Ideas matter. As John Maynard Keynes put it, "the world is ruled by little else." In a sense, every member of a democratic society should be an intellectual, because the ideas--brilliant and insightful, moronic and delusional, or somewhere in between--we bring to the voting booth will inevitably affect the governance of our society, which in the United States means affecting for better or worse the lives of well over three hundred million people. And, given the vast wealth, influence--and unfortunate tendency toward imperialism--of our society, our votes likewise impact (perhaps through things as deadly as drone strikes or food and medicine embargos or economic austerity policies) potentially billions more.
Matthew 6:26 For Republicans' God, it might depend on your net worth.
(image by BeggartoBeggar)
Thought of in these terms, by voting one assumes an awesome, frightful responsibility over other people's lives. Yet Americans put shockingly little effort into ensuring they approach the polls with heads chock full of intellectually viable ideas; in most cases the effort is literally none. No wonder John Stuart Mill argued that while everyone should have a vote to protect their own interests, votes should have different weight, because some people are vastly better qualified--by intelligent study directed toward discerning the common good--to make judgments affecting other people's lives. Though I see the obvious political obstacles to implementing Mill's scheme of unequal voting, I've never heard anyone refute his argument.
When a nation's badly governed--as ours provably is--it's pretty clear the ideas voters are bringing to the polls aren't Grade A ones. In fact, if we could really ask and get honest answers, I imagine most voters' responses would flunk an "intellectual meat" inspection. Of course, part of the problem is that our reigning oligarchs have made it that way; the last thing they want is a U.S. general public with the anxiety-free leisure, education, and undistorted information to reflect well on the governance of their society. For without millions of harried, servile overworked stooges subject to brainwashing, our distribution of wealth and opportunity would doubtless be far more egalitarian than it is.
But sometimes discovering the intellectual idiocies driving voters would require a little probing, since their self-defeating and socially (or better, globally) destructive ideas have unacknowledged intellectual underpinnings--deep-rooted, unquestioned assumptions that make, say, the rights of billionaires to live unmolested in their greed, highly plausible. And, since what one believes about the nature of the very universe and humanity's place in it pretty much determines everything else, a lot of these underlying assumptions come from religion. And in Republicans' case, bad religion. Bad not only in its consequences, but because of a deep intellectual incoherence--to the point of self-contradiction--in its doctrines. The chief problem with U.S. Republicans' religion is that the loving God they claim to worship is (A) not Christian and (B) not loving, but a sadistic prick. Since the first part has been ably treated by many (most recently, http://www.opednews.com/articles/Billionaire-Jesus-And-The-by-Rev-Dan-Vojir-Bible_Billionaires_Christianity_God-140512-416.html), it's the less examined "sadistic prick" part I'd like to focus on.
Before proceeding, I'd like to make a point that distinguishes me from many fellow members of the political left. Namely, that I'm not knocking religion per se; nor do I believe that people should check their religion at the door when they think about politics. After all, I don't see how one possibly can disable one's most deeply held beliefs about the world when one turns to politics; religion, as Yale law professor Stephen Carter pointed out, is a deep personal commitment, not a hobby. I think all a democratic society can ask from the religious is a respectful acknowledgement that many others in the society don't share their beliefs, and that the beliefs be intellectually substantial enough to avoid self-contradiction and to coexist with well-established scientific truths. Since dogmatic atheism has never been definitively proven true--and perhaps in principle can't be--I find it unacceptable to demand that citizens of a democracy (acting within the bounds I specified) not act politically on their religious beliefs.
Despite the sound of my previous paragraph, I'm not simply exercising intellectual caution or tolerance, leaving space for religious beliefs I personally find worthless. On the contrary, there is one religious belief that I deeply regret has always been held rather hypocritically, and for which I find it very hard to find an effective secular substitute. It's the best religious belief I find among Republicans, and if I hammer them for the incoherence of their doctrines, it's because they in practice sacrifice this belief to deeply pernicious doctrines that contradict it. The belief I find virtually irreplaceable by secular doctrines--as perhaps the essential guiding principle of a good society--is that all humans are the children of a loving God. I wonder whether anyone who has honestly raised the question can sustain a high sense of human dignity on any other basis; perhaps the related notion that we all have a "Buddha nature"--related in the sense of seeing all humans as ultimately made of "god stuff"--can compete.
