Removing The Plank – Why Religion and Politics Don’t Mix.
Posted by inspir3d on February 5, 2007
“One muggy morning in late July many years ago, on a graveled stoned path flanked by cedar trees; two men walked towards the top of a hill. The man who had just turned forty paused, coughed and apologized to the preacher, who smiled on registering his companion’s lack of stamina. He (the younger man) had just given up the bottle less than two weeks ago, since then he had been trying to get into shape, but there was still much to be done.
When both men reached the top of the hill, they paused for a while and took a sweep of the Kennebunk-port compound. The taciturn yet convivial Billy Graham, spiritual mentor to the rich and famous, turned to the man and said,
“George, I want to talk to you about those moments when a booming voice in your head, just speaks to you.”
“Yeah Bill, I know that voice and it sure booms, like a jet plane splitting the sound barrier. I get that feeling every morning when I wake up.” The man shakes his head.
“No George, I am not talking about a hangover. I am talking about the voice from up there!” The preacher points up and smiles wryly turning to the younger man.
“Bill, you’ve seen them too…I’ve had this experience once, when…..”
“Shhhh George, I am talking about the old man upstairs, way up there. He told me last night in a dream, he has great plans for you George………great plans.”
Both men turned upwards to the skies and at that moment the sun broke through the clouds – it seemed that they were witnessing the beginning of a new dawn.
This is the story of George W. Bush whose conversion into the Christian faith took place in the political setting of Billy Graham’s ministry. Bush, the saved alcoholic, wrenched from the wasted years, wire brushed speckled clean and presented to the American people as the new hope in an age where morass had begun to set over Capitol Hill and Washington.
The Clinton administration mired during its last leg by sex scandals and internal division had ravaged a disillusioned nation who pined for a return to Avalon – to good old American apple pie values harking back to a trusted age of ram rod pews and no nonsense leadership, where leaders could be entrusted to smoke their Havana’s, instead of using to play doctor and nurse.
Against this seemingly decadent backdrop George W Bush presented them with a prayer and a hope to return to an age of reason.
It’s true that other successive presidents before Bush were evangelicals. Three of them belonged to the “Disciples of Christ” movement – James Garfield, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. But none of the three nor any of the other forty-two presidents preceding Bush would have ever answered a campaign debate when asked, “who’s your favorite philosopher?” He said, “Jesus Christ.” And why? “Because he changed my heart,” which is evangelical–speak (as in too much, Tabasco sauce can give your heart burn, but it can never ever change your heart – only sweet Jesus can do that.)
Now don’t get me wrong now, people have a change of heart all the time, I do that all the time with those car park coupon aunties, only when US Presidents have a “change of heart,” it doesn’t nearly mean anything as simple as “hiam or ham,” as in the case of our homegrown politicians.
To understand what “a change of heart” really means in the evangelical sense, one needs to go back to another faith driven politician – Ronald Reagan (another disciple of Christ) unwittingly wrote the best epitaph for his own political career in the last year of his presidency when he defined what a “change of heart” actually meant in the political context. In 1987 when news surfaced his administration had condone the sale of electronic parts to Iran, in exchange for hostages.
He said in a televised broadcast:
“I told the American people I will not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me this is true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it’s not.”
There we have it – a man whose heart is so big, it finally asphyxiated his brain. His heart said one thing; the facts said the opposite. I’m sure his heart told him – when supply driven economics is instituted by slashing public spending, the “little guy” gets ahead. But the facts tell us Reaganomics have never really worked and simply racked up debt after debt (over a trillion dollars during Reagan’s watch) which exacerbated the monetary deficit not to mention throwing a spanner into supply economics.
I’m sure his heart told him when he called on scientists to create a National Missile Defense (NMD) to shield the free world from Soviet nuclear warheads. The facts told an altogether surreal story, one which the space shield aptly called “stars wars” could never work in practice, which is still burning up truck-loads of cash today thanks to his spiritual son George W. Bush.
The Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Frances Fitzgerald documents the affair in her book “Way Out There in the Blue.” The story she and other historians of NMD tell is so bizarre, I found myself verifying every single book title mentioned in the bibliography.
