I was speaking with someone recently about tomorrow’s election and they brought up a very good point that I want to explore in myself.
I found myself getting very pensive about the old question:
“How do we know what we know?”
It’s impossible not to be the progeny of our ancestors in all our beliefs. In other words, we can’t help but inherit some — if not all — of our notions, philosophies, mannerisms, ideas. Why do children born to Muslim parents in Iran typically grow to be Muslims themselves? Why do upper-class intellectual parents in New Hampshire typically raise white anglo-saxon Protestant (say, Christian Science) kids?
So much of those answers reside in their upbringing. It’s cultural. We inherit the beliefs and values of our parents and grandparents. The family ties are binding and dependable.
Occasionally or eventually, one begins to wonder why it is that we think the way we do. Are these our own convictions, or those of people before us or around us? Are these my opinions, or someone else’s? Do I really believe that, or am I being told to believe it?
This conundrum of belief is nothing short of an existential crack, if you concentrate on it too hard. In philosophy, this is known as epistemology 1 which is the study of knowledge.
When applied to politics, particularly in a heated election season such as this, these thoughts are no less troubling. Why do I feel so strongly and emotionally about some issues? Why does the “other side” feel so strongly about theirs? Depending on what pundits you listen to, the election is nothing short of a matter of life and death, good and evil.
Rewind a decade ago to Christian college. It’s 1992 and Clinton is about to be elected into office, the first Democrat in years. I had just started school at LeTourneau and was as green and sponge-like as you can imagine. I was also a non-card-carrying Republican who had voted for H.W. Bush and later for Dole. On Tuesday evening, I remember the swelling feelings of post-teen-aged angst against the backdrop of a cruel political theater, which had swayed the direction of the Enemy: the Democrats.
Democrats were a deceptive breed. Understand, they were the minions of the Interloper. Democrats wanted to remove prayer from schoolhouses, butcher babies, and burn or crush the Decalogue 2 (be it paper or stone). They sought nothing less than the destruction of the West and the downfall of the Cross. The party of the donkey was where backsliding Christians retreated or aggressive atheists congregated. To turn Blue was to turn coat.
To have felt this honestly and earnestly to my core from early childhood up through my college years was testament to the epistemology of social and political conservatism that I called my heritage. The crowning evidence was that ’92 election night. A big group of us mobbed the campus grounds and rioted the results, even crafting a crude Clinton effigy which we burned triumphantly in the wee hours of the night.
But as the years went on, could I really defend these views on my own? Did I know why I believed them? Did I own them?
The more I read, the more I came to a differing personal conviction about issues of social justice, the common good, taxation and civic duty. Welfare, poverty, equality for gender and race, reproductive and civil rights, became more to me than simply duplicitous.
The bigger question though was: “Is it possible to be a Democrat and not a devil?” I suppose this writing was on the wall. I took a look back in my blog archives and found that in 2004 I was toying with the idea.
Now here we are again, the eve of Election Day. When I read about the Obama effigy hanging earlier this year at George Fox University, I couldn’t help but be transported back to ’92. This time, I’m standing on the other side of that argument. My views might have changed a lot since then, but I don’t believe they are in conflict with my core beliefs.
Good luck to you all on Election Day. Get out there and vote. Vote your beliefs, vote your morals, but best of all vote your conscience. God bless.