Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Theological Implications of the 2012 Election

There are two passions left in my life now that I am a faithful husband - religion and politics.  My approach to both happens to be remarkably consistent.  I approach both as logical problems and try to 'solve' them.  The difference of course between religious and political 'unveiling' as it were is that we try to read the 'tea leaves' right up until election day and then the answer immediately comes to us.  Things are different with respect to ancient religion.  No matter how intimate we get with our subject matter they will always remain enigmatic.

I suppose in either case we are really dealing with a substitute for life's greatest unveiling - the process of unveiling in love and love-making.  No matter how much a married person tells you he or she loves their spouse, it's not the same as 'falling in love.'  To know that you love someone is quite different that discovering whether or not you do.  Nudity only has power during unveiling.  I have never lived or visited a nudist colony but I imagine that for those who grow up in such a society, clothes and clothing must take on an almost aphrodisiac effect.

As human beings we always want what we can't have because unveiling is a profound - even mystical - significance.  I don't think for instance that greed is necessarily evil.  It is only what the French call a banalité. Indeed if the reader digs a little deeper and actually looks at the word banalité in the history of French culture it takes on a political significance. Banalité was the technical term for the obligation that a slave or peasant (they didn't technically have slavery in the period) owed his lord.  These rights included the required use-for-payment of the lord's, or Seigneur's, mill to grind grain and his oven to bake bread.

The point here is that making money is a banalité.  The human mind was created to unveil the mysteries of Being (a point Heidegger makes) but the animals among us can only think carnally (a point early Christianity makes).  In the very same way then - to follow the early Christian understanding - to philander is carnal, to attempt to understand the political 'tea leaves' is psychic while figuring out the mysteries of the Bible is spiritual.

To this end, let's segue to the point of this post.  I have looked at the results of the election and have come to the conclusion that as long as the Democratic party fields relatively strong candidates like Barack Obama who appeal to his voting coalition, it is virtually impossible for a Republican to win any more.  The lesson which should emerge from this election is in fact that the Democrats have in fact expanded their traditional firewall by a few Western states that already exceeds the required 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

I didn't have time to make a map of my own, but let me count out the votes which - owing to the combination of (a) the demographic make up of the population and (b) the entrenched perception of the Republican party - will make it impossible to flip these states over the Republican party in a national election for the next 5 election cycles.  Starting from the top left corner - Washington (12), Oregon (7) California (55), Nevada (6), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5) Minnesota (10), Iowa (6), Wisconsin (10), Illinois (20), Michigan (10), Pennsylvania (20), New York (29), Vermont (3), New Hampshire (4), Maine (4), Massachusetts (11), Connecticut (7), Rhode Island (4), New Jersey (14), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), District of Columbia (3) = 272 Electoral College votes.  I defy anyone to make a reasonable argument that any of these states could vote any other way than Democratic given the current cultural dynamic.

Let's be clear that I have also left off the table complete all the 'swing states' could theoretically still vote either way in the next election - Ohio (18), Indiana (11), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Missouri (10), Florida (29), Georgia (16) and Arizona (11).  Of course all of these states are up for grabs especially given growing Hispanic populations.  The problem of course is that we are left having a 'battle' when the Democratic candidate has already won given their impenetrable fire wall of 272 votes.

Now of course there will be some slight adjustment each election cycle as to how the electoral votes are apportioned.  Maybe New York state loses a few votes and Texas gains a few votes.  Nevertheless the underlying points still stands.  It is almost impossible to see any way that a Republican can win the Presidency.  Having an effective 'one party state' is of course a bad thing for any democracy.  It should be noted of course that the Republicans are doing it to themselves.  But I don't think enough attention has been given to the subject of what 'it' is.

If you listen to liberal talking heads the problem with the Republican party is that it 'offends' women, minorities and well - liberals.  This analysis is certainly accurate to some degree but again I don't think enough attention has been paid to explaining the underlying phenomenon.  Surely, the members of the GOP wanted to win the election this year.  After all they put up a moderate - Mitt Romney - who was the least offensive candidate at their primary.  Given the fact that there are smart people in the Republican brain trust and smart Republican voters, why is it that they couldn't convince enough people to vote for their moderate candidate?

The underlying problem is religion.  It wasn't by accident that 'God' was left out of the Democratic platform.  I believe that it was a deliberate omission designed to reinforce the image of the GOP as the 'God Only Party,' the American equivalent of the Arabic name for Hezbollah Arabic: حزب الله‎ = "Party of God."  Let's make a clear distinction that the Republicans never seem to understand.  While it is true that the majority of Americans believe in God, many people can make the distinction between spirituality and theocracy.  In other words, the Terry Schiavo case, abortion, same sex marriage and religion in politics generally have become touchstones for the rest of the people in those states with 272 electoral college votes who will never vote Republican (in other words ignoring for the moment the obvious permanent problem the party has with minorities).

