There is such a thing as “the politics of religion.” Whenever a Pope needs to be replaced the Roman Catholic cardinals gather to appoint a new one. This is a political matter as much as it is a religious matter. Whenever factions within any religion try to gain greater influence for their views there is a political struggle that goes on. This invasion of politics into religion is not what I am going to write about and I want to make that clear right up front. I am not writing about the politics of religion. What I am interested in instead is the idea that politics can be a religion in and of itself, the religion of politics. Like Roman Catholicism and Hinduism, Conservatism and Liberalism can also be considered religions and I am going to attempt to show that.
One definition of politics is “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” Let’s focus on that last part, “the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” The heart of politics is the ongoing debate over public policy. In the process of that debate you have individuals struggling to prove that their policy views are the right choice and that their opponent’s views are the wrong choice. Politics is essentially a struggle between right and wrong policy.
The last time I took a political quiz the results indicated that I am slightly liberal. I was surprised by the result because I am against abortion which seems to be the great litmus test of our times as to what side of the fence you initially fall on. I am against abortion because I was literally conceived in the back seat of a car by two teenagers but instead of being aborted I was carried to birth and then given up for adoption. I am extremely thankful for my life and I find it preposterous that people would consider it legal and right to have killed me when I was in my most vulnerable state and for no other reason than my existence was a huge inconvenience to my parents, especially my mother. I know my wife is glad that I survived pregnancy and my three children, who would not exist had I been aborted. I cannot get past these basic truths and therefore I oppose abortion. Having said that, I am also a Christian which means that I have social justice sensitivities. I don’t see how you can read the Gospels and not see that Jesus’ heart favors helping the poor or incapable.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
So, here I am, a man without a political party that I can identify with. The Democrats don’t want me because in their minds I am an enemy combatant in the “war on women” because I don’t support so-called “reproductive rights” which is code lingo for “abortion rights.” The Republicans surely don’t want me because I favor universal healthcare, and welfare in general. Hence, I am officially listed as “Non Party Affiliated” not “Independent” because that’s a political party in and of itself. No country for old men. (chuckle) I have told you all this because this is how I ended up getting labeled “slightly liberal” by the polling gods. Essentially, I am stuck in the middle of the political war zone, no man’s land, which results in getting metaphorically shot at by both sides.
The benefit of this and the greater reason I have told you, is that I think I have a unique perspective that allows me to see the political world in a much more reasonable way than any partisan can achieve. In the middle of the political spectrum, politics is still an ongoing debate about right and wrong; what is right for the country and what is wrong for the country. In the middle we can disagree on policy but it doesn’t result in moral judgements about those we disagree with. In the middle we recognize that disagreement is often a function of differing perspectives which are themselves a function of differing life experiences. As a result we don’t make moral judgments about each other. To us, this is about right and wrong policy; it is not about good and evil.
Once you move away from the middle you begin to encounter a change in the way policy is debated. Instead of arguments being framed in terms of what is right or wrong for the country, people begin to use the vocabulary of morality and the words “good” and “evil.” I contend that this is where politics stops being “the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power” and it starts to become a religion. The farther you go out towards the extreme left and right, the more religious people become until you finally encounter the zealots at the uttermost extremes.
I believe that every human being is created to have fellowship with God. I heard a child evangelist once describe humans as donuts. We all have a big hole in the middle of our being which is supposed to be occupied by God. Without that occupation we are left feeling empty or at the very least incomplete. Not understanding what is going on, most people attempt to fill that hole the best way that they can. Sometimes they try to fill it with another human being, a life partner, or very close friend. Some people try to fill it with activities, thrill seeking sports, or a highly demanding career. Still others turn to self-medication and partying to fill the gap. I believe everybody is doing the best they can with what they know and though these various attempts will never be successful they are certainly sincere. Every one of us is programmed by our Creator to understand that we are incomplete and there is no escaping that. In a sense, we all know that we are “unrighteous,” meaning that we are not naturally right with our Creator. There is a problem with the God/Human relationship that needs to be fixed but most of us are going about it the wrong way. We are trying to make ourselves right again by our own efforts, to redeem ourselves and for some people politics becomes the vehicle by which they can achieve that redemption.
