There is a reason why there is the old adage of never discussing politics and religion in polite company. They are both very similar in nature. Both have a strong “us” vs. “them” mentality – a mentality that must be maintained by any group wanting to control individual lives. The “us” are always correct, insightful, progressive, and enlightened individuals. The “them” are ignorant Neanderthals holding back progress, refusing to see what is so clearly obvious, and bent on destroying society as it should be. While the “us” vs. “them” mentality is usually limited to rhetoric, occasionally it spills out into actual hatred and violence.
Religion and politics both have their conservatives and liberals and both can be equally nasty in the “us” vs. “them” war that they carry on. In addition, the lines are usually not neatly drawn. What is considered as conservative by one group could be looked at with distain by an even more conservative group who sees the others position or belief as a compromise of true core values. (Ditto for the liberal side as well.) The partisan politics in Washington, some of the vitriolic rhetoric coming from some in Tea Party movement, and, of course, the nasty infighting among various religious groups are all examples.
Recently an article published by a Michael Lind in Salon called Mythical Politics starting me thinking about this age old conflict once again. (I highly recommend reading the full article.)
“Put the myths of the ancient constitution and the early church together, and you have a view of history as decline from an original state of perfection, in politics and also in religion. Innovation is equated with tyranny in politics and heresy in religion. Virtue consists of defending what is left of the old, more perfect system and, if possible, restoring the original government or church. Progress is redefined as regress — movement away from the wicked present toward the pure and uncorrupted past.”
I vividly remember the retoric of the Calvinistic group I was associated with on the “golden” past of the church. In this “golden” age, children were always well behaved and serious, marriages were stronger, believers took their religion seriously, and worship was pure. Of course, believing in such mythology shows a remarkable ignorance of history. The church was never without problems. Preachers in all ages were upset with the lack of spirituality from their congregations. The seemly lack of purpose and seriousness in young adults was often decried and the idyllic marriages of the past were limited to old TV shows. Yet, returning to the “old paths” is a common them in many religious groups. Pointing out the obvious – that such a time and place never existed – usually falls on deaf ears. As Michael Lind says:
“As in other cases of mythological politics, like messianic Marxism, this kind of thinking is resistant to argument. If you disagree, then that simply proves that you are part of the conspiracy. Inconvenient facts can be explained away by the true believers.”
Politics and religion often has very little use for facts. You believe the leaders, follow them passionately and try not to analyze the belief system. Charisma helps as does having an unchanging authoritative book that has the answer to all things. It also helps to have simple answers for the complexity of life and a black and white belief system. For instance Billy Graham was once quoted as saying:
“I do believe we have the responsibility to obey the law. No matter what the law may be—it may be an unjust law—I believe we have a Christian responsibility to obey it.” (The Price of War)
Such a belief may make your life simpler but what do you do with legalized slavery, discrimination, warfare and genocide? Obey the law or fight against it? Seek to change it or submit to it?
Whether it comes to religion or politics, realize that there was no “golden” age. Don’t blindly follow some charismatic self-appointed leader. Think. Check the facts. Follow the evidence.
In relation to politics Michael Lind says: “The American Revolution was a beginning, not an end. The real equivalents today of the American revolutionaries are those who view the republic, not as an 18th-century utopia to be restored with archaeological exactitude, but as a work in progress to which every generation of Americans can contribute.”
The same can be said of religion. While religion may have served a purpose in the past, there never was a religious utopian world. It’s time to shed the worship of and belief in a non-existent, mythological god and come to grips with the fact that we are all in this together. There is no “us” vs. “them”, only “we”. It is up to all of us to work together for a better future. No god will help us. No god will intervene.