My Very Long Week at Church

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump

I have a confession. I get it. I watched most all of the GOP Convention this week, and I think I understand the appeal of the message. These people don’t want to elect a President, they are voting for their savior.

I’ve come to understand there’s an almost religious theme to Trump. And this may be behind his somewhat inexplicable appeal to Evangelicals. On the Christian fringe, the religion is not so much about lifestyle, conduct, or even community. It’s about a man. Have you found Jesus and accepted him as your savior? He will make everything okay. You don’t need to know His plan. In fact, you can’t know His plan–it’s beyond you. Just rest in His arms and have faith that He will save you from the evils of the world.

This is essentially Trump’s message. He will save you. You don’t need to know how, just have faith. Know that Trump is powerful and will set everything right. Trump will smite your enemies. In his kingdom your family will prosper under his protection, but only if you are one of the flock.

In many ways the #RNCinCLE had far more of the trappings of a religious revival than a political convention. There was little to no policy discussion. Instead, the evils and sins of the mortal world we live in were enumerated and cataloged. Satan was trotted out frequently. We were warned against believing her lies, and there were frequent calls to cast her out. The future was painted in unspecific themes of freedom, prosperity, self-determination, justice, and safety. The broad themes inherently invited everyone to impress some level of personal desire onto them. But the path to them, the path to realize your desires, was through one man. Do you have faith in him? Do you believe? The Trump welcomes everyone, and wants us to be one, but only if we are believers. Heretics and dissidents will be punished.

I rather doubt most Trumpians have made this connection. I don’t think they are aware of the religious subtexts to Trump’s rise and their support for it. Rather, the campaign is plucking the same religious strings their pastors do, and it is resonating with the faithful in a compelling, albeit unconscious, way. But make no mistake, Trump would be more than happy to be elected God.


Conservatives Evolutionists vs Progressive Intelligent Designers

TLS-ColbertSmall “c” conservatives are, by definition, ideologically committed to preventing or slowing the rate of change. The essential premise is that things are better the way they are, or maybe even the way they were, but definitely not the way they are going. Bill O’Reilly asserted the futility of this last night on The Late Show when saying to Stephen Colbert that conservatives believe they are losing the culture war to progressives. In response, Colbert noted that conservatism is always a losing battle because the culture always changes.

In a similar vein, Vox’s Matt Yglesias penned an interesting article about small conservative communities desperate to preserve the status quo. They are often resistant to new industry and new development coming to town for fear of what outside elements might come along with it. He noted the brutal truth that change was going to happen to these towns either way. By resisting the influx of outside influences, they were instead suffering the withering death of attrition as their young people went off to college and never came home.

In both cases, the conservative path is to ultimately have change thrust upon them by outside forces they don’t control and didn’t influence. In this way, conservatives are embracing a sort of cultural evolution. After all, in the natural world, evolution is simply the change induced by random events. It’s not directed. It’s not controlled. It’s not inherently good or bad. It just happens.

In contrast, small “p” progressives not only accept that change will happen, they advocate for it. They try to control and direct it. This doesn’t mean all progressive changes are good, but it at least means they were thought out and intended. They are open for debate, refinement, and improvement. Ironically, this puts progressives in the position of advocating for cultural intelligent design.

Go figure…


…recently on Facebook

Ya think? I mean, this is what Dems wanted to do 8 years ago, but the GOP was having none of it. Still, if you're finally ready to work on something together, I'm pretty sure many on the the left would be happy to cooperate on it. ...

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His wife said she voted for Trump because she supports his immigration policies. She said criminals should be deported, but she didn’t think her husband would face that fate.
At the risk of sounding heartless, I'm kind of past feeling sorry for people like this wife, or Trump supporters suddenly worried they will lose their healthcare. All of what's happening are things Trump or the GOP (often both) have said loudly and often they would do. There should be no surprises here. This is what you voted for. This is what you wanted. Although I guess you just wanted this to happen to someone else, not thinking that you were 'them'. Surprise!
...

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A couple of thoughts here:
1) I've heard GOP MOCs say AHCA will get passed because Trump is a master negotiator. He'll rally the votes. This isn't negotiation. It's saber rattling... maybe bullying.
2) I don't get the end-game here for Trump. If this passes, all he gets is an unpopular law that allows him to check off a box on his to-do list. Its only beneficiaries are the 1%, but this is small potatoes for them. It leaves me to conclude he's either ignorant (thinks this is actually a helpful law) or malicious (AHCA is just a gateway to tax reform which is really a boon to the 1%). Either way, isn't the GOP screwed in the next few years as the impact of this is realized?
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Ummm... Like your entire job is literally "talking". ...

