pERSPECTIVES ON RELIGION & POLITICS
An Introductory Note
by V.V. Raman
Confession: After reading the reflections of my Irasian fellows, I find myself groping toward phrases likesensual empiricism, imaginative pragmatism, and mystical realism. Such terms seem necessary to define my personal and perhaps ineffable brand of naturalism – something sufficiently multidimensional to satisfy the longings of a scientific mind, a hedonistic body, and an idealistic soul.
But whatever it is, it was forged long ago, imprinted while riding the magenta sunset wind at atop my favorite Douglas fir, reveling in vital resonance with the rhythms and harmonies of nature, alone yet ecstatically connected to All That Is. To experience the rapturous beauty and infinite mystery of nature, gave the most meaningful grounding to the concept of God. After that, no church could ever convince me that any aspect of nature was fallen, that any Divine Creator could have so bungled the job.
I suppose my naturalism is a catalytic mix of physicalism and idealism that puts consciousness - and indeed emotion – at the center of the spiritual experience. In that way I am akin to a naïve realist, trusting that all the evidence we need can be found through our sensory equipment. But I define “nature” not only by what I see with any outward, objective focus, but in terms of an inner subjective dimension as well. An inner realm, one with more far-ranging expanses into which consciousness can ebb and flow as it does in dreams, without the customary waking focus in time and space, or even identity; a realm with its own inner sensory qualia.
In humans this is the unconscious intuitive realm, and it subserves ideas like the Jungian collective unconscious, or even to the Platonic realm of ideal forms. But it is also fully physically embodied, perhaps a Bohmian sort of implicate order percolating within an infinite multiverse at our quantum core. But for me, it symbolizes nature’s patterned in-forming processes, and perhaps harbors the mystery of physical information itself – the difference that makes a difference. Yet its functional meaning is prelinguistic, rooted in the binary properties of matter in motion: up/down spin, positive/negative charge, electromagnetic attraction/repulsion, and positive and negative feedback. Indeed, in my metaphysic, the concept of feedback is primary, giving rise to binary computations, a self-organizing computational code tantamount of the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang – one that living systems harnessed early on in the first crude forms of sentience. This is the physical substrate from whence emerges the binary code within human emotion, vitally informing all evaluative perceptions and thoughts. So mine is a process theology with a relational metaphysics, yielding a pantheistic lens on life.
To be clear, there is nothing supernatural about my position, as nature in my lexicon encompasses All That Is, All That Was, and All That Ever Might Be, including what Stuart Kauffman proposes as “res potentia” that holds its own ontological validity. But I find the anthropomorphism and neurocentricity of traditional scientific paradigms as limiting as the religious doctrines that sully the creation or abdicate responsibility for our place within it. So my approach also engenders the humility and courage to transcend the boundaries of our objective awareness and traditional belief structures to encompass the infinite mystery of creativity itself, the potentially boundless adjacent possibilities that may lie within and beyond, betwixt and between the imaginal and the manifest. This view honors the idea of Indra’s web, yet it is also captured by the mathematically relational patterns of matter in motion exhibited by self-organizing systems with network nodes and nested fractal structures – wherein parts and wholes ever shift, flow, and feed back within one another and binary computational patterns emerge. Yet the ever-shifting fractal boundary between inner and outer dimensions, between self, not-self, and not-yet-self, is also the space where an organism meets, enacts and cocreates its environment – whether it be with branes (membranes) or brains. It is the physical source of our biological memory systems, our genetic and epigenetic and regulatory mechanisms, and the excitable cells and nerve nets and that give rise to sensory motor control, foster compatible free will, and primary instinctive ways of knowing – the feeling of what is happening to the self in time and space.
As such, my naturalism honors the late, great, Gordon Kaufman’s methodological prescriptions, wherein experience itself is central to theological musings. Indeed, such a metaphysical expanse is required in order to explain the rich variety of subjective perceptions, emotional resonances, and spiritual sojourns that I have personally experienced. They are also necessary for honoring such scientific mysteries as creative genius, child prodigies, autistic savants, multiple personal disorder, and even schizophrenia – not to mention the mysteries of time, space, and consciousness themselves.
