We Need To Talk About the Great Pumpkin…And Some Other Things
On Halloween night, I stumbled across the Peanuts movie, “The Great Pumpkin,” and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. At one point Linus says, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” Well, I don’t know about the Great Pumpkin, and I’m leaving politics out of this, but I cannot stop thinking about not speaking about religion. Why is this a thing?
Depending on which study you go to, roughly 9 in 10 Americans believe in a higher power. Religious belief has formed architecture, civilizations, literature, law, ethics, and…how people in the world view themselves and their purpose in life. Even people with no religious affiliation, or the growing Atheist population, have complex and passionate ideas on humanity and its reason for being that is important to hear and discuss.
Last week alone I came across multiple mainstream, non-religious newspaper articles supporting and encouraging religious and theological education, especially for secular institutions that have an allergic reaction to the idea. For a growing minority, to open up theological education (especially of faiths other than one’s own) is to provide a much-needed opportunity in public conversation to learn how people fundamentally view themselves, humanity, and what life is about. This is not a call for comparative religion, which is also so important, but instead a deep investigation on a faith’s actual theology. Although it might not seem important at first, either an individual or community’s belief on why exactly they exist has massive implications. In an economic and global culture that is shrinking by the day, why are so many still adamant that learning even theological basics crosses some sort of line?
There might be some of you who are reading this right now and thinking of the damage that the religious have done throughout history. Or perhaps you are thinking, “Well, that’s all nice to say, but talking about religion and personal faith has a tendency to bring about an emotional, level 5 nuclear meltdown.” This is many people’s experience with talking about politics as well, which is probably why Linus drew that line in the sand. I have been there in those kinds of discussions and it is awful. Even now, years into theological and religious education, I still seem to unintentionally say some things that may hurt or irritate a fellow student.
However, talking out subjects that mean that much to us, as fellow humans and people who live together, should not be avoided just because the process can end up being messy and emotional. In fact, I firmly believe that the more we learn about the history and beliefs of others, the better tools we have to work through the mess and come out on the others side.
Newspapers are full of religious intolerance and misunderstandings. This is a national and global problem that becomes exacerbated by theological ignorance and the insistence that each country or individual is the sole bearer of truth and the best future. Unfortunately, this is not working. We need a better approach. So, I am going to have to politely disagree with the Peanuts gang and back up the argument that we really need to talk and learn about religion and theology in the public sphere.