Category Archives: Church and State

This is what I see this morning.

A quick impression for you:



With some exceptions (and God bless them), this appears to be the state of the electorate right now. Full disclosure: even though I’m apparently a one-percenter, I’m glad that Romney lost because I think a Romney presidency would have been slightly more disastrous than four more years of Obama, and the Republican Party has, in my view, pretty much been in the process of a slow-motion implosion for the better part of the last decade. (And what the Tea Party movement became was a contributor to that implosion, as opposed to the galvanizing revival, as many conservatives have painted it.) What I had hoped — but not expected — is that, after a Romney loss (not to be confused with an Obama victory, which isn’t quite what happened last night), Americans would wake up and realize that they actually have to work together to find common ground and goals once the dust settles; that they are not enemies, but mere opponents. Alan Jacobs put it brilliantly:

I have seen (we all have seen) more and more articles, blog posts, and comments premised on the assumption that the writer’s political enemies really are enemies — wicked people bent on the destruction of all that is good and right in the world.

As for me, I don’t think people who disagree with me — about abortion, politics, religion, literature, whatever — are, on balance, any more wicked than I am. I just think that on the points where we disagree they happen to be wrong. That shouldn’t be such a difficult distinction to keep in mind.

After the North won the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president, the United States was probably in the most fragile position in its entire history. Some historically ignorant partisans may wish to claim that we’ve almost never been so divided, but until states start seceding from the Union and booting federal employees from their borders by force of arms, I call B.S. any such sentiment. To say that political tensions still ran high at the time of Lincoln’s second inauguration would be a fundamentally idiotic understatement. To their credit, both Romney and the president struck conciliatory notes in their respective concession and victory speeches. I don’t think either one put it quite as succinctly and eloquently as Lincoln, for whom, and for whose country at the time, the stakes could not have been higher:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The United States hasn’t literally been at war with itself these last four years; the politics of this election cycle (or the last several) haven’t literally created widows and orphans, and the nation’s wounds are metaphorical. Yet to judge by the rhetoric I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and video clips this morning, you’d think that Obama had just kneecapped grandma with a tire iron, or that Romney’s evil minions had been dragging people out of their beds at night and slapping them facedown on the guillotine. This is not a war, people, and just as losing losing political ground in an election does not mean losing the soul of the country, winning ground in an election does not equate to a unilateral endorsement of a monolithic (partisan) vision of progress. What it means is that, for the next two-to-six years, this particular set of people has been elected to debate, discuss, compromise, legislate, administrate, and generally do the hard work of running this country on its citizens’ behalf. That’s it.

So if you’re out there gloating or sulking, put a cork in it. Put on your big boy/big girl pants, wipe the spittle from your mouth, shake hands with your opponent, and get back to the business of being good neighbors. If you can’t do that, then it means you’ve never been interested in democracy, but domination. Show a little charity, please. ☕

Epic Rap Battle: Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney

EAGLE!!! ☕

Who says America doesn’t have its own mythology?

Writing at Christ and Pop Culture, Drew Dixon draws attention once again to the debate about whether America is or was ever a “Christian nation,” highlighting a video interview with two historians of evangelical Christianity who make a compelling (and fact-based) argument that our history simply doesn’t justify a clear cut yes-or-no answer. The overall warning they outline is that distorting history to score contemporary political points dishonors our past, dishonors our faith, and dishonors the humanity we Christians share with our secular fellow citizens. I highly recommend watching the entire video. The historians touch on topics such as the religious components of our founding documents, the beliefs of the founding fathers, whether America has a special relationship with God (which Dixon ties to American exceptionalism), the origins of the myth of a Christian nation, and whether secular academia should make room for Christianity in higher education. What is of particular interest to me is how historical facts are selected and shaped into narratives that are used essentially as myths from which we are to draw universal, contemporary truths — and never mind how accurate or truthful those narratives actually are. ☕

The dialectic of elections

“Today only [stereotyped] thinking is left. People still vote, but only between totalities. The anti-Semitic psychology has largely been replaced by mere acceptance of the whole fascist ticket, which is an inventory of the slogans of belligerent big business. Just as, on the ballot paper of the mass party, voters are presented with the names of people remote from their experience for whom they can only vote en bloc, the central ideological concepts have been codified into a small number of lists. One has to opt for one of them en bloc if one’s own position is not to seem as futile as splinter votes on polling day in face of the statistical mammoths.” – Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, from “Elements of Anti-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment” in The Dialectic of Enlightenment

Adorno and Horkheimer were writing in the long shadow of Hitler’s Germany, from which they fled along with almost all of their colleagues in the years leading up to the Second World War. The book from which the above quote is excerpted is a critique of the prevailing philosophy of civilization, one that, in the view of the authors, divides society into individuals (who worship at the altar of individuality), then forces conformity upon them (the better to control them as a collective mass). In the context of the chapter from which that quote is taken, Adorno and Horkheimer argue that anti-Semitism is essentially a symptom of the larger disease, not the cancer itself. Anti-Semitism is an expression of a cultural phenomenon that could be filled by virtually any other attitude that projects fear and self-loathing onto Difference.

