There are religious and political fundamentalists. Some people are both. Right now, many people are of the latter.
Based on the works of Ernest Becker, a connection can be made between death and fundamentalism. Richard Beck, in his book The Authenticity of Faith (which I’ve been reading of late), writes this about the relationship between death and fundies. This quote is like ice cream … if you eat it too fast, you’ll get a brain freeze, but if you eat it slow, you may find it delightful.
Human personality and culture are inherently about the denial of death, about helping the human animal achieve day-to-day equanimity in the face of our existential burden and helping us manage our instinct for self-preservation in the face of a cognitive awareness that we are bound for death, that we cannot run away or escape our fate. Death activates a fight or flight response in us, but we have nowhere to run. No one to fight. So the anxiety just sits there, churning away. To handle this anxiety, we repress death awareness or sublimate the anxiety it causes by working on projects our culture deems significant and valuable. Through these efforts we attach our life stories to goods that can outlive us. And by doing so, we achieve both self-esteem and a symbolic immortality. We feel that we made a difference. And our culture declares our life meaningful.
…. This daily exposure to alternate hero systems threatens our belief that our particular cultural heroics, our way of life are eternal and timeless. As noted earlier, in our modern, pluralistic society there is a fragility of meaning. We see now that this is largely due to the clash of worldviews we encounter on a daily basis. Pluralism hints that worldviews are relative and not timeless and eternal. And if this is so, is anything to be counted on? Where am I to find meaning, truth, and significance in the face death if the foundations have all turned to sand?
The fear inherent within modernity, the anxiety that the ideological Other calls my worldview into question, is one explanation for rise of fundamentalism in the modern ear.
Religious and ideological fundamentalism, then, appears within modernity (perhaps paradoxically) as a defense against these questions. Fundamentalism, of all strips, is the individual and collective effort to defend the truth of your worldview against the relativization inherent in the existence of the Other. Becoming a true believer is one way to defend against the existential predicament of modern day pluralism. And this leads to a surprising conclusion. Rather than making humanity less religious, as Freud believed, secularlism is driving an increase in religious fundamentalism and often violent fundamentalism. Modernity is shaping up to be less an age of reason than a violent battle between ideologies, ways of life and worldviews. Pages 75 – 77
Support your symbolic immortality.
Here’s a different angle to Part one:
In both the movie and novel of “War of the Worlds” the plot takes an abrupt turn when on the brink of humanity’s destruction, the aliens begin to succumb to terrestrial microorganisms and die off. At the very moment that the reader or moviegoer has every reason to believe the story was headed for a dark ending, they are suddenly lifted towards optimism. This plot device is called a “deus ex machina.”
The term “deus ex machina” was adapted from ancient theater, when a god appeared at the dark pinnacle of the story to right all the wrongs. The main character had died, or the war was being lost, or the king had lost his love, or the kingdom was in disarray and suddenly, out of nowhere a god, war hero, sage, terrestrial microorganism, etc. would appear (presumably dropped from the upper rafters on a rope) and everything would be made right.
Religion is too often the art of using God as a means to one’s personal end.
Religion is a way to escape the sorrows of the world through the promises of heaven.
It’s a crutch.
The “opium to the masses”.
The “deus ex machina.”
Many of the arguments that skeptics use against tribalistic and self-serving religion can also be used against those who seek to use politics as a way to get their slice of heaven here on earth. It follows that the same valid arguments used by skeptics against self-seeking religion can also be used against self-seeking politics (which is what I attempted to do in Part 1).
Just as humanity uses religion as the “deus ex machina”, so we use the power of politics. This idea that a down economy can be solved by the power of politics … that the godlessness of American families can be solved by the power of politics … marriage equality … women’s right … healthcare … the restoration of God in schools … the limitation of federal government … all these things can be solved by the deus ex machina of political power.
The divinized power of politics is a delusion that humanity has believed in for millennia. Take the Jews of two millennia ago. The messianic expectation during second temple Judaism was that the Messiah would come in power, He would reclaim the throne of David, he would reunite the dispersed tribes and together they would right all the wrongs by overthrowing the Roman occupation.
Jesus came. He claimed to be the messiah. And nobody recognized him. Because they were all looking for Superman. They were looking for a militant king. He proclaimed self-sacrifice, grace, forgiveness, defense of the poor … a new kingdom where the least would be the greatest and the greatest would be the one who served the least.
This quote — that many of us have read — from Napoleon Bonaparte:
“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but what foundation did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded an empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”
There’s a reason Jesus was born into an oppressed people group, in one of the poorest towns, to one of the most poor and ostracized couples. We like to view the virgin birth as a miracle, but for Mary and Joseph (who would really believe that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary?) it was a curse of epic proportions as it effectively made their lives only livable in the accursed town of Nazareth.
There’s a reason he wasn’t born into a royal Roman family where he could have inherited the throne. There’s a reason he violently denied his disciples attempts to thrust him into a political position. Because he knew that the power of love is greater than the power of force. He too was a political atheist … something that his 12 disciples had a hard time understanding … something that his followers still have a hard time understanding.
