Discussing Politics & Religion
Bill Cottringer

“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” ~Mahatma Gandhi.

Just like the real reason for paying attention to the warnings of the Ten Commandments, being to help you avoid unnecessary pain, politics and religion are topics to be very careful in engaging in without great thought. Unfortunately, today this is becoming increasingly difficult. This is because the two are getting very mixed up in the news, which you can’t possibly avoid unless you are living out somewhere in the wilderness without a smart phone, computer, TV, radio or are out of newspaper and magazine delivery range.

Since these discussions are an inevitable part of today’s world, we might as well figure out how to navigate the landscape safely and avoid accumulating more enemies than friends. You can prepare for this by becoming aware of a few important aspects of politics and religion. This will help understanding how they come out in discussions and greatly interfere with good miscommunication and understanding. Here they are the three main problems:

We often just adopt a conviction towards a particular religion or political party, rather than carefully study the choices and learn all we can to determine a good fit before we commit. We join a particular political party or religion and learn as we go. And of course the political party or religion is growing and changing itself cumulatively, much apart from the people who make it up. Sometimes this is to the point of no one in the group agreeing on much of anything. We end up wandering the dessert looking for this understanding that is lost, hidden under the sand, because no one can keep track of it. There is simply too much information about everything to know much of anything these days, despite a gallant effort to do so.


The differences between political parties and religions run very deep below muddy waters, well below the surface of the names they use to define themselves. In addition, these two institutions always mean different things the each person who has joined them. No one person can tell you what all the Republican, Democratic or Independent political party; or what Democracy, Communism or Socialism; or Judaism, Christianity or Muslim religions encompass, without leaving out most of it. The real understanding of these things is stuck out in the muck of a swamp, where most people don’t tread.


Nowadays, we so over-identify with these things, that we can’t separate the words and ideas involved with them, from our personhood or being. If we are a Republican and Episcopalian and somebody criticizes the party or the religion, they are attacking our personhood, being malicious and trying to hurt us on purpose. This is the inherent problem of language. We originally invented words to represent real objects we wanted to show someone else. The trouble is that too much abstract space has come between the word and the object it is supposed to represent. Unfortunately, some simple words used to represent complex entities carry automatic negative connotations that can be very destructive to communication.

So what are the solutions in trying to have a healthy discussion about politics or religion? Here are seven practical suggestions that should result in your having more friends than foe:

Discuss, Don’t Argue

The first question you should be asking is why do you want to engage in a political or religious discussion, most definitely with another person of a different persuasion? You will never be successful in selling your belief or preference and it is futile to try. Probably the best that can happen from a healthy discussion on these explosive topics, is that you both find out how little you really do know on the topic and both learn more. Discuss, don’t argue.

Play Fair

Always play fair. Don’t give yourself explicit permission to impose your opinions—even if they are well-informed—onto others in being superior by proclamation and absent of judgment, without at least extending the equal opportunity to the other person. Sometimes life doesn’t seem very fair, but that doesn’t mean people can’t try to be that way with each other.

Don’t judge

Avoid being judgmental. Separate the beliefs from the person. A person is more than just what they believe or know regarding politics and religion. And those different beliefs which you may not like have been shaped by the person’s different family, cultural and educational backgrounds. Beliefs, and even knowledge of what you know to be true, is just different from the other person’s, not necessarily better as you may wrongly assume.

Don’t Personalize

Never deliver or take anything too personal because there are many more reasons to not do that than do it, and doing it can rarely have a successful conclusion. Beliefs are not realities and they don’t define a person. Besides, a person doesn’t fully understand the belief he or she is most certain is right, at least well enough to communicate it clearly, and certainly not worthy of losing a friend over.

Be Specific

Realize that no one understands or endorses every tenant or even any general belief of any particular political party, religion or any other group. Over-generalization is not good for communication, especially when it becomes an indictment against one group by a member of another. Be as specific as you can without generalizing.

Ask Questions

Rather than getting angry and frustrated in a pending argument and then becoming defensive in defending your own views, stop and ask good questions to understand why and how the other person is concluding something you don’t agree with. Statements generally impede two-way conversations, while questions facilitate it. Pause during the animated stage of discussion, and ask good questions to make the conversation more productive and less destructive.

Know When to Walk Away

Finally, when a discussion becomes hostile to the point of no return with personal attacks becoming rampant, it is time to walk away. This can be temporary if it is just acute or permanent if it breeds chronic, toxic contempt. People are all different and some can be misaligned to the point of having to agree to disagree on just about everything. If that is not in the cards, then at this point it becomes a personal decision as to just how much effort you want to put into continuing the friendship.

Getting into discussions about politics, religion or any other contentious topic, can sometimes be more trouble than it is worth, with no winners, just losers. But if you can’t avoid these discussions, consider playing by the above seven rules to get better outcomes and keep your friends or make one from any enemy.

“In religion and Politics, people’ beliefs and convictions are in almost every case, gotten at secondhand, and without examination.” ~Mark Twain.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President of Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security Patrol, Inc. in Bellevue, WA. And Adjunct Professor in criminal justice with Northwest University, along with being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the mountains of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too (Executive Excellence), The Bow-Wow Secrets (Wisdom Tree), and Do What Matters Most and “P” Point Management (Atlantic Book Publishers) Reality Repair Rx (PublishAmerica), and Reality Repair (Global Vision Press) Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 652-8067, 425-454-5011 or bcottringer@pssp.net or ckuretdoc@comcast.net