Sometimes you can learn something when you least expect it.
My sister-in-law (we'll call her Martha) has been dating this guy who we'll call Steve. I met him the night that she and Steve were reacquainted at the high school reunion last year. It was one of those big affairs where 10 years of classes were invited. Anyway she and Steve have basically been dating ever since. She hasn't had the best luck with guys in the past but she's head over heels in love with him and is very happy, which is good.
The night I met Steve, I mentioned to him that I was reading a great book called Microcosm: E. Coli and the New Science of Life. It's a fantastic book that I highly recommend. Butch was there and chimed in that it's all about evolution, which it is, in a very cool, observable way. Steve rolled his eyes and scoffed. Scoffed! I didn't want to get into it since we were heading home but I immediately found myself feeling cold toward him.
So, when Martha brought Steve to a family BBQ the next day I was polite but really didn't have anything to say to him. He seemed nice enough though.
Time went on and I learned from him that he likes Sarah Palin. He thinks she's got some good ideas. (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth there) Martha told me he's a full on conservative republican but that they don't talk about politics. As I do with most people, I was also refraining from political - or religious - talk with him as well.
To this day we've stayed clear of those two topics. But we've gone out to dinner quite a few times, hung out at family gatherings, and he even invited us over to watch some MMA on a channel we don't get next month (Woot!) He's a genuinely nice guy. He's not stupid by any means, can hold a conversation, has a good sense of humor, and seems to be making Martha extremely happy.
Why am I talking about this? Well, to me, Sarah Palin is a stupid, vapid pentecostal nutcase with only enough brain cells to rub together to help her wink and flap her mouth when someone pulls her puppet strings. The fact that people give her 2 seconds of their time, combined with her views on Armageddon and the end times, makes her extremely dangerous. Usually when confronted with someone who likes Palin, I run the other way.
But this time, because I wanted Martha to be happy, I got to know Steve and found that I genuinely like him. I don't want to talk about politics or religion with him, but I like the guy.
It leads me to wonder, are the vast majority of republicans and christians more like Steve? Are they relatively nice people who are not stupid, or even smart? Good, honest people who are just misguided in politics because of how they were raised or values they got from church?
Have the vocal minority that I see on tv or the interwebs overshadowed the quiet majority that encompasses Steve? Do the vocal minority give people like him a bad name? Or is that bad reputation well earned even for Steve?
And does it matter? I mean, if people like Steve would happily vote for Palin because of her "good ideas and folksy charm" doesn't that make him a serious part of the problem, even if he's a relatively nice guy?
Here's another question. Are Steve and I going about this the right way? By eschewing political and religious debates and arguments, are we missing an opportunity? I don't think so.
Sometimes the best way is to lead by example. We each know where the other is coming from, and he's shown me that there are nice republican christians out there, something I wasn't too sure of before. Maybe he has learned that atheists aren't so bad by hanging out with Butch and I. Maybe that's better than a bunch of heated arguments pitting reason against dogma, or republican conservatism against whatever the hell I am. Those arguments would never change the other's mind, but would certainly strain or break the friendship we've developed.