As a follower of Jesus, I’ve established my atheism on the life of Christ. It doesn’t mean I’ve disconnected myself from politics. It doesn’t mean that I forsake my civic duty. It just means I’ve stopped believing in the divine power of politics.
I’m okay with people who divinize political power. I used to be one. After reading my fair share of classic and modern political philosophy, I became disillusioned and lost my faith in the power of Politics.
I stay up-to-date on the debates and I vote according to my conscious, but I do so with vapidity.
I don’t believe in the power of the federal government to affect internal change. I haven’t seen it change people in my city, in my home town, on my street. I’ve seen my friends change my city, I’ve seen concerned citizens transform my hometown, but not Washington.
I don’t get stirred at the groupthink evangelistic DNC and RNC conventions where the faithful worship in blind faith … where the fundamentalists gather and pat themselves on the back.
I’ve cut my personal ties to the symbolic immortality that so many within politics seek. If I die, and my political ideology isn’t in power, I’ll be okay. If I die and America isn’t the America of our forefathers, I will still rest in peace. I don’t smoke the opium of politics that promises my tribe’s eternal life if we can only gain back control from the “others.”
All the pie-in-the-sky political talk seems to limit what the faithful do in their own town. The faithful post their token facebook messages, they stick their candidate’s signs in their front yard and may even work with their party’s local chapter, but they’re so idealistically minded that they’re no local good. Where are the faithful when someone next door goes hungry? I’ll tell you where: they’re so busy siting on their easy chair watching CNN, MSN or FOX that they haven’t even noticed the poverty on their own street.
If they spent half the time acting on their ideals instead of talking about them they might actually begin to see the change they’re looking for. Hypocrites. Have you ever met a VERY political person who you would consider a great person? Isn’t it generally assumed that politics turns good people into liars and irrational egoists who breath in their own self made delusional promises?
It seems that politics takes the energy of the many and places it at the feet of the few. And if the many would take their own energy and instead invest it in things they cared about on a local level, the few would take heed and then the system would change.
The faithful will say that political atheists like me aren’t good for society … for civilization … for Washington. And they might be right. I’m not good for Washington. But, if they want to tell it to my face they can find me on the streets of Parkesburg, where I mentor at-risk youth, helping them graduate high school, succeed in the work place and seek higher education.
What really gets me, though, is that those who believe in the power of politics really believe that their brand of laws and government can cause lasting change. As government is the only way to change.
What is “it” that the government can change anyway? And in what way can “it” change? Can the government change the “it” of supposed godlessness in the families of America? Many red bleeding “Christian” republicans think it can. They want God back in the government … because they assume that God likes to work through law?
Can the government change the “it” of poverty in those in the lower class? Many blue hearted liberals think it can. They want the federal government to solve social ills that are intrinsically local and internal by nature. Like trying to catch a whale with a bear trap, they think social ills can be healed by programs and finances.
At this time in the political season, through the drum of political facebook posts, the incessant coverage from CNN, MSN, and FOX, I dig my heels into the ground and become more convinced of my position: I’m an atheist. The all-powerful god of politics doesn’t exist. And he has no power to cause lasting change. If he does exist, he has such limited power that he’s doesn’t deserve the adoration he’s receiving. There’s no historical proof, no proof in personal experience and no reason to believe in the deity of political power.
I’m a political atheist because at the end of the day, politics can’t transform, they can only guide.
Postscript: This is a provocative piece that uses some broad strokes. I’ll remove the black and white tone of this piece in “Part 2.”
The USA Fish is even more awesome because (although you can’t see it from the picture I have here), it’s stuck on the back of a brand new Suburban. After the Green Movement killed the Hummer, the Suburban took it’s place for those who wanted to own the road and be owned by the local gas station. I know, some of you need the Suburbans (I drive one for the funeral home all the time and haul all sorts in the back … who knows, I could be hauled in the back of that thing one snowy evening after a fist fight with Chuck Norris), but what makes me laugh is that they DIDN’T use the Prius to advertise their USA Fish. I guess their marketing gurus figured that Christian Patriot = Republican = Oil Lover = Suburban?
The Bush Fish isn’t really relevant anymore, but you can still increase your awesome with this decal … lest you forget that God himself (and the Supreme Court) put Bush in office. What confuses me is that “Bush” is like 10x larger than “God” … I knew W was like twice as powerful, but 10x is a bit overkill.
And finally — although I think Sarah Palin’s been subjected to media cruelty — I think this video may cause even the cold glass from Alaska to snicker. Aside from wondering where the creepy background voice is coming from in this video, I also questioned the one line in the chorus, “cold as hell.” I thought the term was suppose to be “hot as hell”? Maybe it’s just a nifty play on words that is over my head … yeah, it’s probably over my head. Nevertheless, if you want to increase your godly patriotism, this song is an item you should learn and teach your church congregation before Obama outlaws church.