One Senator’s “Religious Test” and the Antidote to Our Culture of Side-Taking

At the beginning of June, a U.S. senator grilled an appointee to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The senator attempted to use the appointee’s Christian beliefs to imply he was intolerant of other religions (namely Islam) and therefore unfit for the job.

A Muslim symbol and cross atop buildings

Reading through the transcript of their interchange, it definitely looks to me (as it does to many others) like the senator is dangerously close to using a religious test as part of the appointee’s nomination to the OMB, which violates Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. The test, in this case, appears to be whether the appointee might be “too religious.”

The senator also makes it look as if he himself is somehow protecting Muslims by tearing down a Christian’s beliefs. (This has “double standard” written all over it.)

It makes me want to shout: “can we please just get over ourselves long enough to understand the other guy’s position?”

So what if we took a better tack on the whole affair? What if instead we decided that a) it’s OK if someone holds a contrary belief and b) first we’re going to try and understand it before we try anything else?

A little newsflash: it’s okay if someone holds a different belief than yours.

I sat on a plane one time with a Christian. He was coming back from a house-building mission in Mexico so it was obvious this was a man of goodwill.

My first reaction upon realizing he was a devout Christian though, if I’m being completely honest, was: “Oh, man, this guy is going to try and convert me…this could be a long flight.” The tension was building up already; he’s going to tell me what he holds true and I’m going to resist it because I already have my own beliefs.

As I enjoy flight chitchat but am not a huge fan of tension, I decided to try something different.

When he asked me if I had accepted Jesus into my heart, I asked him what he meant and let him get out his Bible. But before allowing him to “one-way-street” his ideas to me, I made a little deal with him: he gets to show me his favorite Bible verse and I get to share with him something I find helpful from my religion. I’m pretty sure no one had ever made that agreement with him before, but he was happy to play along.

The net result of this was zero tension and, in its place, smiles, handshakes and increased understanding between two more people on Earth.

In short, we were celebrating each others’ differences.

And it felt good! (Note to self: do more of this.)

We MUST be willing to experience the beliefs of others no matter how “disagreeable” we may personally find them. (And by the way, bonus: I learned my Christian friend and I had similar goals and desires, just different approaches. So not so “different” after all.)

Remember when they used to teach debate skills in school back in the day? Any professional debater knows he has to be able to argue both positions of the argument. In a way, he or she has to be the other side, temporarily. Consider that for a moment: willing to be the other person and everything he/she stands for, at least with regard to the position being argued.

I mention this here because it is a skill—a willingness—that seems to be missing from today’s side-taking culture.

Our beliefs can be as unique as our personalities, and our beliefs and personalities influence each other to such a degree you could consider them a single package.

Have you ever successfully changed someone’s personality over the course of a conversation? Has anyone ever changed yours?

Not so much, right?

So what if we took a better tack on the whole affair? What if instead we decided that a) it’s OK if someone holds a contrary belief and b) first we’re going to try and understand it before we try anything else—even if it means cutting a deal like I did with my new Christian friend.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? The other person feels a bit more understood that day?

And who knows, you might even walk away with a smile and a handshake.

Hans Eisenman
Husband, father of five, software development exec, Scientologist for 35+ years. Consummate geek and foodie with insatiable willingness to laugh.