The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

November 24, 2012

Marta Mossburg, columnist: More of us need to agree to disagree

My husband and I baptized our daughter Elsa on Sunday. The ceremony was unremarkable as baptisms go, except for our rector humorously forgetting the water.

We answered the questions for the sacrament as proscribed, and dressed our daughter in the beautiful white linen dress my mother gave us after our first son was born. She loved the attention and smiled throughout the service.

What was exceptional to me is the promise that those at the service made to our child. They said corporately that they would do everything in their power to support our daughter with God’s help. Her godmother made the same promise.

We do not share the same political beliefs as everyone in the pews. Neither do my daughter’s godmother, Anne, and I think similarly about candidates or many issues. But we share our faith, a commitment to our friendship and to talking about things in a civil manner, sometimes over too many bourbons.

I am so grateful for her friendship, which was forged in pain as teammates at the University of Virginia women’s rowing team. And I wonder what our country would be like if more of us who disagreed lived in communities where people of opposite backgrounds and viewpoints had a chance to interact and form friendships.

Many of us don’t. Census data shows that many Americans live in communities with very little overlap between rich and poor. In his latest book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” Charles Murray shows how many people in wealthy “Super Zips” are so totally surrounded by people of their same class they have little chance of meeting people outside of their income bracket. It used to be that economics didn’t necessarily determine party affiliation, but the wealthiest counties today are all but totally Democratic.

As Anne said, she lives in a liberal community in Seattle where her children will likely never run across conservatives. I live in a community in Maryland where every elected official from local office to federal is a Democrat, making my family an anomaly.

According to Murray, we also increasingly only marry people of the same educational background, which wasn’t the case 50 years ago.

And when we do go to church, we self-segregate again, with liberals frequently attending one set of churches and conservatives another. A bigger problem perhaps is that the number of people who consider themselves “unaffiliated” is skyrocketing. October poll data from The Pew Forum on Religion and the States shows that 20 percent of Americans and 33 percent of those younger than 30 report no religious affiliation. That is up from 15 percent of all Americans five years ago.

Church is one of the best places to become part of a community. It is not the only reason for going, but it is a great benefit of shared faith. We had only been attending our church four months when Elsa was born, but the outpouring of meals delivered to our home was remarkable. We lived in a wave-at-your -neighbor kind of neighborhood in Baltimore City at the time, but no one cooked for us — and we didn’t expect it. That’s what happens when everyone is living their own life disconnected from one another and caught up in the tyranny of the now.

It’s an isolating way to live, one that makes it easy to demonize those who do not share your beliefs and misread the culture. Why do you think so many people thought Mitt Romney was going to win with a landslide?

Murray argues that religion is one of the four “founding virtues,” along with industriousness, honesty and marriage, that made us great and are now being discarded by most Americans of every race at our great moral peril. And economic, too. Just type “fiscal cliff” into a search engine to see why.

As he says, “The drift away from those qualities … is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it has been: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth and immeasurably precious.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her work at www.martamossburg.com. Write her at marta@martamossburg.com.

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