It’s Sunday morning. 6am.
If it were any other person making this simple observation, one could assume they've just woken up. Maybe a fresh pot of coffee is quietly brewing in the kitchen while someone is reading the newspaper in the living room. Maybe someone is in their bedroom tying their shoes, shoes they had just buffed and polished the night before, in preparation for their morning mass. Or even maybe… someone is sneaking out of a strange house belonging to a person they met earlier at a bar, whom is still asleep.
I on the other hand, have not fallen asleep.
Around three in the morning, just as my eyes were beginning to get sore from exhaustion, I got a hunch when I was scrolling through the channel guide on TV. This hunch of mine occurs when I see a movie that I have never heard of, but still seems like it might be interesting, regardless of the name or the one-sentence synopsis. It happened a couple of weeks ago with a curious drama called, “The Door in the Floor”. Tonight, it was another drama, “The Sunset Limited”. I set the remote on the shelf next to my bed and began watching.
“The Sunset Limited” is essentially a two-man stage play on film. Samuel L. Jackson plays a working-class, evangelical christian, who saves Tommy Lee Jones’ character from committing suicide… who happens to be an atheist college professor. What follows is a 90 minute-long philosophical discussion about religion, life, suicide, and death. Normally, if religion is the basis of a movie that I happen to come across, I’ll continue to move across it and find something else. I cannot stand when religion is discussed, because usually the discussion is in reality, a heated fight… something that does not do any good for anyone.
This movie, on the other hand, was fascinating to me. Sure the acting was great, it was Sam Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones for fuck’s sake. It was the discussion itself that got my attention. It was unlike any religion based back-and-forth I had ever seen. It was calm, respectful, concise and extremely intelligent. No side was acting superior, belittling the other, or giving childish dead-end retorts like, “just because”. Rarely have I experienced any scenario like the one being portrayed for me on HBO, which is why I avoid religion discussions. However there is one other subject that, when brought up, I avoid it like Kim Jong Il should have avoided his current barber.
Through time, trial and consistent failure, I have learned to eliminate religion and politics from my socializing spectrum. In almost every one of my experiences when either of those topics came up, the discussion evolved into a debate… which erupted into a confrontation that made everyone around us vaguely uncomfortable. I can already tell that some of you are nodding right now, as this is not a rare occurrence for anyone in that same situation.
I’ve found that the reason this happens with these two subjects is because they're the two that people tend to hold close to their heart, more consistently than any other. This isn’t a simple instance of Stanley Whatshisface believing that “The Godfather” was better than “Citizen Kane”, or that he believes German automakers are better than Japanese. Generally, those beliefs would have very little bearing on Stanley’s life. Religion and politics however, they may very well define Stanley’s life. So if someone else were to question either of Stanley’s beliefs, he could take that as a bit of a personal insult, a dig on his way of life. One might even think that good ol’ Stanley might be timid toward the idea of being convinced to change his beliefs, as he might view that as a way of betraying himself.
After numerous observations and encounters of people reacting in this way, I’ve come to loathe the idea of having such a conversation. More often than not, I even cringe at the sound of others these discussions around me. It became an association of past experiences… much like someone who might have a fear of dogs because of being bit by one as a child, or someone hating the taste of Jack Daniels because they drank too much of it one night… like myself.
This distaste that I have isn’t limited to having social conversations either. I’ve come to enjoy writing as a rewarding outlet for me on many subjects, some of which are quite personal. However, my beliefs in regards to religion or politics have never been included, and there are reasons why. First, if I had written about it, someone who has opposing views to mine might read it and feel compelled to give their opinion, and as I have mentioned before, I’d rather not hear it… so get away from me. Secondly, I like the fact that, for the most part, the people around me don’t exactly know what my beliefs on either are. That way, they might feel less inclined to ask questions or make statements.
They're mostly friends of mine, and I’d rather not offend them by saying, “I really do not give a crap about whom or what you worship, or who you voted for. So please, either: change the subject, walk away… or introduce me to that friend of yours over there, the brunette holding the beer. She’s really cute.” I don’t think they’d introduce me if I talked to them like that, would you? I didn’t think so.
There’s one downside to having very little known about your views on these subjects though. The assumptions.
Having assumptions made about my stance on things like that bothers me in an entirely different way. It’s the idea that someone takes the liberty of deciding my ideals for me, without any input on my behalf. It’s almost insulting, by veering into that “I know you better than you know yourself” territory. Or maybe, they just made an assumption about me because they believe in their ideals so much, that they couldn't fathom anyone thinking differently. Now that’s just arrogant to assume that the people around you have the same beliefs you do. Many people believe many different things. It’s a fact of life that a surprising amount of people have yet to learn, because I see people demonstrate their ignorance of it all the time. Perhaps it’s too optimistic of me to think that the people at large should respect one’s beliefs, whether they know them or not.
But that optimism I have is exactly why I enjoyed “The Sunset Limited” to begin with. It showed all of us how a philosophical debate or discussion should be conducted. It showed us that it really isn’t a debate at all, but a two-way street of learning someone else’s thoughts, beliefs and passions.
Do you know what I believe? I believe that in the future, if things take a turn in that direction, I might be less inclined to walk away if someone tries to discuss religion or politics with me.