"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hot And Bothered Over Nothing–Political Debate And The Demise Of Reason

I recently read a seething, angry, frustrated Facebook posting. The writer had launched a vitriolic, hateful attack against religion; but, he said, for a good reason. Religion was responsible for the rape, pillage, and slaughter of millions from the Crusades to the great holy wars of Europe. 



Slave owners whipped and beat African chattel and then sanctimoniously went to church on Sundays. The Germans in the 30s were a profoundly religious people.  Bavarians had been devoutly Catholic for generations, and northern Germany was the birthplace of Martin Luther.  Yet they were complicit in the Nazi genocide and the deaths of millions of innocent civilians throughout Europe.

  Image result for image swastika       

The Facebook writer saw the ugly, evil hand of religion everywhere.  Protestants and Catholics alike were responsible for the enslavement of women, the deprivation of civil rights, and the aggressive promotion of capitalism, a Calvinist-based doctrine of individual wealth and salvation.

Unfortunately he only singled out Christianity for his diatribe. Islam’s brutality and savagery in Jerusalem in the early years of its emergence from Saudi Arabia were overlooked, as were the excesses of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram.  Muslims are a put-upon people, half-exterminated by Christian Crusaders, corralled and broken by the Jews in Palestine, unjustly attacked in Afghanistan and Iraq; and therefore their murderous violence is justifiable as a reasonable reaction to oppression.

Image result for images muhammad's armies attack christians jerusalem


President Obama got himself into hot water by suggesting that all religions have blood on their hands; but that truism was quickly pilloried by the press. Of course religion has been the motivation behind much world atrocity.  The point that he failed to grasp was that militant Islam is replaying history, is an implacable enemy of the West, and must be defeated.

By calling out radical Islam for its geopolitical ambitions, megalomania, and desires for world empire, no one is criticizing religion but the expected, predictable, violent actions of self-interest.  Islam may be the foundation for ISIS expansionism, but their actions are unmistakably political.

Image result for images ISIS


The obverse is also true. Religion has been the foundation of culture since ancient Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Mohenjo-Daro. It has provided guiding moral and ethical principles, the way to spiritual evolution and salvation, and generated art, music, dance, and literature.  Can there be one without the other?

Image result for image mesopotamian gods


It is doubtful that any civilization, especially one which feels itself anointed by God, can possibly sit back and let events take their course.  Civilizations which have a foundational religious belief feel they have an obligation to spread the word while expanding their territory.  It is no surprise that monks, priests, and friars accompanied Spanish conquistadores in the Americas.

Which brings me back to my Facebook friend who could barely contain himself when it came to the subject of gays and religion. Why was he so surprised that religions are self-protective, insular, and profoundly conservative?  Catholics or fundamentalist Protestants don’t have a particular animus against gay people. They are simply building a perimeter to keep out the Other, to protect their traditional interests, and to guard against unwanted intrusions. The FB poster had more hateful vitriol in his system than any Southern Baptist who has re-read Deuteronomy and Paul and come to the conclusion that the Bible considers homosexuality ‘an abomination’.

Image result for images deuteronomy


A more important question must be asked – why is this millennia-long historical context forgotten when it comes to immediate and necessarily temporal issues? Homophobia is a product of many social, cultural, psychological, as well as religious factors.  Why is religion singled out? Or better, why is all religion damned because of one contributing factor to the question of equal rights?

The same is true for race. Entire institutions, such as ‘progressive’ newspapers like The Guardian and The Nation, make a living by ignoring context and complexity and fueling ideological frenzy.  This is understandable since the media are private and rely on readership.  No one expects moderation and due consideration when the audience demands blood. The question is why do readers fall for it?  Every polemic written by The Guardian’s US Editorial staff, regardless of its exaggerated claims, is taken at face value.  The world is filled with misogynist, racist, and homophobic men, and they must be neutered and eliminated.

Image result for logo the guardian newspaper

There are two possible explanations for such illogical behavior.  The first is age.  Young people fall hook-line-and-sinker for emotional arguments.  Reason and rationality are dry and academic tools of inquiry. They cannot possibly help to understand let alone resolve issues that affect people’s lives. Youth is all about passionate optimism, the ability to change destiny, and the importance of a communal, peaceful world.  Historical inquiry will only obscure the essential nature of the problem.

The second explanation is intelligence.  There are plenty of young people who reject emotionalism and illogic in favor of rigorous analysis.  The best academic institutions of America are filled with such minds.  Most people – young and old – do not have the honed intellect of students and graduates of Harvard or Yale. Philosophical conundrums – ethical quandaries, metaphysical dilemmas, phenomenology – are difficult if not beyond them.  Youth and intellectual debility combine in a perfect storm to keep the presses rolling with frantic stories of race, gender, and ethnicity.

Fortunately the acerbity and vitriol of true believers lessen in intensity with age.  The mature liberal has consolidated his progressive beliefs over time, perhaps added some factual corroboration to his theories, and defined his personal cosmology.  His arguments are always reasoned, but operating from a priori principles.  Environmentalism, civil rights, peace, and social harmony are absolutes within a secular theology. They are inalterably right, and evidence is sought only to confirm them. History is largely irrelevant because of liberals belief in progress and the perfectibility of man.  Of course our ancestors held retrograde beliefs.  They had not yet evolved to our more insightful conclusions.

New Age

“Let them be young”, said a friend of mine. “They’re not doing any harm”. Without them, political debate would be flat and unleavened. Spice-less and uninteresting. I cannot disagree more. Not only is there no reason why reason and optimism cannot coexist, it must. Illogical, idealistic optimism does no one any good.  And spiritless rationality becomes nothing more than artifact.

Tolstoy understood this after years of searching for philosophical meaning and for God. After he had finally exhausted every logical avenue of inquiry, he simply sighed and gave up.  If millions of people believed in God, and billions before he was born, then they might be on to something.  His anxious search was over.

Tolstoy A Confession

What bothers me most is the anger, the hate, and the hostility. It will always be hard for people to agree on complex issues; but there is no reason for destructive critical mayhem. A passionate but logical argument will resonate with opponents.  They may agree or not; but one’s critical duty has been discharged.

Perhaps the real answer lies in self-image.  It is not enough to mount a logical argument for or against gay marriage to establish one’s credibility.  A measure of passion, of insistence, of commitment must accompany it.  While most confident people will assess an issue, study it, come to a conclusion, and hold it until disproven; someone lacking in confidence go overboard.  Passion displaces and replaces reason because it is overt, visible, and quickly identifying.

I erased the Facebook writer’s post.  Better to retreat in the face of unreasonableness than agitate.  I am sure that his will be replaced by many which are even more hateful and angry; and I am only sorry that there are so many young people with such frustrated hostility.  The world really isn’t that bad a place.

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