a conversation with his mum, she would have understood, let me tell you a story about my Gran. We went on holiday to Tunisia once, a couple of weeks in a tourist resort on the Mediterranean. It was great. While we were there, lying in the sun, enjoying the whole exotic-ness of an African country, my Gran had read in the British paper that there was a military coup in Tunisia. The first we knew about it was when some diplomatic official from the British embassy turned up at our hotel to check we were okay. She’d harassed them so much to make sure we were safe, and that they had back up plans to evacuate us from the country and back to the safety of British soil, that the only way to get her off their backs and shut her up, was to pay us a visit and make sure we were enjoying our holiday. And then let her know. I totally can’t blame dad for doing what he did; the easy way – quite possibly the ONLY way – to get out of the completely non-negotiable weekly Sunday dinners at my Gran’s was to have a big argument and give everybody an excuse not to see each other for a while.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand all that when I was little. What happened was I grew up knowing in my very bones that you never, ever talk about religion or politics. Ever. Ever. Because it means pain and tears and shouting and the world tears apart and people don’t speak to each other and relationships are broken. Like I said, six-year old inner child speaking. To this day, if someone makes a vaguely political comment on one of my posts and it isn’t FULLY – and I mean totally, completely, 100%, absolutely – in alignment with my beliefs, I get a knot of terror in my stomach, my whole body clenches from the rush of adrenaline triggered by the fight-or-flight response that kicks in when one of those topics is brought up. This is a life-or-death situation for me, I am in serious danger, something terrible is going to happen. That’s why you rarely see anything remotely political on my wall or in my comments because I’m going to die if someone disagrees with me. Even slightly.
So, what’s brought all this on? Why am I waking in the night with cold sweats (which makes a nice change from hot sweats, if I’m brutally honest with you)? I put up a link to a video by Dick Smith, Aussie legend, a strident, vocal, anti-international corporation, grumpy old man. I agree with what he was saying in the video about the small businesses, battling it out in rural areas, and the fact that I don’t want 30% of what I’m paying to go to someone for their marketing efforts AND I also think that the genius who came up with that marketing idea deserves to reap the rewards for it. You see, one of the outcomes of that terror of the subjects of religion and politics is that I can see everybody’s point of view. Everybody’s. Whether I agree with it or not, I can still see it and understand it and, most definitely, respect it. Because if I respect it, a life-threatening argument can be avoided, so I’ll just quietly nod and give you my understanding, even if I think you’re so far off the mark, you’re not even on the playing field. I’ll just smile and understand. And quite possibly never speak to you again because you’re such an idiot. But you’ll never know the reason why you never hear from me any more, because I won’t tell you. Telling you would be far too dangerous; it would invite a discussion, and we all know what that means.
Now, the question is, do I take Dick Smith down or not?
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