“Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.”
“The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a god or not.”
Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
Recently, some thoughtful friends of mine have been writing about how the personalities of Presidential candidates and their individual world view are not really crucial to the process of how they manage the economy. These friends equate the economy with all the reasons to elect a candidate. I suppose this is a rationalization of how to support a Texas top gun like Rick Perry or a crazy woman like Michelle Bachmann whose primitive social instincts are fantastically out of touch with the 21st century. The economy is important, of course, but there are other issues that trouble people, including a woman’s right to choose, birth control, education, a safety net for our citizens, and the government’s ability to create infrastructure and an environment in which people can live in safety.
Of course, economic policy is an adjunct to this, but it is not the sole thing.
I guess my perspective is different: I believe that the socio-religious-anti-science zealotry of some of the candidates, especially on the Republican side of the aisle that unctuously panders to the religious right is a disingenuous manifestation of a hypocritical vote solicitation-at-any-cost mantra. And when President Obama also does the same thing, “may God bless the United States of America,” at the end of every speech, he is no less obsequious. Earlier presidents did not need to wear flag pins or make ubiquitous and gratuitous religious references in order to please the voting public. Abraham Lincoln’s references to God were not done as a matter of course at the end of every speech. And certainly Thomas Jefferson did not do so.
I understand the perhaps human genetic need to believe in a supernatural force to provide social cohesion and an ability to war against other tribes, but why must it be a prerequisite to garner votes? Why must every speech be an appeal to piety? Are not Muslim fundamentalists the same as Jewish fundamentalists or the Catholic Church in their a priori discounting of other faiths, claiming their faith is the exclusive path to salvation?
At least the Catholic Church is somewhat consistent: no birth control, no capital punishment, and no abortion. But its hypocritical and certainly not biblical 16th century calls to celibacy among priests so that the church could perpetuate its property and estates are no indication of godliness. And there is a cogent argument that the celibacy requirement attracts sexually abusive individuals to its ranks. The Catholic religious hierarchy continues to mystify me.
Why is the American public so ostensibly pious? Europeans have already moved away from state religions, but in the United States, there is an almost secular state religion, an unintended consequence stemming from the tolerance set forth in the Constitution. The entire fringe religious fundamentalism in this country has a cult-like tenor to it, an irrationality that is almost indecipherable yet understandable at the same time. I think the candidates should be extensively questioned about whether they expect to govern by divine revelation. Michelle Bachmann has been particularly adept at dodging that question. George W. Bush, born again, took us into two wars costing trillions of dollars, which history has borne out to be unnecessary, given recent events in the Middle East.
I still remember the Republican debate in 2008 when the candidates were asked if they believe in the theory of evolution and all raised their hands in the negative. That question should be put to the candidates again.
At the same time, the ideological, proto-religious aspect of the economic arguments presented today is undeniable. On the right are the zealots who want to remove government from the economic process, yet wish to include it in the social agenda. Do not abort the child, but once it is born unwanted, abandoned, and neglected, let it inhabit the lower depths of a Dickensian untervelt of deprivation, ignorance and poverty.
America must find a rational alternative to this mind numbing debate: Moving beyond piety in its political dialogue, whether it be a religious or dogmatic view of economic solutions or its misappropriated social creed of imposing religious education and its anti science dogma in the public schools.
Focusing on the solutions to our social problems through ideology is neither productive nor encouraging of solutions.