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Threaten Me, Please…

HTF__Threatening_Base_by_FlameBunny700As an atheist, I have a recurring conversation with many believers. They can’t understand why I bother to try to be a good person without the impending fear of judgement and damnation. If I don’t think God is watching me and keeping score, why don’t I just go on a hedonistic binge of barbarism?

I always try to patiently respond that my motivation is mostly internal. I want to judge myself to be useful, productive, helpful, and caring. There is an external aspect to it as well. I want my family and friends to judge me positively. I don’t believe in life everlasting. My only shot at living beyond my mortal years is in the recollections of those who might remember me. And for reasons of my own making, I want that legacy to be based on fondness, respect, and maybe even admiration, not on infamy. That is what I aspire to, and what inspires me.

What I don’t usually share is that their question frightens the hell out of me. The implication (or in some cases, the outright admission) is that the only thing standing between them and a life of raping and pillaging is belief in some exogenous force poised to reign retribution down upon them. They are not a tamed animal, they are a caged one.

Of late, I’ve begun to wonder if this same need for external fear-based motivation extends beyond the realm of religion and morality. In economics, I hear the repeated notion that minimum wages, guaranteed health care, food stamps, unions, and any other program designed to help the poor or the working poor is inherently destructive. It removes the incentive to work harder, train harder, or even to work at all. The underlying assumption seems to be that absent the fear of homelessness and starvation, no one would get out of bed in the morning. It isn’t enough to have a sizable carrot in front of you unless there’s a big angry stick behind you to keep you moving.

This same attitude seems to bleed into foreign policy as well. The notion that the USA must remain the preeminent military power on the planet because otherwise we’ll lose our ability to influence other countries seems predicated on the notion that our power comes from fear that we instill. We repeatedly demonstrate that fear of terrorism will motivate us to actions we would otherwise never consider. In fact politics has largely degenerated into a game of which party can paint the scarier future if the other guy wins.

It even strikes me that much of our gun-culture stems from fears that everyone else, left to their own devices, would pose a threat. It is only by being a bigger threat yourself, that you’re able to keep them at bay.

I do believe that most people view others through their own life-lens. That is, they project their own desires, tendencies, and morality onto the behavior of others. People who worry about the downside of atheism, economic security, and world peace are reacting from the awareness that they themselves realize that in such a world, they would rapidly fall into an existence of varying degrees of unfettered sociopathy.

That there exist so many people contained only by a variety of fears is more than disconcerting. And it would be one thing if there was a recognition that fear-based motivation was destructive and there was a collective consensus to mitigate it. Conversely, what we’re seeing is a resurgence in the idea that fear-based motivation is essential and good.

I had hoped for better, but in the end, maybe we are just barbarians with iPhones.


Of Pots & Kettles

pot-kettle-blackI spent way too much time last evening in a running Facebook thread that started with a question of how Muslims could use their religion to justify hatred of others.

While not the originator of the question, one commenter was particularly adamant about his views.

“The false god Muslims worship is a demon. Their god is a god of hate and destruction and death. Their god calls for the death of America.”

He went on to offer other gems within the thread, including:

  • “Pluralism is a plague in America.”

  • “…college campuses across the country are home to professors and students who hate America.”

  • “Obama is wicked…  His abortion support. his same-sex “marriage ” support. His abuse of his authority by changing laws after their enactment. His war on Christianity in the military. etc etc.”

  • “I am not a Muslim hater. I am an Islam hater.”

  • “Islam is a pathological religion that turns people into monsters.”

  • “If one does an honest study they will realize the truth claims of Jesus are in fact the truth and the truth claims of others are lies.”

Here was a man with a self-avowed abiding faith in Jesus—a man who viewed himself as a good Christian… and yet a man who was filled with hate. Moreover, his hatred was somehow rooted in his faith—a faith he himself characterized as one of peace and harmony.

“An honest study leads to the conclusion that violence done in the name of Christianity is contrary to its tenets.”

On the one hand, I shudder at the level of cognitive dissonance required to use the message of Jesus to justify this much animosity. And rationalizing that hatred as being focused on the religion and the culture but not the people is a sophistry. “I don’t hate you, just everything you believe in and stand for,” was not quite the point of the Good News. Not to mention the mental gymnastics required to use this sort of argument to defend an abhorrence to college professors, students, liberals, and Obama who largely share Christian culture and religion.

Yet I think the best part is the delicious irony that this screed was motivated by this person’s horror that a group of Muslims could use their faith to motivate hatred.  Yes Virginia, religions have been used since the dawn of time to justify the behaviors of groups and individuals. They are a lens that focuses and magnifies the culture and values of the people who practice them. Religions are not inherently good or evil, but the people involved in them or leading them may be.  And the cold reality is that Christianity gets no magic pass here.

Your love or your hatred of your fellow man may be motivated by your faith, but you still have to own the result. In the end, you are responsible for your actions—good, bad, or indifferent. Only a coward hides behind their religion as an excuse.