Yet there is also no room in this picture for the time-honored dichotomy between good and evil, or the traditional divides between mind and body, and there is no us- against-them-competitive mentality. There is only a divine unity of infinite diversity, a sacred self-organizing sonata on the ground of Being and Becoming, wherein each component “self” in the creative process has its own unique potential value to make manifest via the divine dance that is life.
Comments on their views may be posted in the IRASNET or IRASRN listserves.
Religion & Politics
Some years ago when my wife and I were visiting university lecturers in Denmark, a colleague there expressed puzzlement at the frequent references in the press to a “church-state” conflict in the United States. “We had one of those in Denmark,” he said, “Centuries ago. The state won. Isn’t that the natural outcome?” It is, of course, the “natural outcome.” It is the normal human condition, in most places and for most of history, that the state, the politicians, are in control of the things they can and want to be in control of, and that has usually included the institutional church.
This control may express itself in various ways - from the local pastor being a government employee as in Denmark, sermons being dictated by the government as in some Muslim countries, or the principal government functionaries being the principal religious authorities (I would describe the Ayatollah in Iran as a political ruler identifying himself as a religious authority rather than the other way around.) Do Christians remember (as Jews do) that at the time of Jesus, the High Priest in Jerusalem was essentially selected by the Roman army? In many other cases the political authority bends a theoretically independent religious leadership to cooperate with it, as in Nazi Germany or at times in the former Soviet sphere of influence.
In the United States today, the relationship between religion and the state is rather tightly and artificially controlled, despite the fact that those living inside a situation may regard it as “normal.” Yet we are aware that political candidates are required to state that their religious views inform their values, and are equally required to state that their actions are not determined by their specific religious doctrines (Kennedy and Romney are prime examples.) Pastors and church governing bodies often feel very much restricted in what they can say publicly, citing “we must not endanger our tax exemption.
Religious issues in the United States enter public discourse, on the whole, when it serves political convenience. It was when the political fund-raisers discovered that having politicians talk about abortion and homosexuality would raise money and bring out single-issue voters that these topics became “religious” issues in the public eye.
Churches (and other houses of worship) pass the plate far more often for feeding the hungry, healing the sick, caring for the widow and orphan or the victim of plague or catastrophe, but public statements from church leaders on abortion and homosexuality get press and public attention; religious calls to favor a candidate who supports healing the sick and caring for the widow and orphan are sparse in the press and perhaps even in the pulpit.
And yet, religion has influenced society and even politics. Despite doctrinal differences, most religions have shared the values of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, caring for the widow and orphan. In very recent times, many societies have come to accept that these are activities in which the government should take a concern. The rhetoric differs a great deal from place to place - the language may be socialist as in much of Europe, or fundamentalist as from Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood, but the notion that the government should be helping with these services rather than simply providing national defense and police control is far more widespread in the world than it was a few centuries ago. The Arab Spring showed that religion focused on these issues can have a political impact. Many European strikes and the Occupy Movement in the US may well stem from the same values, values which I believe originated in religious discourse, even if the rhetoric is different.
Thoughts on Politics & religion
In discussions of the interaction of religion and politics, secularists with some frequency voice the view that religiously based motivations do not belong in the political arena. Rather, it is said that public policy decisions should be reached solely on the bases of facts, reasoning and motivations that are equally accessible to all participants in the debate. Some claim that when public officials, or even private citizens, derive some or all of the values that animate their decisions from their religious beliefs, they are in effect trying to establish their religion in violation of the First Amendment (if, of course, we are talking about the United States).
But the First Amendment protects two rights relating to religion: it prohibits the establishment of religion, but it also prohibits restrictions on the free exercise of religion. What could more clearly violate the right of free exercise than a principle forbidding a person to take her religious views into account when acting in the political sphere (for example, when deciding how to vote)?
It is obvious enough that free exercise rights are violated if one is prohibited from worshipping as she wishes. It is obvious enough that a prohibition against establishment is violated if the state appropriates money to support my religion and not yours. But let us consider the relative importance of those two principles. It has often been pointed out that in many European countries, including the source of so many of our legal traditions, England, an established, state-supported religion, combined with free exercise rights for those who do not accept it, has not prevented the increasingly thorough secularization of society (to a far greater degree than the United States). Both intuitively and empirically, free exercise is more important to freedom than non-establishment.
