Is There a Politics-Free Zone Anywhere?

 

I don’t want to have political discussions with people on the Left. Period.

On the third Wednesday of every month, I have a Zoom meeting with a small group to discuss Jewish topics. Recently we decided to read essays of Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that he produced in an ongoing series about the weekly Torah readings. But I’m already seeing signs that in an effort by group members to relate his essays to current events, we are going to have difficulty avoiding current politics, and I’m not sure how to address the issue. And, of course, they all are on the political Left.

This morning we were discussing Beha’lotecha (Numbers 8), which focuses on Moses’ struggle with the Jewish people on their journey from Egypt. They are once again complaining about all the wonderful benefits they experienced as slaves in Egypt (leaving out slavery, of course) and Moses is exasperated by their frustration. Gradually, with the help of leaders in the community, he finds a way to deal with his own annoyance and discover his own humility in dealing with the demands of the people.

As we discussed Rabbi Sacks’ essay, one of the women in our group offered to tie Moses’ experience to current events. (I knew then we were probably not headed in a constructive direction.) She brought up how much humility Joe Biden had shown prior to his election, but now that he was fighting the Republicans, he was showing less humility.

My slow burn was igniting.

I said that if we were going to relate the Torah reading to the present day, we needed to acknowledge that there was little humility in Biden’s actions (I didn’t mention all the Trump Executive Orders that Biden reversed on his first day in office) and suggested the group reconsider who demonstrated the least amount of humility in the federal government.

And then I changed the subject.

As you might imagine, every person in the group is an uninformed (from my perspective) Lefty, and a couple are very opinionated. In the past, with another group, I banned references to politics from our conversations. (I’m this group’s facilitator.) But I’m quite certain that if someone wants to relate current events to our Torah reading, politics are going to come up, intentionally or not.

And I have little to no patience anymore with people who don’t know what they are talking about.

So, I’m seeking your input:

  • Should I ban politics from this point forward as part of our discussions?
  • Should I try my best to present the other side (as I watch their jaws tighten and eyes squint)?
  • Do you have any other suggestions about how to deal with this challenge?

I must admit that my tolerance for political discussions with the other side has grown very thin. A part of me says that I can establish a rule against current politics, and if they don’t like it, they can lump it (but I will remind them nicely, of course). Another part of me resents having to set limits at all.

And a third part of me wants to disband the group and move on.

Yet I can tell they love having these discussions, and most of the time, I do, too.

What do you think would be my best strategy?

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Separating politics and religion is so hard that the American people had to be ordered to do so in our Constitution. :-)

    In fact, reading the Bible is reading politics. It’s all about governing ourselves and others. Some commentator whose name I’ve forgotten mentioned that when Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a joint session of Congress in March 2015 about the dangers of the Iran Deal, he was facing the bas relief portrait of Moses. :-)

    I think the reverse is true as well. I can’t talk about politics without, at least in my mind, wandering over to religion.

    In short, I’m not sure you’ll be able to do it. :-) But I wish you luck with the project anyway. :-)

    • #31
  2. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    This could be a lesson in humility and tolerance for all. And patience. 

    • #32
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    I appreciate (we all of us appreciate) the honor of being asked for advice on this important question.

    First I have questions. Could you write down the answers, re-read them after a day’s rest, and then send them?:

    1. What is your goal for investing your time and effort in the group?
    2. If politics is excluded, do you expect to achieve your goal? (Obviously, if it isn’t excluded, you don’t, and there is no question left to decide).
    3. If politics is excluded, would achieving the goal be worth the investment? (There are other ways you could spend your limited time and energy.

     

    I wanted to include everyone who was interested in my response to Mark’s important questions. So here goes–

    1. My original plan was to organize a small group to discuss Jewish topics in an environment that could take our understanding of Judaism deeper. The first year we discussed the observance of the Jewish holidays, where I presented the basic information and the we discussed observance and purpose. It was really quite nice, and I learned a lot!! So it was well worth the effort. But when the group shifted into discussing Israel (which we mostly agree on), it took us away from religious discussion. Quite frankly I didn’t want to spend a year talking about the State of Israel, so I proposed discussing a Torah reading that would come up between meetings. They were enthusiastic at the “learning” orientation. And of course, I learn, too. And the writing of Rabbi Sacks is very engaging and offers thought-provoking questions.
    2. Based on the excellent input I’ve received from commenters here, I think we can achieve our goal easily. The key is to find ways to relate the text to our lives, or to the history of the U.S, or simply to the text itself. I will need to set guidelines before our next meeting, and if they agree to them, we’ll do okay; if they veer into politics, I will intervene. The key will be whether they are willing to let current politics go; at this point, if they decide that’s not acceptable, I will likely disband the group
    3. The reason I want to try to continue the group is that it is the only Jewish group with which I interact; that was one of the reasons I formed it. Although there is a Chabad group about an hour’s drive from here, Chabad is not a match for me. 

