You hear this a lot, never discuss religion or politics. And yet, that’s all we seem to do since these are two very juicy subjects. Besides, it’s Easter and Passover, and politics is always in season. People find it hard to avoid discussing the things that make them tick. Only trouble is, these little chats can turn violent, as in “let’s kill them all and sow their fields with salt” violent. That’s pretty horrible, and illogical. If your religion or politics are any good, you won’t have to harm a soul, people will snatch your ideas in a flash, no sales pitch or weapons needed. We all want to be safe and warm and get along with the neighbors, and if you know a better way, we’re all ears. Just don’t get too peeved if we disagree. And keep your damned sword to yourself! No one likes a Crusader.
Sadly, so many of the religious and political faithful betray their creed by shoving them down someone’s throat. Or up somewhere else. Take the 3 most famous religions around, for example; Christianity, Islam and Judaism, each claiming (natch!) to be the one true faith. More than a few of these sons of Abraham don’t seem all that happy with whatever peace and comfort there is to be had from their faith unless the next guy feels just as friggin’ blissful too, if it kills the son of bitch! The way you choose to worship an invisible deity we can’t even prove exists can cost your life. Now that’s faith.
When it comes to religion, it’s basically “your guess is as good as mine,” which is why they are called faiths and not facts. Politics, on the other hand, can be proven to either work or not, since the way we govern nations has a very real impact on our lives, sometimes a little too real (the doesn’t-work kind). For just about forever, politics were very simple; there was a king who ran the show for his whole life and you were a piece of shit unworthy to do anything but lick his boots, die in his wars, toil on “his” land and pay for his decadence. Then when the fucker finally dropped dead, his son took over and built statues of Pop all over the place and nicknamed him “The Great,” and now you’re stuck with reminders of this rotten prick in public parks the rest of your life.
This didn’t work out well for anyone but the king and his posse, so eventually regular people figured out that they could at least fuck up that bad all by themselves and cut out all the expensive middle men in wigs and pantaloons. The thinking was “What is this, tragic opera or a friggin’ government here?” So they tossed out the pantaloon people and decided to hold elections, pass their own damned laws for a change and run their own justice courts, thank you very much! Wonder of wonders, it worked. These days 123 out of 192 countries are on board.
It’s called Democracy. The most famous Democracy is of course The United States of America. We started the trend of ditching the monarchs and replacing them with ourselves. One problem is that we started with the phrase “All men are created equal” but retained slaves for another 89 years and slaughtered millions of Native Americans who were inhabiting our “manifest destiny.” Bam! Right off the bat we had to play catch up ball in the ethics department.
Seems that some of “we the people” are just as lousy as kings. Genocide and slavery just won’t do in a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Thankfully, we got past those nightmares and are always in the process of honing our Democracy to the high ideals that founded this nation. America remains a work in progress, and our battles over the right road to something resembling perfection in an imperfect world is what keeps the place so interesting. It’s the fact that everyone gets to put in our 2¢ worth that makes it both noisy and fun.
Without the opposition, whichever side you are on, what would we argue about, cell phone apps and internet speed? Please! Sometimes our adversaries help define us by identifying what we don’t like. And, once in a blue moon, one of them just might say something that makes sense that we can learn from, as unlikely as that might seem from such a bunch of horses’ asses. Stranger things have happened. Besides, we’re not done here. There’s more stuff we still need to do to get it right, a generation at a time. Working Democracies are still a fairly young form of government, mere babes in historical terms. The idea may be as old as Greece, but the practice of it still has that new car smell.
Younger still is Communism, another anti-monarchist form of government where the goal was equality, but Communist leadership stunk up the joint with their totalitarianism and that whole world conquest deal. Communism, much like every religion out there, corrupted its ideals right from the get go. Millions of citizens of Communist nations had to be slaughtered before Communism took root, not for love of the system but simply out of fear. Is it any wonder Russia got rid of it after only 70 years? A good idea on paper, maybe, but a disaster in practice. No Communist Nation ever drew eager waves of immigrants.
