Saturday, January 16, 2010

Religion and politics

 "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French...and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you, if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out -- the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other...They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come..."   Pat Robertson (enormously successful American, ultra-right, religious wacko)

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  Matthew 25:35-46

David Seaton's News Links
I received this comment on my previous post in another venue where I cross-post:
This post strikes me as a jeremiad like Pat Robertson's. While it is more sophisticated than his, it is very much in the same vein. You describe the start of, and predict the continuation of, the ruin of the U.S., its sins and its possible redemption. Just like Robertson on Haiti.
It's an interesting theme, but before going on I  think I should clarify my position.

Full disclosure: I personally consider myself a "deist" in a bhakti yoga, Sufi, or African-American gospel vein, I personally experience that there is something "out" or "in" there that under certain conditions electrifies my spirit and stirs my emotions in the most joyous way: is it "Grace" or a weak mind? Who knows?  I ask for little more. Like a famous 19th century Indian guru said, "when I am confronted with an orchard full of ripe mangoes, I don't stop to count the trees and calculate the value of the harvest, I get busy and... eat mangoes".
Getting back to Robertson.

One thing is to attribute what insurance companies call, an "act of God" to the devil and rather another to suggest that if the USA, having made some hugely significant errors, may have to pick up the check for those errors

I think Pat Robertson is a totally despicable, slimy individual. The more despicable because he manipulates to his behalf and the people who sponsor him, the deepest psychological mechanisms of our species in order for his listeners to support policies which are harmful to them.

Pat Robertson, like a pedophile priest, is a person who causes people to hold religion in contempt. If Robertson were in fact a Christian, as he so loudly proclaims, he would tremble in fear of this saying:
"It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to lose faith." Luke 17:2
So much for Robertson, lets get on with religion.

Part of the problem a lot of people have with all of this is one of language.

Most of the language used to describe religious thought comes wrapped in an obscure, if evocative, way of speaking originating before the scientific revolution. For example, it sounds strange to modern ears when King Solomon says, "The fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" but when translated into modern, post-scientific revolution  language it can seem more relevant.  I'm sure any pale and sweating financial analyst with any sense that survived  the days when Lehman Brothers went down, would agree with the statement. "humility in the face of unknowable unknowns is a good risk strategy"... The two statements are basically the same.

When a devout Muslim says, "see you tomorrow" and then adds, "inshallah" or when a traditional Spaniard, says, "hasta mañana"  and  adds, "si Díos quiere", they are both simply recognizing the mystery that tomorrow holds for us all. I'm sure that most of those 200,000 Haitians buried under the rubble were full of plans for what they were going to do next week.   As my grandmother would have said, "there but for the grace of God go I".                          

The place in the human spirit or psyche where religion is born or "invented", if you will, is the most delicate and fertile in our makeup. Not only is religion born there, so is art, poetry and music and of course our dreams. Probably the best Sherpa for this mountain would be Carl Gustav Jung. But Marx will also serve to cast some light. Karl Mark's famous "opium" remark has been much misquoted in this regard, in fact what he said is full of compassion, humanity and understanding. This is the full quote:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
I think that first we cure the disease and then we can think about tapering off the opium. And perhaps the "opium" could even be used to actually cure the disease.

At the point, where the disease of oppression has been cured, there is no conflict left at all, no question of religion being alienation.  At that point we enter the territory of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal whose famous "wager" postulates, quoting Wikipedia, 'that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.' Pascal said:
Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful.
How does all this fit into what I am trying to say about American politics?

To begin with, in the vast majority, the working people of America are religious, probably for the reasons that Marx enumerates. To attack that deep spiritual need is to make enemies of them and cause them to fall directly into the hands of those who are oppressing them. That is what Robertson and his ilk are about.

I think that it is probable that the parents and the grandparents of those who today listen to Pat Robertson, who brood about the Apocalypse and Rapture and make up the base of Sarah Palin, voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt... and their great-grandparents voted for Williams Jennings Bryant... Changing those votes is really what Robertson and his ilk are about... The Reagan revolution would have been impossible without it. Probably the dumbest thing that America's progressives have ever done has been to abandon the field of transcendence to the wing-nuts.

Harnessing spiritual, transcendental meaning and energy in the cause of liberating humanity from its oppressors is certainly the most intelligent and probably the most effective course... That is what "Liberation Theology" is about... it might be encapsulated in Bryant's famous phrase: "thou shalt not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold". Change "globalization" for "gold" and you have a whole political program that would move masses. DS


stunted said...

"I belong to a gospel choir. They know that I am an atheist but they are very tolerant. Ultimately, the message of gospel music is that everything's going to be all right...a sense that somehow we can triumph...Gospel music is always about the possibility of transcendence, of things getting better. It's also about the loss of ego, that you will win through or get over things by losing yourself, becoming part of something better. But those messages are completely universal and are nothing to do with religion...They're to do with basic human attitudes and you can have that attitude and therefore sing gospel even if you are not religious."
-Brian Eno, from an interview in the Guardian, 17 Jan., 2010

So, cueing-up Sam Cooke's "A change is gonna come", I would ask Mr. Pascal what God has to do with it. We are faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, truthful because, being in this together, that is how we survive and nourish ourselves on the planet we are fortunate to share with other living things. To do otherwise is to seek our demise, as we seem hell-bent on proving. These are basic human attitudes. Transcendence is not necessarily synonymous with spirituality, and stating that is not an attack on some people's need for spirituality, so, yes, it seems to be a problem of language. Progressives have not abandoned the terrain of transcendence just because the spiritually-inclined don't get the vocabulary. A thorny problem, indeed, but to lay the blame on the progressive movement is to leave the country prey, by default, to the sweet-sounding bullshit change of an Obama presidential campaign that hit all the right notes of the gospel/ incantatory style. Manifestly, at least so far, his heart wasn't in it. Sam Cooke, he ain't. I have to use the words that I mean.

Donovan said...

I actually see the Pat Robertson comments as VERY POSITIVE. Why? Because it brings awareness to what we believe and causes us to ask ourselves, especially Christians, "Do I really believe this"? And the answer for almost all of us is a resounding NO.

You don't get rid of evil in the world by fighting against it. The best way to get rid of shit, is to expose it to the light and sun, where it evaporates into think air.
peace out,


Anonymous said...

Brian Eno is wrong:

these messages are completely universal and EVERYTHING to do with religion - which is why religion is a universal aspect of basic human attitudes...

...if you have that attitude you are being religious, whether you want to use that word or not.

So let's use the words that other people understand, in order to communicate, and not just the ones we feel personally comfortable about.

stunted said...

Two articles:

"The Compassionate Instinct" by Dacher Keltner

"Language and the Politics of the Living Dead", by Henry A. Giroux