    If this response raises questions for anyone, please ask away. I am so grateful for the input I’ve received so far!

    • #33
  4. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Well, consider that these people are veritable idiots and they are likely to misinterpret Rabbinical studies just like they misinterpret politics, so what’s the point in the study group at all?

    Honestly, I have difficulty respecting people who reveal such rank group-think and ignorance and would question any ‘insights’ they might have on other topics. And as has been said, politics and religion are intrinsically related, although not as crudely as some in your group wish.

    Political opinions are little more than a belief system,  and religion is certainly a belief system. If they get one thing so badly wrong how can they not distort the other? Are they capable of learning with these lefty templates they apply? I doubt it. 

    And this is even more dangerous when politics and religion co-distort their world view into a solid mass of self-righteousness and arrogance.

    Biden,  humble?  Anyone who can’t see through his over-acting (and frankly unbecoming self-deprecation for a POTUS) is beyond hope to gain insights from the Torah or anything else. To actually posit that as a pertinent example shows a level of shallowness that would make me wonder, too.

     

     

    • #34
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Franco (View Comment):
    Honestly, I have difficulty respecting people who reveal such rank group-think and ignorance and would question any ‘insights’ they might have on other topics. And as has been said, politics and religion are intrinsically related, although not as crudely as some in your group wish.

    Well, not to worry, Franco. I don’t expect you to be attending our group any time soon. ;-)

    • #35
  6. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    It’s often been noted that people on the left have no qualms about injecting their political views into everything, blurting them out (shouting them out), with the assumption that everyone around them must necessarily agree. Whereas people on the right tend to keep quiet about their political views. And I think that the louder the left gets, the quieter the right gets.

    I’m not sure why this phenomenon exists. I really don’t want people on the right to be as obnoxious as those on the left. (I want more and more politics-free zones. But once politics enters an area, I’m not sure how you get it out.) But I wonder if part of the problem is that we on the right aren’t as bold and blatant in our views.

    For the first time ever, we have put up a campaign sign in our yard. Nobody on our block has ever done it before (and I know that at least a few of our neighbors are Democrats, but not even the Democrats on our block are so bold). But it’s for a local race, and we know the guy running. However, this is a change for us.

     

    • #36
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic … (View Comment):
    For the first time ever, we have put up a campaign sign in our yard. Nobody on our block has ever done it before (and I know that at least a few of our neighbors are Democrats, but not even the Democrats on our block are so bold). But it’s for a local race, and we know the guy running. However, this is a change for us.

    Maybe all of us need to consider dipping our toes in the water and checking the temperature. Small steps. Good for you, Drew.

    • #37
  8. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    Susan Quinn:

    So, I’m seeking your input:

    • Should I ban politics from this point forward as part of our discussions?
    • Should I try my best to present the other side (as I watch their jaws tighten and eyes squint?
    • Do you have any other suggestions about how to deal with this challenge?

    My answers will be based in large part on my participation in two book clubs-one in our former home town and the other here in our new area. In the first one, I was one of very few, at times only, male in the group and as far as I could tell, the farthest right by a mile of any of the group. We got into a lot of lively discussions – about the books– but  rarely if ever about politics and related issues. The very few times politics entered the discussion were when I would take good-natured jabs at the liberals about Obama’s inane administration and it was generally understood that my little attempts at humor were made in good faith and in good humor. After Trump’s election, there was another mood entirely, and jokes about the new administration were not nearly as patiently received. But, they did continue and there was never, to the best of my recollection, any hard or bitter exchanges even then. The experience with the current group is quite different, although so as not to exaggerate, exchanges are rare and only occur with one or two members who are dyed in the wool leftists. The main example I would offer was one member’s insistence on talking about all the rampant “systemic racism” in American society; on at least two occasions, I have rather forcefully-perhaps too forcefully for My Lady’s taste – pointed out that there is no such thing as systemic racism in our society today and if someone just looked up the meaning of the word “systemic” they would understand immediately how it simply does not, and cannot, exist today. I have also pointed out that it has been against Federal law since The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, at least theoretically, and that if one knew of any conduct which even approached the level of the kind of racism this person was talking about they should report it to the local US Attorney’s office. 