The tensions within free exercise, without reference to establishment, are dynamic and not susceptible to solution through the promulgation of pristine logical categories. If respect for individual autonomy and a lack of intrusion by the state into the deepest recesses of one’s mind are among our most fundamental values, those values will be violated if we are told that our religious views (whether they be for or against a particular religious position) cannot motivate us in deciding what kind of society we would like to live in and what our laws should encourage and prohibit. But if we want to encourage or prohibit actions and policies that someone else, also acting with religious motivation, finds anathema, who is to give way?
In any democratic legal system only constitutional rights and a mechanism to enforce them can ultimately stand against majority sentiment (setting aside the possibility of constitutional amendment). That is why the protection of rights not found in the explicit text of the U.S. Constitution – most notoriously, abortion – is so controversial. Despite my downgrading of the relative importance of non-establishment from a comparative law perspective, the First Amendment’s establishment clause has also provided important protections in the United States against teaching religious alternatives to evolution in science classes. In other advanced democracies (as well as China), however, teaching orthodox science has not been problematic despite the general absence of constitutional provisions equivalent to the establishment clause.
But enough of the law. What of wisdom? It is folly not to educate our children using the best knowledge to which we have access, and like others I fear for my country’s failure to see to it that its citizens have access to a sound scientific education. Public policy that is not based on sound knowledge will have unsound results (even if the employment of sound knowledge does not guarantee wise policy). Failures in that respect are as much or more attributable to short-sighted greed and fear as to religious intrusions into the realm of fact, but religion plays a significant role. Armed with the power to legislate, I would therefore require a high-quality scientific education of the entire populace and consultation with the best scientific authorities on all aspects of public decision making. That would not prevent the imposition of religiously informed laws requiring or restricting behavior, as ill-advised as some of those requirements or restrictions might be, but it would undermine assertions of faith-based certainty. If, again, one values individual autonomy – and I do – and if, pragmatically, we want relative social peace, I see no alternative to this approach in our current historical circumstances. Politics is a necessary part of society, even if suppressed in a tyranny, and openness in its practice is the glory of democracy. The faith that it will lead to acceptable results is founded on a bet; we can only do our best to improve our odds.
religion & politics
"Religion and Politics" is an important reason why I'm a member of IRAS. My thoughts on the topic are in four parts:
In Ledewitz' statement he has a fascinating critique of the type of Religious Naturalism he discovered at the 2011 conference. I'll come back to it in my Item #4 that is relevant to "Religion and Politics".
2) The following is a list of some of my beliefs regarding religion and politics that may be familiar to many people reading this:
4) Finally, I'd like to address the topic of what could be the role of IRAS on the topic of Religion and Politics. I recommend visiting the pages on this website dedicated to Visions for the Future of IRAS. Most of these visions on the future of IRAS can have a healthy effect on the future of politics in the United States. I worry however that there is an obstacle in IRAS' welcoming people with deep religious beliefs. It even turned off Bruce Ledewitz who is secular (see item 1). I think a sign of the obstacle is the Campion Statement developed for the 50thAnniversary of IRAS. It begins with: "We at IRAS take the natural world seriously as a primary source of meaning." Our present Mission Statement is the Campion Statement preceded by a few extra comments. I worry that by beginning with that first sentence we are turning away potential progressive religious folks, even secularists like Ledewitz, who are needed for making the political changes society needs. Phil Hefner ends his "Future of IRAS" comment with "Further, the Mission Statement may well need re-casting. I propose this agenda out of my desire to see IRAS fulfill the important vision upon which it was founded—to make a genuinely profound contribution to world culture at this critical moment in history."
An Absolutely necessary wall of separation
I am a member of Americans United because I believe in its purpose. It promotes the US constitutional principle of state/church separation ensuring religious freedom for all Americans. Our founding fathers wisely recognized this. Keeping government and religion free of each other’s influences - it works both ways - has resulted in the greatest religious freedom in history. Freedom of belief or disbelief is necessary for the freedom of human consciousness.
The right to be Catholic or Jew, to practice as you wishes and pass it on to your children, is an inalienable right. Living your philosophical life as you wish without interference or repression from single minded religious doctrines is fundamental to being a free person. It is wrong for any government to interfere with a deeply personal matter. It is equally wrong for any faith to have the ability provided by government to impose its way. A wall of separation helps prevent this. That wall is built in a political arena.
