philosophy and religion have a place

Small talk is not my forte’. I can talk about weather or sports for maybe 30 seconds tops. Those are the conventionally safe topics. Work usually comes up early in the conversation, as in “what do you do?” People too quickly associate one’s identity with their work / profession / career.

There are some topics not good for small talk: “… it is not safe to discuss subjects that society deems controversial such as religion or politics.” Yet, politics get lots of air time, even though it’s controversial. Lots of mainstream media and social media time at that.

One British etiquette website describes what’s safe and not safe for small talk conversations:

Which topics are safe for small talk? …

– The weather, eg “It’s a lovely day today, isn’t it?”
– Sport, eg “Have you been watching Wimbledon?”
– Hobbies, eg “What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?”
– Work, eg “What sort of work do you do?”

… Which topics are best avoided for small talk? …

– Money, eg “How much do you earn?”
– Politics, eg “Who did you vote for at the last election?”
– Religion, eg “Do you believe in God?”


What about philosophy and religion? Now these two topics make for much more INTERESTING conversations!

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12 Responses

  1. kkcoolj says:

    Nice thoughts DJ!

    I think politics get airtime even though we're "not supposed to talk about it" because most people take the default position on politics that others have their own political alignment and don't expect each other to try and change everyone's stance and vice versa. So, politic blah blah blah are spewed with an air of sparring.

    Religion is the opposite, people automatically assume that others think their own position is up for grabs — so they are apprehensive of the impending arguments that might with the objective of "conversion" to another point of view or vice versa. Not that I'm advocating religious pluralism, but I believe that those conversion arguments aren't going to be a "win" at the water cooler, in the elevator or at in the 10 minutes you are waiting with some others before the meeting starts.

    IMHO, the Church really needs to do more to teach things like how The Contagious Christian shows us effective ways to influence other people's faith considerations in non-threatening or controversial ways.

  2. djchuang says:

    @kkcooj, thanks for your comment.. I'd add that both religion and politics are polarizing since the advocates with strong convictions usually are quite vocal in prosletyzing others. What makes politics more visible is because it's more concrete and it's about brokering power, whereas religions less visible, as in less talked about in mainstream, is because it's very abstract, almost metaphysical. As Jesus made God visible through his incarnation, so too the church can make faith visible by living it out in tangible ways, and show & tell how to consider faith in non-threatening ways.

  3. Joe says:

    DJ, great question. I think if one is a lay person in both spheres, the conversations can be more normal. However, if one is a professional (ordained clergy, professional philosopher/philosophy professor, etc.) or perhaps training to be a professional then the conversations become awkward. Here's an example. At some random cafe 15 years ago or so, I sat next to a guy who was an electrical engineer. When he found out I was a seminary student, he said "hasn't science disproved all religious belief"? Needless to say, the conversation didn't get very far. However, if someone is a lay person it seems to be less awkward. I've had some awkward conversations with folks about philosophy and religion, mostly folks who are pretty clueless as to what's going on in both spheres. So I think the conversation can be safe at some level, but it's especially awkward when you have a lay person vs. a professional, etc.

    On another note, Hugh Hewitt once said that since he does politics for a living he hates it when pastors preach anything politically charged b/c it's basically "amateur hour" for Hewitt. Perhaps something similar can happen during a talk on religion or philosophy between someone who does it for a living vs. a lay person.