Perhaps the best way to understand the delusions “at the heart” of faith-driven politics is to deconstruct the key figures who are responsible for the contours of present day US foreign policy in the Middle East. Lets just examine whether they too experienced a disconnect between heart and brain. (We could be on the verge of a great medical discovery!)
Aside from Rove and Cheney, Bush’s inner circle are all deeply religious: Condoleezza Rice is a minister’s daughter, chief-of-staff Andrew Card’s wife runs a mega church that makes City Harvest Church look like a coat room, Karen Hughes is a church elder, head speech writer Michael Gerson is a born-gain evangelical – it would seem to the Bush administration, moral attitude is more important than even “competence.” Bible study even more important than sound evidenced-based reasoning.
I have deliberately inserted inverted commas on competence, only because, if one examines present day US policy, there is a consistent pattern: warm, fuzzy bromides from the Bush administration mutating into delusional policies which have the effect of dividing rather than unifying the world.
In the age of fallibility, Soros goes on to mention how the US has entered uncharted waters, a condition he terms, “far from equilibrium territory” (in layman’s language, it simply means a quagmire where the devil is not nearly as much in the details as he is in bold Times New Roman prints). He goes on to mention since 9/11, America’s power and international influence has declined more than at any other time in its history. The proximate cause of this erosion is due to the invasion of Iraq, which Soros describes as “an ill conceived and ill executed adventure that would undermine the American supremacy that it was meant to underpin.” The goal of US foreign policy in the Middle East may have been to secure American primacy in a stable world order, but the upshot has been to create a situation in which “the main obstacle to a stable and just world is the US.”
This begs the question, what went wrong? And more importantly, who is responsible for the mess?
Francis Fukuyama’s recent book, “Goodbye to Neo-Conservatism,” mirrors the same banality (highlighted by Soros) of present day US foreign policy when he mentions how, limited understanding of the culture, history, pride, concerns and goals of others have in effect damaged US “soft power” – the preferred apparatus of the diplomat to influence others through persuasion and discourse. By pursuing a less than optimal strategy other than containment in Iraq, along with its recent abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and its restrictions on foreigners eager to seek opportunities in the US, the strongest country in the world is fast degenerating into a pariah of sorts.
Faith driven US policies in the Middle East have in effect exacerbated resentment not only from Muslims, but also member states in the EU who are increasingly distancing themselves from America’s deadly mix of patriotism and religiosity which has alienated many secularists and moderates.
This leaves many scholars questioning what actually defines America’s new unilateralism, since US foreign policy these days can at best be epitomized in the scathing German couplet:
“Und willst du nicht mein Bruder
So schlag’ ich Dir den Schadel
which is to say,
“If you won’t my brother be,
then thy skull I’ll smash for thee.”
If we are to consider that the world is populated by relativists, skeptics, nihilists, fundamentalists, moderates, secularists, nationalists along with adherents who believe firmly man emerged from some alien civilization who once visited planet Earth from a distant galaxy, then it doesn’t take a lateral train of thought to see how faith-based politics and policies are at best a crude tool in being able to successfully inspire anything resembling global “reflective equilibrium” – a consensus amongst participants, a common ground. (Now you know why so many people who voted for Bush are also the same ones who post letters to Singapore only to pen down “People’s Republic of China.” As you can see faith-based anything also corrodes one’s sense of geography.)
“Reflective equilibrium” in lay language simply refers to the “collective psyche” which operates within a community, be it a household, village, city, country, continent or the world. While most people agree terrorism in whatever form, shape or manner remains wholly abhorrent, they would never consider resorting to the usage of evangelical terms such as “crusade” or a fight against “evil” to make sense of a challenge.
Even the “War on Terror” embodies a mistaken metaphor (never mind that more Americans die every year from badly designed highways, badly laid homogenous tiles or artery clogging hamburgers. Never mind that the world trade centre wasn’t brought down by an Islamic superpower, rather it was the act of 19 confused Muslims who reported to a guy wearing naan bread on his head who badly needed a Philips power shaver and lived in a cave in Torah Borah). Terming it the “War on Terror,” introduces theological fantasy at the core of what is actually the very serious enterprise of managing geo-political/cultural conflict.
