Last year, when I was still in Sonoma County, California, planning a move to Boise, an acquaintance sounded a warning.
“You know there are a lot of Christians in Idaho, right?”
The way he said this—leaning-in, hushed-tones, word-to-the-wise—definitely caught my attention.
“And why would that be a problem?” I said.
My dialogue partner, a proud progressive whose vehicle displayed a “Celebrate Diversity” bumper sticker, shifted his posture abruptly, as if positioning himself. The curtain had opened on another scene in the kabuki theater of polarized ideas now sweeping the nation.
“No,” he said. “I’m talking fundamentalist Christians.” His voice and expression were solemn. You know the way people who claim to be broadminded and inclusive often get when being contemptuous of viewpoints other than their own? That kind of solemn.
“So the most dangerous Christians are those who take their faith seriously?”
He didn’t appear pleased with this turn in the conversation. I was up for a pleasant exchange of views, but his aim was to score points. He seemed to be looking for an exit strategy.
In fairness, I’ve done my share of this sort of loaded rhetorical maneuvering. I recognized his quandary.
My location advisor got one thing right—statistics confirm there are a lot of Christians here in beautiful Idaho. Safe to assume I probably cross paths with many each day. It’s hard to say for sure because nobody has yet come up and put me on notice: “You do you know I’m a Christian, right?”
Remarkably, not a single local zealot has tried to smite me for heresy or stone me for blasphemy, Old Testament style. Given that the sins I merely consider committing on an average day could easily put me in the bull’s-eye of serious wrath, I’m much obliged for the leniency. Hoping the lucky streak holds.
Did I mention that before leaving California after more than three decades, quite a few progressives also cautioned that I would find large numbers of “right-wingers” in the Gem State? Some would advocate things like limited government, personal freedom, individual responsibility. Many would certainly be armed—you know, with actual firearms, locked and loaded, toting pocket-sized constitutions, the whole nine yards.
These warnings invariably came with ominous undertones. “You know what you’re getting yourself into?”
Now that I’m established in Boise, there’s no denying what I’ve gotten myself into—steel yourself, big news coming. What I seem to be settling into is a community where the predominant vibe is: live-and-let-live.
I can’t say this really surprises me. It’s the attitude I extend to fellow humans every day. Experience has taught me that being open to, and respectful of, the opinions and behavior of others, as a rule of thumb, is a fine strategy for getting along, not to mention good etiquette.
Simple manners, remember those? I sometimes fall short, but that doesn’t cancel the norm.
Here’s another thing I’ve learned from experience: People who hold religious or political views that might diverge from mine, don’t automatically merit me presuming them “dangerous.” But that was exactly the supposition taken as truth by my numerous California confidantes regarding large groupings of Idahoans they hadn’t met and knew nothing about.
Ironically, few of them bothered to ask what my political views might actually be. All the easier to assume the guy questioning assumptions must be some paleo-conservative. Even more fun: their flummoxed look when I identify myself as a liberal, a classical or original liberal (emphasis on freedom of thought, speech, assembly, worship, enterprise).
Psychologists have a concept, “projection,” for the process by which individuals attribute to others what’s actually going on in their own minds. Easy example: people who are unknowingly self-critical may be hypersensitive about people being critical of them.
Or people who claim to dig diversity, casually assuming other people dangerous, based solely on their peacefully held views and practices.
My earnest alarm-sounders weren’t wrong about the dangers of intolerant people. It’s like they didn’t know where to look. Sometimes a mirror is a really good place to start.
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Keith Thompson, author of “Angels and Aliens,” has written for The New York Times and Esquire. He now makes his home in Boise, Idaho. His website is thompsonatlarge.com.
Tags: California, Classical Liberal, Diversity, Free Speech, Keith Thompson