There are only two topics in my conversation repertoire that I actively try to avoid.
The first one is politics. It only takes one wrong political opinion to lose a would-be or even already close friend. Often we tend to become dogmatic in our approach to politics, resulting in a fine line between nearly every conceivable issue between the different political sects currently battling over the most recent hot topic.
The second is religion, a subject I have neglected to write about in my stint as an opinion columnist for fear of the overwhelming diversity of the students here at West Virginia University, many of whom show the same dogmatic trait that others save for politics.
However, with the recent, debatably scandalous retirement of the Catholic pope, I've realized that these two incredibly powerful topics, which have both built and destroyed nations, are not so different from one another.
Despite the obvious example of the pope, whom many considered a more powerful leader than any prime minister or president, the religious-political relationship is not exactly a novel idea; just Google "are most Republicans" and let the search engine suggest the most popular questions, which, in order, end the sentence with "religious," "rich," and "racist." Do the same with Democrats, and the most common are whether Democrats are "atheists," "liberals," and "poor."
To translate the findings of my little self-produced study, most people on Google are very concerned about the religious standings of these parties. What is notably missing from these categories, or conspicuously lower on the list of suggestions Google offers, are basic, fundamental questions about the two parties. Even if more Republicans are Christian and Democrats atheist (neither of which I can confirm), a religious belief should not be the top motivating factor, or even an issue at all, when researching politics. The separation of church and state, while perhaps on the surface a successful venture, is apparently a primary characteristic associated with these political parties.
But there is something else that I find interesting about the correlation between religion and politics: the overwhelming popularity of these two subjects. Just take a look at the paper in your hands or turn on CNN; it's obvious that this still hot-button issue is such an inherent part of the human race that we have begun to use it against each other.
And it is that issue, the one that concerns a person's inherent worth, or substance, or whatever it is people look for in a friend that disturbs me the most.
It's not just that a "wrong" opinion or two can put someone in hot water. And it's beyond the horrifying religious wars waged throughout history and the low-blow political debates I've had the misfortune of watching.
My real problem with using these two subjects to form an opinion on a person is that there is no right or wrong answer. There is nothing more "right" about being a Republican or a Democrat. There is nothing better or worse about being Muslim or Jewish.
And the reason there's no completely, one hundred percent correct political opinion or religion to uphold is because, when it comes down to these two subjects - and only these two subjects - we have absolutely, indisputably, no idea.
I don't care about your religious experience that led you to Buddha or God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And I don't want to hear about why one political opinion is better than another for x,y, and z reasons.
Because, at the end of the day, if there was one true political path to take, or one completely understood and provable higher power, then that would be the end. There would be no more wars or genocides or nuclear bombing. And, perhaps more frightening, no one would have anything to talk about.
Perhaps this is why these subjects stand the test of time; there is always some new side of the debate to focus on and pick over. But in reality, we do this because both politics and religion are the two topics we have no sound data to analyze and no instructions to follow. Of all the certainties in life, there are only two, overwhelmingly important topics that are essentially gaping black holes staring back at us.
So before you bring up the topic of politics or religion, stop and think for a moment how little we humans know about these two subjects - certainly not enough to use against each other. Rather than the teachings of religious and political figures, remember instead a lesson from Socrates, a man not of politics or religion, who said that the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
And I'll be the first to admit that I'm clueless.
Molly Robinson is a native of Wheeling and a sophomore biology student at West Virginia University. She has been published in WVU's undergraduate literary magazine the Calliope and is an opinion columnist for the Daily Athenaeum. When not writing, she can be found buried beneath piles of organic chemistry homework in the campus library or looking at pictures of cats online.