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Monday, August 15, 2005

The Discussion Over Political Fanaticism

Tommy of Striving for Average is guestblogging over at Sigmund, Carl and Alfred's:
Faith. Belief without proof. Everyone does it. You have to. Even if you believe that we can rationally explain everything, that too is faith and will continue to be faith until the point where everything is conveniently laid out before us all nice and neat. The overheated rhetoric frequently comes from people that don't know they are believing something based on a type of faith, or from people exploiting that belief and attempting to ensure those people never stop to think about what they believe, or why. It has cult like qualities doesn't it? And unfortunately there are people in both ends of the political spectrum that behave as if they are in a cult (aren't they? well yes, they may very well be...).
He's right. Some people do act like political affiliations are membership in a cult. You see it all over the internet. The other side is Satan and must be fought by any means necessary! It reminds me of Church Lady on Saturday Night Live, but far too many don't see the humor in this behavior.

And here's a very interesting comment from Boomr:
Oh, and by the way, in politics, the "fringe" groups that are marginalized are usually the ones more in the center, while the extreme voices control the "mainstream" party. In religion, the extreme voices are the ones marginalized. For instance, the hardcore right controls the Republicans, and the hardcore left controls the Democrats, but the extreme fundamentalist Christians don't necessarily control the general Christian churches out there.
I think he's right about this, but it's an awful truth. (I tried to comment over there, but Haloscan had to get snarky and refuse permission. It told me I had a "cooky error". Everyone's nagging me about my diet these days.) But it does support Tommy's thesis. Maybe we'd better examine the social forces acting on religion and compare those to the social forces acting on politics. I realize that primaries tend to reinforce the agenda of the core constitutuency of parties, but surely there's more to it than that.


Comments:
I think in general the social forces acting on religion are the same as those acting on political parties. They're both groups that offer inclusion to like-minded people, while at the same time offering moral superiority to those they exclude. It's in this sort of "you're with me or against me" idea that religion and politics share the same sort of "faith" as tommy describes.
 
Snort!

When I see Protestants accusing all the Catholics of being Nazis, etc, I'll believe that. It used to be that discussing either politics or religion was likely to cause warm feelings. Now people seem to be able to discuss religion but are completely losing it over politics.
 
But at the same time I seem to catch hell everytime I mention that I don't want religion in government. It's like religious people don't necessarily want to discuss their religion with people who don't share the same faith. If you're "discussing" a topic only with people who think like you, what kind of discussion is really occurring?
 
The religion in government one is an interesting one depending on what is meant by it. I think government should have no position on religion but there are some who try to make religion a topic of discussion during appointments or other matters.

There are those who try to interpret it to be a position that religious people should not be allowed in office, and of course there are others that would really like to have religion play a role in government decisions. Those groups have a vested interest in overreacting to any discussion because it fans the support and makes having a useful dialog impossible.

The question should be the same for everyone, can you execute the duties of the office in question.
 
I got this story second hand from a teacher I knew teaching in North Carolina. Her principal was getting pressured by parents to have a prayer at the graduation. The principal was very uncomfortable about this. While the school was mostly Christian, it did have some Jewish and Hindu students. The principal very much wanted to say, "sure, we will have a prayer at the graduation." And then bring in a Hindu priest to lead it to teach the parents a lesson about why we don't have prayers in public schools. He knew that the parents would be horrified by having anything but a Christian prayer. But in the end, knowing that the lesson would be completely lost on the parents, along with probably losing his job, he just held the line at no prayer.
 
Well the school shouldn't be in the position of organizing prayer. The problem is in the argument made by some that the school should be in the position of prohibiting prayer.
 
Boomr - if you are saying you don't want religious people or any religiously-derived/associated principles in government than I think you should catch hell.

The most abstract faith-based statement I can think of is "If I act so as to inflict the minimum of harm but also so as to help where possible, in the end it will work out for the best." One can't prove that thesis, and there have been plenty of regimes that weren't founded on that ideology.

