Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama and Wright As An Illustrative Reductio Ad Absurdum

The Obama-Wright controversy shows the limitations of America's fondness for religious politicians and illustrates why Americans should be careful what they ask for when they demand, as polls consistently suggest they do, that their political leaders believe in god and affiliate with organized religions.

Pastor Wright's batshit opinions are nothing more or less than the explicit expression of his religious outlook applied to political affairs: that AIDS is some kind of government conspiracy, that god will punish the USA for its disparate treatment of blacks in criminal enforcement, that 9/11 was god's punishment for some or other aspect of US foreign policy. I'm sure Pastor Wright could go on at length about the ways the USA continues to suffer for the sins of slavery and Jim Crow.

This is Christianity filtered through the American black experience -- an experience that, for reasons any sane person can understand, prioritizes and highlights race relations over time. Christianity takes an understandable focus on race relations in a very imperfect society and perverts it into unhinged batshit because, like the other Abrahamic faiths, it doesn't prize rationality, reason, and evidence, but devotion, passion, and faith. It privileges the wants of a cranky and fickle divine agent far above what conforms with reason and evidence. People who spend their adult lives fishing through the Bible or the Koran looking for "relevance" and "meaning" and "wisdom" come, sooner or later, to absurdities.

We don't need to look very far to find Christianity filtered through different historical experiences. Mormons, Catholics, Southern Baptists, and assorted evangelicals have their own ideas about how this nation, and the individuals composing it, might win or lose god's favor.

When these ideas are spelled out in candid detail, they offend, divide, and take on an emetic sameness: famous preachers (Hagee, Robertson, Falwell in his day, Farrakhan, many others) speak for their sects in saying that this nation, collectively, earns god's disfavor so long as it permits gays to live in peace and equality, takes the wrong line vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians, insists on science in science classrooms. They declare AIDS and other STDs as god's vengeance for sexual conduct, and insist on sexual purity as their god sees it. For his part, the Pope adds to this by threatening lay Catholics with eternal damnation if they dare to vote for pro-choice candidates, and denounces other Christian sects as gravely deficient. Mormons, not to be outdone in their determination that non-Mormons are gravely deficient in the eyes of god, presume to baptise souls posthumously (hence their fascination with genealogy), thus granting the non-Mormon dead the chance to earn their magic underwear in a glorious Utah beyond the stars.

Shorn of the vaporous abstractions, religion is a nasty business. This is because god, as portrayed in the holy books and in the prophetic imagination, wants precisely what he wants, and sects form because someone believes he's figured it out -- that he has identified god's fondest desires in all their particulars, where all other sects, let alone other faith traditions, have misapprehended them.

Is anyone running for national office prepared to stand next to his/her preacher and issue a thumbs-up or thumbs-down as the preacher takes questions over points of doctrine as applied to contemporary political, social, economic, and scientific questions? How many candid answers and thumbs-up before this process appalls and alienates the vast majority of voters? How many thumbs-down before the politician's attachment to the faith is shown to be hazy, uneven, selective, opportunistic, "cafeteria"?

Should this exercise take place -- and I dearly hope it does for the sake of exposing the stupidity of the wish for godly politicians -- can we expect lamentations from the observers asking why-oh-why the politician didn't leave the scary sect and the nasty preacher long, long before?

I hear you, American voter, when you say you want your leaders to believe in god. I hear it, I just don't believe it. I think you want your leaders to pay vague, vacuous homage a god who approves of you.

I think you want god-believing leaders in the way a child wants a puppy -- such a charming idea when you're standing in the pet store and not considering the destroyed footwear, all-night barking, ruined furniture, veterinarian bills, and heaps of shit.

Good luck with that.

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