    As to your questions, here are my quick thoughts, for what they’re worth. #1: you can try but it won’t work. #2: you can try, but their jaws tightening and eyes squinting is a clear signal that they have shut your words out and you might as well be talking about the weather. #3:return to your opening sentence: “I don’t want to have political discussions with people on the Left. Period.”  I appreciate this last one is difficult as I personally do not want to leave my book club, but it is getting more and more uncomfortable. 

    • #38
  9. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    It seems to me that reading ancient texts, holy or otherwise, is something we do to learn about the people then, and what that means to us now. 

    By ‘us’ I mean the readers, not the readers’ heroes. 

    I would further suppose that one might reasonably relate something from the Torah or Bible (or Koran for that matter) to a less antiquated religious figure. But once we start talking about a priest or rabbi that the group knows, we are at risk of fawning. 

    Relating this kind of thing to a current politician is the very definition of profane. 

    There is nothing sacred about any of those guys, so perhaps you could tell them to keep it holy. 

    • #39
  10. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Slay them. Slay them gently, as God slew the first borns of Egypt.

    ”doesn’t Moses’ change of heart remind one of Biden’s?”

    ”actually, it reminds me of Mr Biden’s corruption.”

    End of analogy

    • #40
  11. Fritz Coolidge
    Fritz
    @Fritz

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    When I teach the Torah in our (Christian) Sunday School class, I push the class very hard to put aside our current culture (and especially politics). Looking at the Scripture through a lens of contemporary culture or politics will keep us from understanding what the Scripture actually says.

    All the same, one of the goals is to look at contemporary culture and politics through the lense of Scripture.

    But it’s hard to get that right until we’ve had some training, and it’s doubly hard if we start off by doing it backwards.

    That was one of the merits of a solid humanities education (before the left corrupted the universities): You learned how to look objectively at more distant times and places, and so learned how to apply those cognitive skills to your own world.

    One also learns from reading the classics and Bible stories that human nature has not changed, and is not likely to change, so all the utopian fantasies of the socialists and so forth are just that: fantasies. Very useful perspective for normal adult living.

    • #41
  12. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    I have a similar problem, living in a small retirement community of about 50 people, in which I am the token conservative (with one or two possible exceptions). When a discussion tends toward the political, I gently make it known that I am a cultural, social, political, and fiscal conservative and am ready to defend my point of view. In the community dining room there is a general agreement that politics and religion are not to be discussed at the table. If someone violates that understanding, I remind them.

    As you say, though, there always seems to be someone who can’t have a conversation that doesn’t involve politics. In those cases, the only option seems to be to avoid them. Unfortunately, there are some people whose lives appear to be completely wrapped up in their political views, as if they have no life outside of political issues such as climate change, gender, racism, etc. They deserve our pity, but not necessarily our company.

    Thanks, Jim. You’ve described a reasonable procedure. It’s too bad that I’m so intolerant, but as I said, I’m unwilling to discuss these touchy topics when people are not informed. Good for you in managing the process!

    It grates. It abrades the skin and bleeds the patience, and it happens all day, every day. 

    And when we are discussing something of spiritual import as adults, we get whiplash when we’re suddenly pressured to join Dumbledore’s Army to save us all from ‘Trumpism’. 

    • #42
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I’m just wondering if I am defining politics too narrowly, in a way that prohibits my exploring any current events. If anyone has any thoughts about the state of the country that could be discussed without getting partisan, I would appreciate your input. I hope that makes sense.

    People used to say, ‘there oughta be a law’, but they didn’t mean it…until they did. 

    We have a lot of laws. I think it was Mark Steyn who said that Lenin could only dream of having the control, not to mention the eyes, that modern governments have. 

    Politics touches – chafes, really – so many aspects of our lives that it is very difficult to keep it out of discussions. 

    Which pisses me off as it happens. Because find myself segueing into them all the time too. To the point I wonder if Ricochet is healthy for me; do I leave here less likely to spend time and angst over politics or more likely? Probably some days I’m scratching an itch and other days I’m exacerbating an infection. 

    Regardless, I end up scratching in public and it’s embarrassing. 

