Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Friday, July 14, 2017

Render Unto Caesar

I gave a nod at trying to decipher the merits of this piece.  The methodology seems pretty ad hoc and the causality is muddled.

But it did spur a thought I've been mulling over since my sojourn in Georgia.  I wonder how much of the toxicity of Republican politics is tied to its reliance on religious, especially evangelical, voters.

The modern creed of the GOP is faith.  Faith that tax cuts for the rich will create working class jobs.  Faith that the climate isn't really warming.  Faith that their vision of morality - at odds with the secular 21st century agenda on LGBT rights, marriage and abortion - is morally superior and should be the law of the land.

The opposite of Faith is not Doubt.  Doubt is simply the terrain Faith navigates.  The opposite of Faith is Evidence, and observable evidence is the backbone of the scientific method.  The Bible said a prophet made the sun stand still in the sky.  If you read that as literally true, you have to accept that A) the sun revolves around the earth or B) the laws of physics that keep us glued to the planet's surface don't exist.  The Bible has a creation story; the fossil record has a different creation story.  One exists on faith, one exists in evidence.

Once you commit yourself to the idea that there is an Invisible Sky Daddy who controls every facet of creation, you have to ask yourself: "What's up with the Holocaust/pediatric cancer/Sandy Hook/Syria?"  Let's just take Sandy Hook.  How come Invisible Sky Daddy couldn't convince the voices in Adam Lanza's head to make him swallow a bullet?  If he can make the earth stop rotating on its axis and keep everything from hurtling into the void of space, why couldn't he just stop 20 little kids and 6 of their teachers from getting slaughtered?

In order to square this circle, you have to avoid hard questions and uncomfortable evidence.  You have to convince yourself that there were dinosaurs on Noah's Ark.  You have to claim that Invisible Sky Daddy gets enraged when a gay couple gets married, but really couldn't be bothered to stop the Holocaust.

Once you take on that cognitive armor, it's pretty easy to keep it strapped on all the time.  And that is what they do.  They reject any idea that contradicts their existing viewpoint.  Crime is going up; Trump's Russia story is fake news; solar activity is causing rising temperatures.

Friedrich Schiller and Max Weber referred to the Enlightenment as the "disenchantment of the world."  Yet it is clear there are a sizable number of Americans who have turned their back on the very movement - the Enlightenment - that created the institutions of the United States.  It can be no surprise, therefore, that those who have turned their back on the Enlightenment are turning their backs on the institutions - notably the rule of law - that are essential of American democracy to survive.

That these re-enchanted Americans are comfortable with authoritarianism should come as no surprise.  Fundamentalist religion - whether Christianity, Islam or Judaism - is patriarchal and dictatorial to its core.  The Invisible Sky Daddy is nothing if not a Lord, a King, the Host of Hosts.  God demands you obedience and your enemies shall perish (read the Psalms; it's revenge poetry).  How is that different from what Trump promised them.  The fact that Trump makes a mockery of most of Jesus' teachings is irrelevant.  This isn't a theological or ethical discussion, it's a shibboleth.

The basic moral, ethical philosophy at the heart of all great religions is empathy, compassion and devotion to the divine in your fellow human beings and the world around you.  But the new magical evangelism isn't about those things.  It's about obedience to the word of God.

And obedience - blind, unquestioning obedience - is about as un-American a trait as I can think of.

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