When a particular religious belief is taught in public schools, anti-science intelligent design is included in science classes, taxpayers must subsidize religious schools and government bodies and property are used to promote one religion over another, the camel has its nose in the tent. As Barry Goldwater remarked”his body will soon follow”. Horace Scudder’s fable The Arab and His Camel ends with the moral: "It is a wise rule to resist the beginnings of evil."
The biggest danger of a state/church coalition is one church will rule and the others will be persecuted. If you look around the world today and its history, you will see this has happened. Another danger is religious wars are usually fought for earthly political power. The authoritative nature of the 3 western religions - Judaism, Christianity (especially Catholicism) and Islam – result is their desire to rule politically. They believe their laws of God will trump the laws of governments and thus those laws must prevail.
Religious wars are bloodier than political wars. When god is claimed to support the action, any atrocity is permitted. “Praise and gratitude be to Allah…….I shot him in the head, and his head exploded,’ Nashami recounted “We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa, and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We asked Allah to accept (these pious acts) from us and from him.” – Joyous Killing". But they are most horrible when religion and politics are combined as happened in the Holocaust. Hitler’s program was an effective political one. He linked the need for political unity and control to making the minority Jews sacrificial lambs. The devoted Christian majority did not oppose this. Sort of scary isn’t it?
We will never free politics from religious thinking and we should not, but it must not dominate. If it does the question becomes which belief shall be the one to rule? Although morality is a cornerstone of religion, it must be implemented in the public arena. Has there ever been a religion without its internal politics? Such desires for power and implementation are now playing out in the politics of the US elections.
Is the 2012 election between the political agenda of Democrats (socialists), Republicans (capitalists) and Libertarians (less government) or is it between the religious positions in the party platforms on abortion, creation vs evolution, altruism, gay marriage, funding to religious schools, euthanasia, prayer in public schools, social engineering, aid to religious charities and faith-based welfare grants. The lack of the word "God" in the Democrat platform became an issue. The Republican platform made more than ten references to God. Cardinal Dolan provided both parties with the protection of Divine Providence for their conventions adding “we are indeed one nation under God and in God we trust.” But I don’t consider myself under a God who I don’t belief in. The almighty God, father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus was recognized but not Allah, Thor, Krishna, Gaia, or one of the tens of thousands of others. It was not very ecumenical, suggesting a lack of tolerance; par for the course. Why not simply say we are indeed a nation under law and in ourselves we must trust. No need for God.
Religion & politics
Richard S. Gilbert
When Henry David Thoreau was warned that there were two topics he should never address in his lectures—politics and religion—he responded, “I can’t speak of anything else.” Religion and politics have always been interwoven. The Hebrew prophets, believing they were “mouthpieces of God,” ranted and raved about Israel’s politics. Jesus upset both political and religious authorities with his teachings, and tipped over the tables of the money-changers in the temple to prove he was serious. Mahatma Ghandi, asked whether he was a saint or a politician, replied, “I am a politician trying my hardest to be a saint.”
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions .... Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot.” G. K. Chesterton described America as “The nation with the soul of a church.”
The tradition of the Election Sermon flourished in Massachusetts, usually given at the opening session of the General Courts. While the sermons were not openly partisan, the preachers did not confine themselves to pious platitudes, but often made pointed suggestions on public policy. As historian Conrad Wright wrote: “In the decades prior to the Revolution, the preachers gave instruction in the political theory of John Locke, and thereby prepared public opinion for revolt.”
Like it or not, our world is political. It has to do with the way we live and how we die. Politics – in Greek “polis” or the city – is often defined as “the art of the possible” – who gets what, when and how.
Religion – from “religio,” the act of “binding together,” is the art of adding the disturbing question–why? What does our political life mean religiously?
But how can religion engage in politics when we affirm Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state? There can be no official “established” faith as in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. At the same time, religious freedom cannot be curtailed by the state. Religious communities are participants in the great conversation taking place in democracy’s public square.
There are limits on the role of organized religion. Preachers may not endorse a candidate from the pulpit lest the church lose its tax exempt status. However, clergy may preach and congregations may debate and act on any public issue. There is a difference between being partisan – allying oneself with a particular party – and being political – engaging in the great civic conversation.