     

    • #43
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Since I bought (and started wearing) my “Let’s Go Brandon!” T-shirt, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to identify any Leftists in the group. They don’t say anything; they just clench their teeth and glare. I always smile back at them but, for some reason, it doesn’t seem to help.

    Are you trying to get me in trouble, CA!?

    Hmm. Do you have one of those zoom things where you can change the background behind you with a green screen? 

    You could get a ridiculous digital wall of Trump posters and signs and quotes and put it up when someone gets political, and say, ‘oops’ and then turn it off again. 

    • #44
  15. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):
    You might urge people to look for examples outside the political sphere, or from political matters dating back to before they were born.

    Now this is a great idea!

    Yes, history.

    And Shakespeare.

    Dang old Claudius.

    I’m starting to see things more from his point of view – he’s in his golden years trying to get his freak on and his emo stepson who should have moved out a decade ago is all, ‘woe is me, mom married a jerk who drinks too much and he won’t pay even pay for my college and he probably killed my dad’. 

    Really irritating. 

    • #45
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    TBA (View Comment):
    Which pisses me off as it happens. Because find myself segueing into them all the time too. To the point I wonder if Ricochet is healthy for me; do I leave here less likely to spend time and angst over politics or more likely? Probably some days I’m scratching an itch and other days I’m exacerbating an infection. 

    Ultimately I think most of us stay so engaged because we are so concerned about the future of the country. So it may not always be healthy, but my participation reflects my commitment to the country and its citizens.

    • #46
  17. DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Unapologetic Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    TBA (View Comment):
    Which pisses me off as it happens. Because find myself segueing into them all the time too. To the point I wonder if Ricochet is healthy for me; do I leave here less likely to spend time and angst over politics or more likely? Probably some days I’m scratching an itch and other days I’m exacerbating an infection. 

    Actually, I find that Ricochet helps me “get it out of my system” and I can remain apolitical in my normal real-life interactions.

    Either that, or I’m just naturally able to compartmentalize.

    But there are times when my wife wants to go off on a political jag, and I have to stop her, even though I would fully agree with her. Just because I think it’s best to keep that stuff at minimum.

    • #47
  18. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    When I teach the Torah in our (Christian) Sunday School class, I push the class very hard to put aside our current culture (and especially politics). Looking at the Scripture through a lens of contemporary culture or politics will keep us from understanding what the Scripture actually says.

    True, this. 

    Presentism is the enemy of understanding. 

    • #48
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    When I teach the Torah in our (Christian) Sunday School class, I push the class very hard to put aside our current culture (and especially politics). Looking at the Scripture through a lens of contemporary culture or politics will keep us from understanding what the Scripture actually says.

    It might be a revelation to some people to learn that it is even possible to look through some other lens. If they could identify when they are using that lens and when they are not, that would be a great advance in awareness.

    Wow. OK, that changes everything

    • #49
  20. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Weird thought; what if you talked about things in the Torah that no one liked – things that were acceptable then but not now, and things that are acceptable now that are abhorrent or headed that way – on purpose as a way to understand the differences and then get past them. Pull the ‘triggers’ and then talk about why they aren’t actually important to the text. 

    • #50
  21. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    The best bars have signs up saying leave all religious and political arguments at the door.  Well religious discussions are the nature of your group’s discussions but politics (and politicians) should definitely be left outside the group.  

    • #51
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

     

    Generally we discuss any part of the text, which may be abhorrent from a current perspective. I will sometimes share a conventional understanding and sometimes an unusual one from my work with @iwe and it doesn’t matter to me if they disagree: it’s Torah, which can have many different interpretations, not current politics.

    • #52
  23. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Concretevol (View Comment):

    The best bars have signs up saying leave all religious and political arguments at the door. Well religious discussions are the nature of your group’s discussions but politics (and politicians) should definitely be left outside the group.

    There’s an old joke; guy orders a drink and says, “I cannot believe that Brandon has the nerve – ” Bartender says, ‘Hold up, we don’t talk politics here.’ “Fine, ok. I was in church the other day, and – ” Bartender says, ‘we don’t talk about religion here either.” Guy looks at the bartender and says, “Can we talk about sex?” Bartender says, ‘Sure, ok’. 

    “Well, then [redacted] you.” 