China is just beginning to crawl out from under all the damage wrought by their own Communist demigod, the monster Mao Zedong, who was every bit as murderous as Stalin, Hitler or any killer king or emperor in history. His victims were almost exclusively his own countrymen, tens of millions of them sacrificed to create a “People’s Paradise” that never happened for anybody except Chairman Mao and his henmchmen, who’s idea of Paradise had to be genocide on a grand scale, the equivalent of killing everyone in several medium-sized nations.
This guy still decorates their currency, which is ironic considering that his successors transformed his People’s Republic into The World’s Factory, and themselves into CEOs, Brooks Brothers suits and all, the kind of guys Mao once called Running Dogs of Imperialism and Capitalist Dogs. The Great Helmsman’s Workers’ Paradise is now China, Inc., the new Japan.
Then there’s the worst possible form of government we’ve managed to come up with, that combination of politics and religion, Theocracy, or religious state. These governments combine the worst traits of religion and politics and no citizen is safe from the total control of their lives and minds. Only the worst sort of human beings wind up in charge of Theocracies, the dregs of the dregs. These countries only serve as vivid reminders to Americans to thank our Founding Fathers for perhaps their greatest idea among many great ideas, the separation of church and state.
Most current theocracies are Muslim states, but this wasn’t always the case. European Christians have a rich history of oppression, conquest, mutilation and murder in the name of God, having ignored the memo from Jesus that said: “The Kingdom of God is not of this world” (and pretty much all of his teachings). Having a manual you claim was written by God helps a whole lot. By its very nature it can’t be questioned, especially when most of your citizens can’t read. This way you can absolve yourself when you burn non-believers alive, imprison and torture them, slaughter them or drive them from your land in the name of “God.” Like Communism, Theocracy is tailor made for messianic psychopaths.
The fact is that all religious books are the product of the minds of men who claim otherwise. How else can passages like “Slay them down to last man, woman and child” or “stone the sinner unto death” be explained? Would a God advocate stoning his children to death? Then there’s all the blatant contradictions in every religious tract, alternately commanding love and hate, tolerance and intolerance, kindness and cruelty, marital fidelity and polygamy and any number of conflicting marching orders. How very similar to the minds of men are our Bibles, all over the place.
The only guy who showed any consistency at all was Jesus Christ, who’s Gospels somehow got added on to the Hebrew Bible as a “New” Testament, even though it appears Jesus is talking about a completely different God from the petty rat bastard of the Old Testament. Christ was all about the love and had no use for vengeance, violence or intolerance. Mercy, kindness, forgiveness and love were his calling cards. He carried no weapon. In the 2 millennia since his death, there’s been no shortage of psychos invoking the name of The Prince of Peace to justify the slaughter of millions of God’s children. Go figure us whacky humans, eh?
Men are not like animals, who show almost no variation in personality within each species. There was never a vegetarian lion or a frog who tried to fly. No alligator ever argued with another alligator about what was the proper moral and alligatory way to behave or govern the swamp. They’re just alligators doing what every alligator does; bask in the sun and tear other animals limb from limb. Animals have no notion of right and wrong. But we’re people, as different from one another in our minds as our bodies are alike, with very clear notions of what is right and what is wrong.
And so we invent religions to reinforce those notions, and form governments whose policies reflect our ideals. When those religions and policies don’t sit so well with the other guy, we argue. Sometimes those arguments get out of hand. The trick is to discuss these things without resorting to violence. Hopefully the framework in which to do that is Democracy. Democracy bows to the inevitable and recognizes that people will always exercise their ability to think and speak, no matter what any government has to say about it. Let’s keep on talking about these things, not fighting or forcing anyone to dance to our tune. Don’t discuss religion and politics? The only thing nuttier is to not discuss them. Those twin 800 pound gorillas will not be ignored. It’s hard being human sometimes.