As Theodore Parker said, “Democracy is not what we have, but what we do.”
The religious task is to create a spiritual center with a civic circumference, not to be partisan, but to ask the moral questions that empty the room:
Politics, however, is an expression of faith; it is not faith itself. Politicians come and go - parties win and lose - but life abides - in birth, suffering, joy and death. The ultimate human issues persist even as public issues swirl about our heads. Not all human problems are "solved" by politics, and religious communities grapple not only with proximate political issues but also help us confront the ultimate issues of human existence.
These words of 13th century Persian Sufi poet Rumi, put everything into perspective:
“Inside the Great Mystery that is,
We don’t really own anything.
What is this competition we feel then,
Before we go, one at a time, through the same gate?”
Gandhi. Source unknown.
Alexis De Tocqueville. Democracy in American. Part 2, Chapter XVII.
G. K. Chesterton. Source unknown.
Conrad Wright, “The Election Sermon.” Boston: UUA, 1968, p. 8.
Religion & politics
It may seem inappropriate that someone irreligious and apolitical would be asked to reflect on religion and politics. Such outsiders are usually seen as partial in the worst possible way. Differently religious or political, even very different, is usually deemed much less offensive than brute denial, obliquely casting doubt on the value of the great cultural battles.
Typically deniers are shunned, assigned to a caste of the intellectual despised, the philosophic Harijan. It may make no difference to whether we are stoned - the old religious sense - but I humbly suggest in our defence that we may not be rudely partial. We may have taken up a posture that is simply equidistant from all other positions in religions and politics. For any doubters of such mental gymnastics, with a little higher math it can be shown that an ‘n’ dimensional metaphysical space allows for such. Hey, if it’s OK for physicists….
Recently I was readying myself for the great TV debate - cold beer, pretzels, comfy couch, battery removed from cell phone. All of which suddenly made me think of Michael Cavanaugh – renowned lawyer/philosopher, part time ethologist and full time supporter of some football team I’ve never heard of.
The show started and the moderator introduced the participants - one of the Richard Dawkins atheo-clones versus some redoubtable theologian whom I’d never heard of, but I’m sure is equally famous in theo country. Most likely, fans of our various culture wars assumed that in the above I was referring to my anticipation of another headline match – round two of the great political debate in the USA. Which brings me to Michael Cavanaugh and football and ethology.
The above description of my excited preparation might apply equally to some televised tournament in religion or in politics. In fact I might have been about to sit down with Michael to watch a football match. So what’s going on that such widely different cultural events can engender equivalent mindsets in the observer?
As an eclectic ethologist, versed in primatology, Michael would be able to explain what was going on in general in all such cultural contests, socially and psychologically. He might even have explained what he and I were doing excitedly watching and cheering for the home side together. Michael could do this with considerable facility, not just because he is well versed in the study of the human condition, but I suggest it’s the same description whether the contest be religion or politics …or football.
When I listen to primatologists drawing parallels between human behaviour and that of our various close cousins I often get the feeling I’m hearing a put down. ‘See! What you vainly thought our exclusive species cultural property is actually shared by our lowly animal relatives.’
Important as it is for us for our species ego to regularly take a cold shower, the comments above are not meant as some kind of cultural put down, of politics or religion ……or football. Yes, it’s all generically very primate, but I say that with all the blinkered enthusiasm of the home team supporter.
All such public contests, including our role as invested observers, is pure theatre. But this is a very odd kind of theatre. It’s odd because of how we think about what we are doing, and how far this is from what is really going on. At a movie or play we understand at least to some degree that it’s theatre. Though it can be surprisingly difficult to keep this differentiation clear in our minds, even when the props are manifestly obvious.
The theatre of political and religious debate has the odd property that in spite of our being fully aware of the ’props’ – of carefully staging and script, of practiced lines and rehearsed argument and counter argument, of an audience comprised of ‘them’ and ‘us’ – we can totally invest.
The ‘actors’ deliver lines and arguments as if they arose from their very soul.
As the folk story goes these events are about the free exchange and debate of ideas intended to generate higher understanding whilst an impartial audience judges the outcome.