“I am a good person because I support a woman’s right to choose.”
“I am a good person because I support an unborn baby’s right to life.”
Both of these seemingly opposite statements are essentially identical in terms of motivation. The people making them are trying to make a point that they are morally right because of the political position they have adopted. By way of their politics, they have redeemed themselves and attempted to fill the donut hole of their souls. In their minds they are “good people” because of their politics. Likewise, people who do not share their political views are “evil.” This is clearly a religious mindset not a political one.
How often have you seen political debates on social media framed in terms of good and evil? Just yesterday I saw at least three political posts in which people were framing the policy debate in terms of good and evil. If you were in agreement with them then you were one of the good people. If you were in disagreement then you were an evil person. Could this be one of the greatest reasons why people feel so comfortable treating those they don’t agree with harshly? In war it makes it much easier to kill the enemy if you dehumanize them. Germans become Krauts, Japanese become Nips, the Vietnamese become Gooks, it goes on and on. If your political opponent is evil then you can do and say almost anything you want to them; Republicans become “fascists” and Democrats become “libtards.” You don’t have to treat them with respect, hammer them; they deserve it because they are evil. If you are looking for evidence of what I am talking about just quickly review the 2016 presidential campaign where Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s characters were brutally savaged by the opposition. The election started out politically but it ended up becoming a holy war between the religions of Liberalism and Conservatism.
There is a popular bumper sticker that I often see in Massachusetts. It simple says “Coexist” and the word is formed by using symbols from various major religions of the world. The idea is that different religions should stop fighting with each other and practice tolerance. I completely agree that religions should practice tolerance but I don’t think that they should stop debating. Tolerance is not silence. You can certainly tolerate somebody else’s existence but still disagree with the tenants of their faith and be willing to engage in lively and peaceful debate over them. Only people with a hyper-religious mindset think that you can’t, but that’s only because they can’t. The hyper-religious are paragons of intolerance and project that onto everybody else.
At the heart of any religion is the idea of spiritual truth. The very existence of so many different religions is proof that there is debate and disagreement about whose truths are truly true. Why should we stop engaging in respectful debate over these things? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles sent to Earth to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all people throughout all of human history. My Jewish neighbors don’t believe that. They think he was a heretic. Why can’t we talk about it? There are only three possibilities, 1) I am right and they are wrong, 2) They are wrong and I am right, 3) We are both wrong. Notice that I framed that in political terms, right and wrong NOT good and evil. We’re not going to get to the bottom of the matter if our idea of coexistence is silence. (chuckle)
How about the religions of Conservatism and Liberalism? Why can’t their adherents stop the holy war and return to a place of tolerant debate? Why can’t they coexist? On any issue there are only three possibilities, the same possibilities that I outlined for my Jewish neighbors and me. They will never make political progress if they are unable to peacefully debate each other and realize that the nature of the battle is about right and wrong policy, not good and evil. Politics is not about morality and those who don’t agree with you are no more evil for their policies than you are. They may be misguided but evil? I find that mindset to be evil. (chuckle)
So, where do we go from here? Well, hopefully this article inspires you to do some soul searching. To what degree do you see your political opposition as evil because of their policy choices? To what degree do you see yourself as righteous because of the same? Are you religiously political? If you determine that you are, and you are a Christian or a Jew, then you have a fairly serious problem. Your God has said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.” You have a problem because you have adopted a second religion and he’s not cool with being two-timed. (chuckle) God is neither conservative nor liberal. He transcends all things and cannot be defined by any single political ideology. It is perfectly logical to expect policies on both sides of the political fence to be pleasing in his sight. Nobody owns the proverbial moral high ground but God and God alone. I have a synonym for “the moral high ground.” It’s called the Throne of God, the ultimate moral high ground, and if you are occupying it then I recommend that you move your heiney because you are sitting in somebody else’s chair.
A friend of mine dubbed me “The voice of reason in a very unreasonable world” which I am flattered by because I am much less than that. Having said that, if you enjoyed my writing I invite you to scroll to the very bottom of this page where there is a button labeled “Follow”. If you press that button you will receive a notification whenever this blog is updated with new posts. Thank you for reading.