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.


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.


GOP senators to feds: Leave the Internet alone

12217_large_neutral-bits.pngIt’s this sort of thing that really pisses me off. The intention is exactly right. The Internet should be free of interference. It should continue to be accessible by anyone, empower content and service creators, and foster innovation. Yet excluding all government regulation of the Internet is exactly contrary to achieving that goal.

In fairness, the issue of Net Neutrality is a bit complicated.  Most people don’t know how the Internet works. And this leaves open the opportunity to exploit that lack of understanding through politi-speak gems like this

“There are exceptions of course, but far too often, when you hear someone say, ‘We need regulations to protect the Internet,’ what they’re actually saying is they don’t really trust the entrepreneurs and Internet technologists to create the economic growth and to increase public welfare.”

Net Neutrality regulations don’t stifle entrepreneurs and technologists. Rather, they keep the network available for them. Net Neutrality reigns in big ISPs from exploiting their effective monopolies for increased profit and offering preferential treatment for other large companies who can afford to pay to play. It protects the consumer and the entrepreneur from big business.

In a very real way, keeping the government from regulating the Internet is simply paving the way for a few large private business to regulate it. There’s no way that ends well for small businesses and consumers.

All regulations are restricting someone else’s freedom. That doesn’t make them all bad. Net Neutrality regulations are all about preserving the freedom of the Internet. If you would rather trust AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon, and Comcast to keep your network a free and open egalitarian network… you’re more than a little naive.