The reality is this is all football in different arenas .... but without the honesty of the football match.
We are protected from any discomfort about our role in this participatory unreality by the conviction that beneath it all, well back behind the doings of our primate selves, something much more substantial is going on.
In the political sphere (in private), contestants may well admit to their public theatre role. The standard justification is ‘It’s critical to achieving power so that my necessarily private, but thoroughly worthy, intentions can be translated into social reality.’ The claimant may or may not really believe this; and it may or may not be true, whatever the eventual outcome.
In the sphere of religious debate, a different look is usually required. It’s not quite so OK to admit even privately that a religious debate is a piece of theatre designed to achieve some ulterior purpose, however worthwhile. In this arena we are expected to be 'ourselves,' so to speak. But the same questions apply. What is actually going on, and how much do the actors and the audience even know about this.
Now politics and religion is about much more than public contest. In the widest sense both claim to be about what is, and what should be, and how to get there. They involve organisation, belief and ritual, matched to a wide range of psychosocial needs; some we are comfortable with and some we would rather ignore or deny. Unsurprisingly they are often close coupled and in some cases identical.
Many if not most of these functions have recognizable correlates in our primate relatives. We may be a little shy about owning the more obviously primate of these impulses, needs and activities, but we usually comfort ourselves with a focus on the more abstract. For example religion might be claimed to be ultimately about meaning, and politics about social concern.
Given how well we unknowingly self deceive in the arena of public debate, there is an equivalent question mark over what is going on in the other (higher) arenas of religion and politics.
But I’d like to focus on just one aspect of this, the questions concerning religion and politics and our animal minds.
Here is the deeper question.
Lets assume for the moment that most of our beliefs about what actually takes place in religion and politics is the fantasy of species exceptionalism. We are as other critters – but with a larger hard drive.
Is there something in mind, actual or potential, that is different in kind to all other animal mind, and indeed to the rest of our own mind?
If so, do religion and politics express this or reveal anything of this?
Do they serve merely to obscure it?
Do they actively if unknowingly undermine it?
How would we know?
Religion, politics... and me
I asked myself in which respect I, as a citizen of the European Union, am concerned about religion interacting with politics, but however I turned it around, I always ended up with the much greater issue of mankind's near future on this planet, of how worldwide politics will change for better or worse under the fast growing existential pressures from all sides, driven by the menacing deterioration of this planet's climate system.
Will the peace securing processes by economical and political growing together of different societies, as the European Union seems to exemplify these days, driven by the pressures of ongoing economic and financial crises, overcome the simultaneously increasing tendencies to split up again into separate national units, ready to fight for their own economic survival on costs of the others, maybe ultimately destroying the whole peace securing political structure? It is probably not just a question of what political leaders think and decide, but a very much bigger question of system dynamics and maybe inevitably catastrophic developments under certain accumulated conditions and exceeded points of no return. It is the proverbial powder keg that is filling up with increasing speed, and it is doing so globally. There is no safe getaway spot left on this planet. We are finally caught up with ourselves and the consequences of our very successful social conquest of this confined planet's living spaces with its confined material resources. What will happen now?
It has become impossible not to think of it, and it is sad reality that in the meantime there is no single moment left when I am not aware of living in an end time. It is as if I was already living in my own past, in what will be soon a melancholic memory of for ever lost good times. Everything is still there and it is unimaginable that and how it will have to change, but it is also unimaginable that it will not have to change, that everything could go on like we are used to it here. There are pangs of real horror every time I confront myself with new scientific informations about the rapidly ongoing climate change and its escalation potentials. I do not doubt that this will be soon the most powerful and absolutely merciless driver of all other global crises, and I do not see any qualified hope for a benign way out of this quagmire for humankind. Every morning, before I turn on the radio to hear the latest world news, I take a deep breath and brace myself against what I might hear.
