Conversational Politics

Over at Pharyngula, PZ Myers recently posted his thoughts on an article by Jennifer Fulwiler called The Catholic's Guide to Atheists. That was the first I had heard of Jennifer Fulwiler. When I browsed her blog at the National Catholic Register, I was more disturbed by a different post: Confessions of an Apolitical Housewife.

Backing up: Who is Jennifer Fulwiler and what did she write that caught PZ Myers' attention? Jennifer Fulwiler is a self-described "cradle atheist" who has now converted to Catholicism and is writing a book about her conversion experience. She also keeps her own blog on the same subject and blogs at the National Catholic Register.

Her recent blog post, The Catholic's Guide to Atheists, irritated a lot of nonbelievers. In it, she claims to know "how atheists think" and tries to clear up 5 misconceptions about nonbelievers. Many atheists, including myself, largely disagree with what she has to say on the subject. If you're curious about it, you can read her post for yourself or read PZ Myers' take on it.

Instead of responding to her points on how atheists think, I'd like to address her somewhat lighthearted entry called Confessions of an Apolitical Housewife. In this post, Fulwiler describes her political ignorance and lack of interest in current events around the world. She includes the following pretend conversation, which she says is only a slight exaggeration of her social interactions:
FRIEND: What do you think about Libya?
ME: Who’s she?
FRIEND: Umm, the country.
ME: Oh, right. Libya. I’m sure it’s lovely.
FRIEND: Uhh, you know they’re in the midst of a revolution, right?
ME: There’s a revolution in Libya? Wow, crazy. I hope that works out.
FRIEND: I was going to ask you what you think NATO should do about Gaddafi, but I guess that would be a total waste of time.
ME: Unless this Nate O. guy is someone here at the party and Gaddafi is one of the appetizers, yeah. It’d be a waste of time.
FRIEND: [Pretends to choke on a carrot stick to avoid having to talk to me any further.]
The reasons Fulwiler gives for not taking the time to brush up on world news (or politics closer to home) are that she is busy being pregnant with her fifth child, homeschooling her other four and doing "a bit of writing to help [her] unwind at the end of the day."

Jennifer Fulwiler has the right to live her life in any way she chooses. However, if she is going to publicly post her ideas online or write them in a published book, there are going to be people who voice opposing points of view. I have an opposing point of view.

I do not consider myself to be an expert on current world events or on American politics. I don't "spend hours each day ruminating on the conflict in Libya or brainstorming about possible new government infrastructures for Egypt." (Which she--perhaps jokingly--implies would be the alternative to remaining purposefully ignorant about current events.)

I do think that it is important to know what is happening around the world and within our own country. Politics affect many aspects of our daily lives, whether we want to admit it or not. As a parent, I feel an even greater responsibility to help my children understand current affairs and how events around the world can affect people everywhere.

The problem with Fulwiler's apolitical stance is that she has put herself in positions where she influences other people. She homeschools her children and she writes articles which encourage particular thoughts and beliefs in her readers. In my opinion, both of these roles should involve a willingness to learn as much as possible about what is happening in all parts of the world.

It bothers me when she makes it sound like raising a family and staying informed about current events are mutually exclusive. Many people do both. It also bothers me when she makes it sound like world events are only important to those who already have political interests. Start paying attention to what's happening in the world, and your interest (and understanding) will grow.

It doesn't take a big effort. Check in with Google News once or twice a day. You can see various topics at a glance, quickly find key events that are happening around the world, and even add special sections for particular areas of interest. You can also listen to NPR when carting the kids to their activities, or get a news app (or several) for your Smartphone.

We are living in the Information Age; there's no excuse for encouraging anyone to be ignorant of what's happening in the world around us.

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