Electoral Epistemology

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.


  1. Wiki to the rescue!
  2. or the “Ethical Dialogue”, also known as the 10 Commandments





4 responses to “Electoral Epistemology”

  1. James Avatar

    Rob, thank you for this post today.

    This election is so charged that I think we will see record numbers at the polls today.  It’s great to get more Americans involved in this awesome process.

    I’ve been kind of confused since your post from last Thursday.  I was absolutely shocked to find out you were voting Democrat this year.  The above post helps me to understand at least to a certain degree.  The links you provided to previous posts help me to see the path you are on as well.

    I don’t believe this voting season has anything to do with good vs evil at all.  Anyone who says so is probably coming from an extremist point of view.  Many years ago I cut out all of the political radio in my life.  Lately I’ve turned it back on and it has effectively turned me off from it again.  I can’t believe how hate filled conservative radio has become.  It’s quite disheartening.  I’ll stick with radio that actually wants to help me not manipulate or coerce me politically.  I refuse to do anything based on fear.

    I can see why you are taking the path you are today and I honestly say, “Good for you”.  It’s not healthy for any of us to follow blindly and I commend you for not doing so.

  2. John Avatar

    Thanks Rob,
    I can relate. Growing up a military brat in a deeply religious catholic family, I was always taught: Republicans – Good. . . Democrats – Bad.  We had a framed photo of Bush Sr. on our mantel right next to the wooden crucifix. I didn’t know (or care) why I was a republican, I just knew my family was and that made it right.

    I first voted for Jr. in 2000. During 2001, I began to question my choice when it seemed he did nothing but take vacations.  It wasn’t until then, that I actually researched (a little late I know) what it meant to be a Democrat or Republican and what each party stood for.  What I found is that I don’t fit either.  Why can’t I be pro environment AND babies?  Can’t we help the poor AND maintain a strong military? 

    I get very frustrated with the politics of Red vs Blue and the dumbing down of complex issues into empty talking points.  Whatever the outcome of this election, the next president will need to motivate and mobilize the masses under a common goal if we’re going to see any progress.  Change will only come from cooperation between parties and citizen’s individual sacrifice. 

  3. Jules Avatar

    I am so very proud to be an American on this election day! We are so blessed to live in this country of freedoms! I am so thankful to all of the men and women throughout  our history who have fought for our country. My dad is a war veteran. I am proud of him. Growing up with a dad with PTSD as a result of the war was very difficult at times, but I am thankful for all the sacrifices that were made by many throughout our history. We are truly blessed. God Bless The USA!

    I was raised in a Democratic family. I was proud of that! My parents are no longer Democrats and neither am I. We’ve gone our different ways for different reasons. I’m thankful for the freedom to vote! I don’t think either party is even close to perfect. I just choose the one that comes closest to my moral compass. I am passionate about what I believe!

    Rob, starting in my middle 30’s I began to look back at my upbringing. So much has come up and I’ve struggled with a lot of it. When I go to visit my childhood home at my Dad’s, I fight tears. There are so many memories, some good some really bad. Overall I was blessed because I am the person I am today, in part, because of my childhood history. I think it’s common to question things, especially  at this age.

    I can tell you as I raise my kids, they want to know what I believe and why I believe it. They want to share their family’s beliefs. I think it’s vitally important. I learned some awesome things from my parents: 1. Patriotism 2. Hard work – making your own way. 3. Love and respect of old people.  What I didn’t get was what they believed about faith, morality, social issues, etc. I craved these things desperately. I wanted my parents to teach my their beliefs in these areas. I would have been a child with much more peace if I had these things in my life. I have always been jealous of people that grew up in strong families with strong faith. When I married James the whole Christian family thing was brand new to me. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to teach my children core beliefs. I am learning to be so very thankful for my upbringing. Like I said, I am who I am in part because of my childhood. I guess I’m looking back just like you are, but from a much different perspective. Seek Him first and the Lord will direct you.  That’s what I am trying to do.

    I am posting because James brought me home a new computer this afternoon! Yippee!

  4. Carl V. Avatar

    For the most part I understand what you are saying and totally agree.  I honestly believe that most democrats and republicans are pretty close to the middle and  have similar belief systems.  Where we by and large differ may simply be moral ‘hot button’ issues…but that is where ‘going over to the other side’ becomes difficult for me for one reason and one reason only: the election of supreme court justices.  In almost all other areas there are checks and balances that work in such a way that it is almost comical to feel that democrats are the devil and republicans are God’s chosen…that area is a scary one though.  Whether one believes the abortion issue is a win-able issue or not, personally I think it is a lost cause but one that should still be fought for–it disturbs me to think of electing a president/party that will never, under any circumstances, put a pro-life candidate in the supreme court.  I fear losing what small ‘balance’ there currently is in the supreme court on this and other ‘moral’ issues with an overwhelmingly strong democratic party.

    I understand the conundrum of wondering what to do.  I have even said that my plan was to vote for the person who would help me the most economically, morals be damned…had Obama had what I felt was a better plan economically I certainly would  have been torn on who to vote for.

    In the end I am much more cynical than the people who are jumping up and down for joy this day.  As I said in  your above post, I will reserve judgment and pray strongly that Obama is able to bring about good, positive change for this country.  In winning the election there have already been a few good changes…but we’ll see what happens. The man now bears a heavier burden than many of his predecessors.  He was elected as a messiah and is expected to deliver our people.  I don’t envy him the task of shouldering that burden. 

    Do I think Christians who support Obama are wrong? Of course not.  How do I truly know that it is or is not God’s will for him to be the president.  What I do worry about is hearing Christians (and I am not directing this to you at all) who seem to be slowly letting go of their concern about the moral/religious issues because of other concerns.  I don’t know how we continue to live and hold up our ideals and moral values while being an active, positive force in this world but it is something I hope to continue learning how to do.

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