What struck me about this particular passage is how uncannily — minus the period-specific references to anti-Semitism and fascism (which was, please remember, considered to be a viable and progressive political philosophy in the early 20th century) — it describes the election politics of the United States in the 21st century. One of the central themes of The Dialectic of Enlightenment is how sameness and conformity preserve the power structure of society by offering the illusion of choice to the average joe. This applies as equally to brands of soup as it does political parties. You don’t have to be a Marxist to appreciate just how much capital (cultural, economic, psychological) has been concentrated in the hands of America’s two biggest parties, and the myriad ways in which that power is wielded by both the parties’ gamesmanship and the sheer inertia of the system against the interests of the individual voters.

By dividing America in twain, the Democrats and Republicans haven’t offered choices to its citizens; they’ve categorized them as being One or the Other. If you are merely One or the Other, then you have little choice but to vote accordingly, which amounts to no choice at all. Whatever the differences between the two parties, consider that they and they alone have — together — monopolized the political establishment of this country for more than 150 years. In their theatrical struggle for power, they have exonerated the use of power itself as a political means. This is why you can hear each party claiming to “Take back America!” as if it had been stolen overnight from its crib.

Despite the changes in cultural values and their respective platforms, both parties have remained. Only those with money can gain entrance to the machine, and only those willing to perpetuate the false (that is, fraudulent) dichotomy as The Real Choice are permitted to stay. Every election is The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime. Only by giving a Mandate to Our Party can Real Change begin. The Others want to Destroy Your Country. Only We are Fighting to Preserve the Real America. Each is defined in opposition to the other, but it’s not a real contest: it’s two bullies dividing the class’s lunch money evenly between them, then flipping for that last quarter. The beauty of it is that they’ve convinced the rest of us that we actually have a stake in whether it lands heads or tails.

I’m not a Adorno/Horkheimer acolyte. But the pessimism exemplified in that quote articulates very well the frustration I feel regarding Decision 2012. It’s not a decision; it’s a coin toss. Worse than that, I know that the machine has won. Instead of seeing elections as an opportunity to direct their own political fate, the American people continue to treat election for political office as a beauty pageant. Good thing, too. We all know that the most valuable quality in an administrator is how often we’d like to have him over for a beer. The personal touch has been mechanized and commodified. In an age when the voice and image of a single person can be disseminated across thousands of miles to thousands of people via wires and electric pulses, it must be reassuring that it’s so easy to believe that, hey, I could easily imagine myself being that guy’s friend! He doesn’t even need to threaten me for my lunch money: I’ll hand it over gladly, because maybe he’ll see me for who I really am. I think he gets me, man. He really cares.

Why else would partisans work the phones on behalf of “Mitt” or “Barack”?

One more riposte from H & A. Substitute “industry” for “the two parties” and “customers and employees” for “voters and campaign volunteers.”

“Industry is interested in human beings only as its customers and employees and has in fact reduced humanity as a whole, like each of its elements, to this exhaustive formula. […] As employees people are reminded of the rational organization and must fit into it as common sense requires. As customers they are regaled, whether on the screen or in the press, with human interest stories demonstrating freedom of choice and the charm of not belonging to the system. In both cases they remain objects.” – Horkheimer and Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” from The Dialectic of Enlightenment

Yep, they care, all right. You’d look just darling up on the shelf with their collectible Furbies.☕

Protests, propaganda, and false narratives

Narratives give definition and structure to our stories, both in fiction and in life; they can also deceive us and teach us false truths. An object lesson in wariness is unfolding right now. According to news reports, protestors yesterday have attacked U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya. In Benghazi, an American ambassador and at least three others were murdered. In Cairo, the U.S. flag was torn to shreds and replaced with a flag with the traditional Muslim prayer, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammed is his prophet.” So far, these facts appear to be undisputed. What is more provocative (and more relevant to this blog) is that a causal link has been made between these attacks and a film made by an Israeli-American filmmaker. The film is ironically titled The Innocence of Muslims, and it is a broadside against Islam. Continue reading

Just for reference…

This is how describes my political bias. Overall, not too surprising. The graphic doesn’t show it, but I side with Virgil Goode (Constitution Party) 59% of the time, and with Jill Stein (Green Party) and Rocky Anderson (Justice Party) 39% of the time.  What I find heartening is that I apparently have at least some overlap with virtually everyone across the American political spectrum. Election years tend to frustrate me, because they leave me feeling that I have no “home,” so to speak, with any of the major political groups. Getting results like this don’t alleviate the stress of my mixed feelings toward the Big Two, but it’s nice to know that I’m not completely adrift.

Despite being so simpatico with Johnson, I still prefer to think of myself as conservative, rather than libertarian. The feature I really loved in this poll is the option to choose a slightly more nuanced option besides “yes” or “no;” the ability to rank each issue’s importance to me was also pretty nifty. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s probably the best survey of this sort that I’ve taken. When taking the poll, I didn’t rank the issues in their importance to me as stringently as I probably should have, but this is likely a fairly accurate reflection of my political sympathies at the present time. As always, they are open to persuasion.☕

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