So you can't eliminate faith and morals from being the guiding principles of those who elect or work within government. You can prevent a government from becoming the instrument of a church or of thought-control, and that's all you can do.

And if you can't eliminate faith and morals from being the guiding principles of those who elect or work within government, by what justification can you say you will eliminate a certain identifiable class of them? In the end, that does come down to thought control.

Calvinist Geneva and Communist Cuba have demonstrated similar developments in some respects. The utopian social experiments haven't worked out, whereas the social experiments that place the weight and responsibility for developing a guiding ideology for society upon individuals while leaving administrative details to the governments elected by the people seem to be working out much better.

You are trying to draw a line that doesn't exist. This isn't even rational. Fanaticism and a failure to respect other people's rights is a great evil which is hardly confined to religion. Indeed, in our society it doesn't correlate well at all to religion.

A few days spent on DU will show you very nice but ardent Democrats arguing with absolute fanatics who will openly justify any type of behavior if it helps their cause. The NH phone-jamming incident was carried out by people who obviously had lost any sense of decency or ethical perspective.

Society depends upon our sense of fairness and the willingness to extend to others the same rights we wish to have. There will always be people who don't believe in that. They should be rebuffed by common sense and ethical disgust of the majority.
 
One really good example why the schools shouldn't be in the business of conducting prayers is Europe. Over most of it religion is taught in schools. It hardly seems to work for the health of religion or society.
 
First of all, I'm not talking about preventing the faithful from serving in office. That would be impossible, as the faithful (in some degree) comprise about 95% of the world. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about laws -- RESTRICTIVE laws -- which are religiously based (such as laws against homosexuality or stem cell research or businesses operating on Sundays, etc.).

MoM: You said, "The most abstract faith-based statement I can think of is 'If I act so as to inflict the minimum of harm but also so as to help where possible, in the end it will work out for the best.'"

I would argue that this has little or nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the safety of the population. It is a common theme in EVERY society, not just those that are predominantly religious. It is, in fact, the foundation of all society, even those in the animal kindgom: groups working together equal safety. You can't say that chimps in the jungle are a religiously-based society, but they substantially follow the tenet you described. Show me one society that doesn't have that as part of its social compact.

"So you can't eliminate faith and morals from being the guiding principles of those who elect or work within government."

Absolutely you can. The government has no business being in the morality business -- that's a job for families, churches, INDIVIDUALS. Religious moralities are by and large more restrictive than that of the society at large (for instance, and pardon the curse/blasphemy, but under the 1st Amendment I have the right to say "Godfuckingdamnit" without reprisal, but according to the Ten Commandments, I've committed a sin). Such restrictive moralities are fine FOR THE INDIVIDUAL WHO CHOOSES TO LIVE BY THEM, but those self-restricting individuals (even if they're in office) have absolutely zero right to extend that restriction to those of us who choose not to accept such restrictions on our own. You said it yourself; "... the social experiments that place the weight and responsibility for developing a guiding ideology for society upon individuals while leaving administrative details to the governments elected by the people seem to be working out much better." How is infusing religion into government an example of "plac[ing] the weight and responsibility for developing a guiding ideology for society upon individuals?"

"The utopian social experiments haven't worked out...."

Include in that category the religious social experiments; i.e., the religious-based governments. See, for example, Iran. Even the Puritan societies in this country changed over time into something less religiously based.

"Fanaticism and a failure to respect other people's rights is a great evil which is hardly confined to religion."

True, but religion is the only thing mentioned in the Constitution as being prohibited from influencing government. As long as that's there, then religion holds a special place among the host of other causes that lead to fanaticism.

Again, religion and morality are INDIVIDUAL choices, not something that should come with legal requirements and penalties for failure to abide by them. Once government gets into the morality business, we're all in trouble -- including the majority of Christians in this country.
 
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