But, strangely, despite this pessimistic outlook, I find myself being not depressive. I have been fortunate to learn how to deliberately redraw my gaze from these reality nightmares and redirect it to the little clearing I have managed to build around myself as my immediate space of actions in the midst of the more and more impenetrable thicket of our human made second nature. I have learned to use the comforting powers of concentrating on the “how” of what I have to do anyway, instead of brooding on the “why” and “what for”. This might be just occupational therapy, but it actually helps and I am improving assorted skills this way. Sometimes I feel as if I was preparing myself for a task I will have to accomplish, the necessity of which I will understand only when the time has come. I am aware that this feeling is basically a religious feeling, as it expresses a deep hope for something like a hidden plan for my own existence and with it a meaning to human existence and history as a whole. It is the nearest possible approach to a religious stance accessible to me in the moment.
I know that I am extremely fortunate to live in so well ordered political and social circumstances that I am allowed to be “unpolitical” and “free thinking”. This might change rather quickly, and I, like everybody else, might be forced to take clear positions. I hope I will be able to do the right thing then, the human thing.
And always I am painfully aware of the inextricable and gruesome ethical paradox that it is our species' best, our ability to make and keep peace between always bigger entities of social aggregations which at the same time has earned us the problem of our species's massive overgrowth of this planet with all its destructive consequences. As for me, this dilemma eludes any rationally accessible moral interpretation, and I have given up on this.
Religious politicians might be better equipped to keep up hope and confidence in that time to come.
religion & politics
We pattern our thoughts and actions after the God or Gods we worship. Our gods are more a part of us than we realize. Only by understanding how we have defined them can we begin to understand the underlying forces that make us behave the way we do. How have we defined Yahweh, Allah, Jesus the Christ? How have we defined the Christian Trinitarian God?
Within the American psyche there is prideful obfuscation of religious differences. Americans are proud of their belief in “religious freedom” and separation. It is, after all, a part of their history. As a result, there is a political correctness that holds back any kind of religious discussion. Americans take comfort in pretending that the three religions that came from Abraham are all, in most respects, inherently good. Any kind of open criticism of particular religious belief in a negative sense is muted. Such discussion is sudden death for any politician who dares enter the arena.
For this reason, words are carefully chosen so as to be religiously correct. Meanings are obfuscated. Muslim suicide bombers are singled out and defined generically by the single word “terrorist”, while hateful Koranic references underlying their beliefs are carefully removed from the discourse. Americans therefore only know what terrorists are by that one generic name, not by how Islamic religious fanatics think and by what they religiously believe.
As with Muslims in the America, the same holds true for those American Jews who defend their fellow Orthodox Jews in Israel. As fanatical Israeli Orthodox Jews tenaciously hold on to land with a centuries old Palestinian claim, by their silence, American politicians and the American media defend an Israeli right to occupy that land. Orthodox Jews believe it was given to them in their Bible over three thousand years ago by Yahweh. Even though this brings on a feeling of bitter hatred and humiliation worldwide among hundreds of millions of Muslims, in the American press discussion of Palestinian Muslim rights and claims is muted. Nor is there any reference made to Muslim historical religious claims.
American Christianity is presented to the world in a cartoon distortion of its real first century meaning. Homophobic judgmental evangelicals overwhelm the voices of moderate Christians. Seldom does a moderate Christian appear on national TV. An unspoken political correctness has allowed these powerful religious extremists to take center stage and, while drowning out moderate voices, place on Christianity their own fundamentalist stamp of approval.
These self-appointed spokespersons for Christianity judgmentally lash out and attack those whom they choose to define as corrupted instruments of the devil. Only they are right. Everyone else is wrong. Only they have found true salvation. Only they will be saved. Only they have found the true definition of what American values are and are not. In their rhetoric they pronounce 9/11 as God’s punishment of a decadent, corrupted American society. In their exuberance they feel ordained to give their blessing to one presidential candidate over another.
History has shown that many of those behavioral patterns that grew out of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Christian New Testament have repeatedly violated the sanctity of human life, inflicting pain and suffering. As this was true in the past, it is true today.
Now, this attack on the sanctity of human life has extended to all of the species on this planet; including our own. As ecological tipping points are approaching, there is only muted alarm from the leaders of the three religions of Abraham. And, the politicians, as usual, remain silent. Religious leaders are offering little or no help. In fact, many of them, like the catholic Pope with his ruling on contraception, seem to be a major part of the problem.
So, in the political arena we see no challenge to the virulent forms of Abrahamic religious fundamentalism that have plagued human civilization for all these years and continue to plague it—and may lead it to its very end.
Copyright 2013 by The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science