Without some similar foundation for universal human dignity--some sense that we're not just a brainier animal species--I doubt that benevolent, fundamentally democratic societies can long be sustained. Given our psychological tendencies, social Darwinism (which most Republicans, as self-described Christians, incoherently practice anyway) seems a much better fit with the "just smarter animals" assessment.
So while I, as an educated modern person, am capable of doubting just about everything, I carry this "children of God" relic of my Catholic upbringing about as a practical maxim: something I should act on as if it were true. Which brings me back to Republicans--who in practice reject, for utterly pernicious doctrines--the sole religious doctrine I found worth retaining. For the last thing they can be accused of is treating fellow human beings--above all, in politics--as children of a loving God. Clearly instead, creatures of a cosmic sadist. Meaning a God it's irrational to worship.
Now, how Jesus' Father, who loves us all as his children (above all, the poor), transmogrified into Sadistic Prick Numero Uno, cruelly overseeing a social Darwinistic jungle of dog-eat-dog capitalism, is an interesting story--one I feel scarcely qualified to tell. All I can manage are some suggestive speculations. Perhaps when Luther realized that practicing the empty formalistic rites of a corrupt, money-grubbing Catholic Church shouldn't rationally guarantee anyone salvation--such being both unscriptural and unworthy of God's dignity--he unleashed the monster of gnawing doubt about one's salvation. Granted, it's all supposed to be a matter of God's grace, but how does a person know he or she has God's grace? Granted, spiritual fruits--like, say, loving your neighbor as Francis of Assisi did--might be a pretty rational and Biblically justified test, but how many of us are going to pass that one? Above all, you never want such a shaky basis for an organized mass church. Making lots of money--a trait becoming increasingly useful, since the Protestant Reformation coincided with the rise of early capitalism--seemed a far more accessible test of whether one had God's grace. Not, of course, that widely accessible, but certainly far more so than neighbor-loving sainthood. And also far likelier to endear early Protestant leaders to the princes of this world.
Now granted, there was always a certain incoherence in believing at all in the universal benevolence of a God who distributed the rewards of this world so unevenly, leaving the majority of most ages in such considerable misery. As William Blake so aptly put it, "Some are born to sweet delight./Some are born to endless night." And the second "some" sum up to a vastly greater number. While a God of universal love is intellectually difficulty to believe in based on his heartlessly cruel world, at least, if your brain can somehow manage the contradiction, he's a fit object of worship. And indeed, there's something very lovable about the Creator Father of Jesus, who's really on the side of most of us poor slugs, and indeed plans to judge us by how we treat the worst off. Whereas there's nothing lovable about the tyrannical deeply biased Prick overseeing the Protestant ethic--especially if you're one whose worldly fortunes never put you in the grace column. And my ultimate question, even for his billionaire "saints," is how do you trust someone, supposedly of infinite knowledge and infinite power, who's pleased to see so many human beings plowed under? Can you really trust him to save your sorry ass? Even if I had the remotest shot, I'd be inclined to reject it--who wants to accept a reward from such a sadistic prick?
In short, the God worshipped by today's Republicans is not the loving Father of Jesus, and is in fact an intellectual incoherence and a moral abomination. A humanly decent society can be run on the basis of Jesus' universal Father--and perhaps only on a similar basis. The only society Republicans' God can run is a heartless dog-eat-dog nightmare, where the most selfish oligarch pricks are created in the Cosmic Sadist's image. If progressives--without necessarily believing--would take religion seriously enough to question Republicans about the un-Christian, intellectually incoherent nature of their God, we might find a way to change their behavior at the polls. I strongly suspect unreflective, unquestioning faith in the Cosmic Sadist is the governing ideology of much of the Republican base.