This is a slightly modified version of a post I wrote back on November 1, 2009, for another blog I used to write at (which no longer exists). Some of the references are a bit dated, but the ideas are as true as ever, and I thought the content would likely be interesting to NFQ readers.
Are you registered with a particular political party because you agree with their platform? Or do you agree with their platform because you’re a member of that party?
Do you follow a particular religion because you agree with its teachings and its characterization of the world? Or do you agree with its teachings because you’re a follower of that religion?
Is your goal to find ideas that you agree with, or to make your team the winning team?
This post is inspired by several things I’ve noticed lately. Students wearing T-shirts that look like university sports fan gear but turn out to be promoting their religious student group. Pundits on TV talking about how to reform the Republican party’s image, or how to make the GOP more appealing to young people or to non-white people. The Catholic church trying to entice some Anglicans back into Catholicism. And of course, Democratic senators more willing to gut their health care plan in exchange for an extra vote or two than they are to advocate for and explain their original plan.
There’s nothing particularly logical about people’s allegiances to sports teams, and that’s okay. Maybe you root for a team because they represent your city, or a city you used to live in, or a city you wish you lived in. This is completely arbitrary, though at least it makes some intuitive sense. But plenty of people don’t root for their “home team,” opting instead to support the one with better stats and more success. Others like cheering for the underdog and deliberately pick a team with a history of failures. There are plenty of even more arbitrary reasons for picking your favorite team. I used to love the Florida Marlins and the Colorado Rockies solely because I liked their logos the best. (I was about 9, and I liked teal and purple. What can I say?)
Arbitrariness is okay in choosing a sports team to root for, though, because they don’t matter. Sorry, Yankees and Phillies fans, but it’s pure entertainment, with no actual ramifications. That’s why I think it’s so pernicious when people treat their other associations in life as though they were sports teams.
Political parties are alliances of people whose core values and ideas are similar enough that they feel they can cooperate to create the best policies for the country. There’s nothing magical about them. There’s no pledge you’re forced to take when you register as a member of one party that you have to support their platform forever and ever, even if you change your mind. The way it’s supposed to work is, you make up your mind about your political philosophy and then you try find a party you’re willing to ally yourself with. And perhaps you don’t find one. That’s okay too.
As for religion, it’s a bit more complicated. Obviously my perspective is that we should all be searching for truth, and we shouldn’t be afraid to abandon a belief system if we find it to be false. Also obviously, though, most religions teach that there is something “magical about them,” and that you have to believe things that seem like falsehoods or you are committing a grave sin. Still, if your religious beliefs mandate that you accept that pi is exactly 3 or that ancient people sailed from the Middle East to the Americas (twice!) or that… no, I don’t know how to sum this up in a single phrase…. Anyway, my point is that hopefully there’s some line at which most people would say, “This religion cannot be true, and I will leave it to go look for a true one now.” (…And perhaps you don’t find one. That’s okay too.) Plenty of people do go on personal religious quests, and convert to new religions sometimes multiple times. I’m sure I’m not alone in my assessment that this is an important question to answer for oneself.
The real goal—in both these cases—is to pin down the truth about the way the world works and the way it ought to work. It’s not about cheering as loudly as possible for whatever interpretation of things you happened to hear first; that won’t lead us to a better society in any sense. If your team has good ideas, those ideas should be all the promotion you need. If people aren’t interested in your ideas, don’t look only to marketing some kind of “team spirit.” Sure, that’s useful to get people’s attention at first, but what you really need are better ways of explaining your ideas. Or perhaps it’s the ideas themselves that need a makeover.