There is a fundamental disconnect between Libertarianism and social conservatism.  A libertarian message has an undeniable appeal to the young, the idealogues and the rich.  Yet the real backbone of the party today are socially conservatives who want the culture of the United States to be determined by the Bible (save of course for 'outlandish' laws like the stoning of adulterers etc).  Perhaps in the old days, there was a large part of the population who were 'on the same page' with this message.  Nevertheless, there are such obvious logical flaws with this basic argument that it just doesn't fly any more outside of rural audiences.

The bottom line is that even among people who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the divinely appointed redeemer of mankind, it is hard to square this individual with a mandate to impose religion on the greater populace.  While evangelicals get around this difficulty by reaching for the familiar 'Old Testament' argument - i.e. that 'the Jewish scriptures' present God as sanctioning a theocracy - there are enough people today who look at the person of Jesus and conclude that he only wanted to preach a message of love.  Indeed in more substantive terms, it seems utterly implausible that Jesus would have wanted his message to be imposed on unbelievers.

So it is that in the case of abortion for instance, Jesus may well have been against the killing of the unborn, but there is no mandate in the gospel for the state preventing someone from terminating a pregnancy.  Certainly Clement of Alexandria makes specific reference to Christians not being allowed abortions.  But there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus or any of the earliest Church Fathers wanted everyone in society at large to be governed by their doctrines.

Similarly with regards to the question of marriage.  Jesus explicitly says that in the age of the resurrection individuals will not marry but be like the angels.  Indeed in spite of the idiotic things that are said about Jesus's message with respect to marriage it is impossible to get around the fact that nowhere does the gospel ever suggest that non-believers have to be bound by these beliefs Christians were adopting for themselves.  There is absolutely no evidence that Christian priests ever married men and women.  Marriage was viewed entirely as a secular concern with Christian believers 'being married' according to the Roman state and then being 'blessed' by a priest after the fact.

Indeed the most fallacious of all arguments is when American Christian leaders try and drag the Old Testament (more specifically the Pentateuch) into any discussion of marriage.  For Jesus himself makes explicit that only the Ten Commandments were from God.  This was a well established theological position in the age he lived among Jews and Samaritans.  There is absolutely nothing in the Ten Commandments which support any of the current Republican social positions.  It is just a basic checklist of things that God didn't like and which are pretty much 'common sense' positions to most of us.

According to this well established position within the Judaism known to Jesus at the time, it was Moses who added new laws which went beyond what God originally decreed.  So it is with specific reference to marriage we see Jesus actually admonish Moses for allowing - among other things - divorce - “it was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law."  All the efforts of religious conservatives to muddy the waters and make the case that 'Christianity' should be about imposing rules about marriage to everyone in society are completely unfounded in the Christian scriptures.  There is absolutely no basis for any of this.

Of course in the fourth century as Christianity crept toward becoming the state religion of the now crumbling Roman Empire, the religion of Jesus certainly was imposed upon society as a whole.  This paradigm continued throughout the Dark Ages and into the modern era.  Yet what does any of this have to do with Christianity or how it should be defined?  It is much better explained as a symptom of the decay of society where groups try and impose personal choices on others rather than obeying the actual founding principles of their religion.

The bottom line here of course is that if the Republicans really want to crack that impenetrable 272 electoral vote firewall that is guaranteeing the next Presidential election to the Democrats they have to stop being the 'Party of God.'  They will have to accept that if someone who isn't a believer in Jesus Christ wants to marry someone of the same sex or wants to abort an unborn fetus or terminate their own life the Republican party as a whole can't seem to want to impose unfounded religious dogma on the rest of the population.   We have just demonstrated that there is absolutely no basis for this position in the gospels or the canonical writings of the New Testament which were solely aimed at how the Church governed its own members.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 5 for instance the punishment for an 'immoral man' was expulsion from the community.  It was not presented as a precedent for political action in order to impose Christian morality on everyone else.  This is undoubtedly one of the reasons why Christianity ultimately became such a successful religion.  It was above all else apolitical.  We still have complaints of Celsus, a pagan, who laments as early as the second century that Christians don't take part in government, don't serve in the army and don't engage in the daily affairs of life the way they should.  There may well have been Christians living around the time of Celsus who thought that Christians should be more politically active.  Yet Christianity ended up having the last laugh on Celsus.  Paganism disappeared and the religion of Jesus Christ thrived.

The lesson should not be lost on the current members of the Republican party.  If you want to thrive again leave religious dogma to the various churches or else perish like the pagan religions of antiquity.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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