    • #53
  24. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    “Now that you mention it, it occurs to me that Moses was homophobic, transphobic, sexist, xenophobic, and entirely indifferent to the environmental and climate implications of dragging a large population through fragile arid ecosystems.  I mean, the whole Torah thing…isn’t there some contemporary alternative that isn’t so offensive. Since one can only disagree with us on issues if they are motivated by hate, do we pray for them or smite them? But seriously, shouldn’t it be illegal not to endorse Biden’s policy proposals since we know without any further examination that such disagreement is (a) totally wrong and (b) could only be motivated by malice and ignorance?  Isn’t dissent and debate inimical to democracy?”

    • #54
  25. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Susan Quinn: As you might imagine, every person in the group is an uninformed (from my perspective) Lefty, and a couple are very opinionated.

    This is my theory. Almost all discussing of anything but actual, direct public policy is a waste of time. Furthermore, how many topics can you handle? How many topics can they handle?

    When you go outside of that, it gets vague fast and the value is usually not that great or obvious. Democrats don’t like that and they don’t want to admit it.

    Public policy doesn’t fit into that situation.  What’s left? Is it worth it?

    What are you going to do if they know how to Google anything from NPR on any topic on the spot? They believe all of it. I’ve had some problems discussing border policy and alternative energy on Twitter because of this.

    Make a separate politicized group instead. Divide by party.

    I took some really cool classes from a synagogue. The rabbi was married to a real radical in the Minnesota house. They basically kept it all out of it and it was fine. It’s pretty left as well because I saw some videos of sermons where they were brainwashing the kids about climate change. I quit looking at their videos because I wanted to preserve the good memories. lol

    I’ve talked about my brother-in-law before. *I got it through his head that leftist Keynesianism is a bad idea. After Covid started going we had to talk about politics a little more and he has basically cried uncle with me because I forced him to stick to public policy. If you aren’t talking about public policy, there isn’t really that much to get worked up about it. It’s all vague leadership crap or scandals that people don’t really understand the details of.

    • #55
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    he has basically cried uncle with me because I forced him to stick to public policy. If you aren’t talking about public policy, there isn’t really that much to get worked up about it. It’s all vague leadership crap or scandals that people don’t really understand the details of.

    Very good points, Rufus. I’m thinking more and more that I’ll leave politics out of the discussion. Thanks.

    • #56
  27. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    *What I’m saying in #55 is, my brother-in-law gets it that the Fed forcing the economy around is bad and it’s a primary cause of a lot of problems and he knows I’m going to force him back to that. If people don’t get that, they think the solution is always more communism and it’s going to work.

    • #57
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    *What I’m saying in #55 is, my brother-in-law gets it that the Fed forcing the economy around is bad and it’s a primary cause of a lot of problems and he knows I’m going to force him back to that. If people don’t get that, they think the solution is always more communism and it’s going to work.

    At least he’s open to learning! Good for both of you!

    • #58
  29. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Look at that hysterical climate person of Biden’s. The woman with the thick New England accent. She’s just a hysterical communist. She likes the money. She’s not an engineer. People on the left love that stuff. What are you going to do about it?

    They think the incentives that Biden created at the border aren’t the problem. They think it’s something else so we have more illegal border crossers lying about asylum in nine months than we did in the last prior 12 months. Add 40% for criminals that don’t want any contact with border control. Literally. We’re talking about 1.9 million or something and then add 40%. They really think this is swell. They think they are being humane and you are a monster. Now what do you say?

    Plus it’s illegal to go between ports of entry. Plus they are supposed to stop at the next safe country if they are actually declaring asylum. You are still the monster.

     

    Everything Moves Towards Communism All Of The Time™

    • #59
  30. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    When I was a teenager and a wise-ass, my father would ask me to explain the basis of my oh-so-certain positions on the great issues of the day, then demolish them with gentle but piercing cross-examination.  He would then say that he would prefer that I not espouse positions he agreed with until I had it together.  If you’re going to be an idiot, I would rather you not be on my side.

    With that lesson in hand, I sometimes find it useful to agree with stupid people and enthusiastically restate the logical conclusions of their position forcing them to attack them from the right or just STFU. 

    For example, I rarely defend Trump when with loons and reply that yeah he probably is that bad and maybe worse, and yet you loons forced me and millions of other normals to vote him so what the hell is wrong with youThat happily makes the discussion about the unappealing nature, arrogance, and contempt for normality, morality and diversity that is leftism instead of Trump as Hitler or Trump, Putin’s puppet.

    • #60
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