Framing conflict management into a simplistic Biblical analogy between good and evil reduces foreign policy to a zero-sum game, in which any gain for the opponent is by definition a loss. Even when conflict doesn’t erupt into violence, the zero sum formula continues to act denying an advantage to the other side, no matter the long-term damage to oneself. That may not make the slightest sense to scholars who school themselves diligently in the field of public administration, but it makes perfect sense to the Neo-conservative Republic right who count themselves as one of the Bush administration’s ardent supporters.
Conservative evangelicals undoubtedly form the target audience of Bush’s apocalyptic rhetoric. The Christian right’s role in the Bush administration is not simply that of an ally that must be courted and appeased, like dreamy eyed secretaries who typically spend a quantum of their salary on sappy Korean love serials expecting to see a handsome hero walking off into the sunset happily with their heroine – they the millennialists expect to see the same Biblical myth unfolding before them in full Technicolor, from Armageddon to the End Time.
It’s a disturbing theoretical construct, one which serves to explain why American foreign policy appears to assume an increasingly unilateralist, incoherent and even counterproductive form these days.
And if it is true, the relationship between the millennialists (who make up the majority of Bush supporters) and the current administration aren’t even engaged in politics or for than matter anything resembling policy. Rather, what’s being played out is prophecy.
Prophecy – the belief that a catastrophic conflagration in the Middle East would inaugurate a new world order to which some on the Christian right subscribe to is not entirely fantasia, like sci-fi movie fans who typically occupy most of their time discussing the merits of imaginary galaxies which only exist in the virtual realm. To the Christian right, it is nothing short of the truth! And every event which has since occurred or will transpire in the Middle East isn’t so much predicated on the laws of causation as it has to do with a divine narrative that is presently unfolding before their very eyes, a narrative where the actors are as lurid and colorful as Mel Gibson’s “Passion,” where Iraq is not so much Iraq as it is the cradle of civilization from which “Aqua Vitae” springs forth – only to be carried through the Tigris and Euphrates, and where the Israelites are not simply ordinary citizens like you and me, but rather “Gods anointed people.” Against this florid conflagration, the truth, politics and policies have even less to do with evidence-based reasoning or empirical knowledge.
As long as American foreign policy remains allied with millenarian beliefs, it’s at best a faith-based mumbo jumbo mission rather than a serious and rational engagement with the rest of the world.
As George Orwell once mentioned,
“The deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent and it’s usually found where religion finds politics.”
(The author is a Christian, who regularly plays the organ in a small church somewhere in the East of Singapore, he doesn’t much care for mega churches or for pastors who go around in flashy sport cars and doesn’t know how to manage money [otherwise why do they always need a bit of money?], he cares even less for fundamentalist neo-conservationist millenarian Christians – and firmly believes religion has no place in domestic or international politics.)
1. The Age of Fallibility: The consequences of the war on terror by George Soros / Public affairs.
2. “The Amateur” R.Solow, The New Republic, Feb 1999.
3. The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power (Public Affairs, 2004).
4. Crimes of War: Iraq Falk et al 2006.
5. Le Requub et la mouette (D. Villepin) Paris: Plon 2004.
6. Gulliver’s Troubles; Or, the setting of American Foreign Policy 1968.
7. America at the Crossroads by F.Fukuyama 2005
8. Taming American Power by Stephen Wat.
9. Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an unloved power by J. Kiesling.
10. NIV Bible.
11. “Why politics and religion don’t mix” – by Darkness, The brotherhood Press 2004.
12. “The search for Eden – Paradise lost and found.” – by Darkness, The brotherhood Press 2005.
(By Nacramanga / Astroboy / Cerebus / Trajan / Politics / Sociology / PP / EP 88362292-2007 RV last 2005 / The Brotherhood Press.)
6 Responses to “Removing The Plank – Why Religion and Politics Don’t Mix.”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.