Politics and Religion- Oil and Water


Part I:    The “Curse” of Christianity

     Nowhere is the “curse” of Christianity more evident than in the struggle of Republican lawmakers in their shallow attempt to reconcile their callous disrespect for the common man with the gentle teachings of their savior.  Nor is it a coincidence that Jewish sycophants such as Gary Cohen and Steve Mnuchin are chosen to present an embarrassing one page excuse justifying their so called tax “reform” bill.  Don’t worry, however, because when the bill proves to be the sham that it truly is, these two schlemiels, traitors to their own religion, will be the first ones to be thrown under the bus.

     The tax bill, so highly favorable for the rich, taking money from the poor and middle class working stiffs, while planning on draining social programs and education as well, seems to insure that a whole passel of wealthy Republican donors and their rich political “camels” will not be fitting through the eye of a needle or entering heaven in the foreseeable future.  The problem, of course, is that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  The Pharisees, so maligned in the New Testament were not the liberal minded Pharisees of Jesus’ time who professed many of the same values attributed to him.  By the time the books of the New Testament were authored, Pharisees were desperately trying to save their religion by preserving every possible ritual, no matter how trivial, often failing to emphasize the same “big picture” the New Testament authors were trying to portray.

     The problem is that the Republican Party’s far right wing and a large part of its evangelical “Christian” base are, in effect, the new “Pharisees.”  It is an inescapable fact that Roy Moore is only the tip of the iceberg.  Pious on the outside when it comes to issues such as gay marriage and abortion, he is an “unChristian” bigot on the inside with none of the respect and tolerance that Jesus had for the imperfect human beings he sought to help.  Imagine, even Senator Graham, a man I had always respected for his honesty, defending Donald Trump, an admitted sexual predator who demeans the handicapped, minorities, supports and praises Nazis and white supremacists, a man who criticizes war heroes, but who, in his entire life, has never sacrificed anything for either his country or anyone else for that matter.  Imagine literally selling your “Christian” soul for a phony tax bill, a few “unChristian” federal judges, the theft of millions of acres of public land, much of it sacred to oppressed Native Americans, killing as many children as possible by increasing air pollution and denying the very existence of climate change and an extra thirty pieces of silver to boot.

    The true “Curse” of Christianity is not a modern problem nor is it the fault of the religion itself.  The “curse” has existed since the inception of all religion and, in reality, it shares that curse with every single religion in the history of mankind.  The real source of the curse is “politics,” something that does not mix well with religion.  “Politics” has always been a battle between various groups to obtain those things they want.  Religion is supposed to help people to fulfill their legitimate needs, whether they be physical or spiritual.  Virtually every religion is eventually torn apart by the inability of its leaders to determine the difference between what its members need and what they want.  Invariably, in both politics and religion, the rich and powerful seem to arbitrarily decide what people “need” based on what the rich and powerful “want.”  Simply put, whatever is “left over” after the rich and powerful have taken “their share” is what the rest of the people “need.”  In the end, I believe the problem of mixing politics and religion may be more about politics corrupting religion than religion corrupting politics.

     The Republican tax proposal is a perfect example of many totally un-Christian and many un- Jewish rich and powerful political donors telling their inferiors what, exactly, it is they need.  Even ultra conservative evangelicals and ultra orthodox Jews need to wake up and challenge those congressional and senate members that prey on them by promising them minor toys they want, but deny them those things they really need!  Meanwhile, both political parties need to begin drafting candidates who legitimately respect the needs of the opposing party’s members.  In order to do this, they need to discuss with them the difference between what they “want” and what they “need.”  What people “need” usually leads to some sort of dialogue, while what people “want” more often leads to violent argument.

     The last presidential election saw Donald Trump pandering incessantly, promising to give his base virtually anything they wanted as well as pretending to be a Christian.  Meanwhile, Hillary and especially Bernie tried to deal with those things that they believed people needed.  Unfortunately, however well intentioned they may have been, they committed the fatal error of forgetting, for the most part, to ask enough people what it was exactly that they actually needed.  Meanwhile, both parties seemed to relentlessly attack the dignity of the constituents of the opposite party.  I believe it is time for the Democratic party to get off of its “high horse” and draft more center and center left candidates who can attract liberals, conservatives and independents, dignifying all voters by discussing their different “needs” as opposed to “wants” and proceeding from there.  At town hall meetings people need to discuss these issues among themselves first (perhaps with the help of a moderator) and then with the candidate(s).  I have no faith in the Republican Party’s ability to do the same thing because, from what I’ve seen so far, I believe they are afraid that their constituents will find that the party really couldn’t care less about their actual needs, let alone about their dignity.

Part II:         The Restoration of Dignity

     One of the thorniest issues of recent times undoubtedly has to do with the fate of various Confederate monuments.  While a number of these tributes to Southern Civil War heroes were erected by weary groups of survivors in the aftermath of what they termed “a war between the states,” many others were built later in the hope of resurrecting a time and a culture that no longer had a place in American Society.  As an anachronism, this hope should rightly be tossed back into the dustbin of history along with forced servitude, feudalism and racism.  The problem is that unlike the obvious and utter depravity of the Nazi’s of Germany and other European countries, the “South” represented a much more complicated mixture of confusing ideas, culture, honor, and economics. 

     Except for a few rich plantation owners, for many average southerners, the decision to risk their lives to simply preserve slavery could hardly have been a simple one.  More than a few of them had to realize that the institution of slavery was the reason that they could not find opportunities for an honest day’s work, why so many were forced to become feudal sharecroppers and second class citizens.  Meanwhile, the rich plantation owners, caught up in the heady aristocratic delusions of the type of “honor” so common in the previous century, treated the average person as one of their serfs, barely superior in caste to their slaves.  Along with this feeling of elevated status and authority came a feeling of noblesse oblige, a responsibility for the success of their “charges,” now their “troops.”  Thus it is that a man like Robert E. Lee could choose to become a general of the Confederacy, ultimately leading his army to resounding and all but predictable defeat.

     To Lee and a handful of skilled fellow generals, the South’s defeat seemed to represent, above all, a loss of honor, but not of dignity.  Unlike Germany and Italy after WWII, people of the South did not awaken from a horrified moral stupor and look back at what they had done to not only their victims, but to themselves.  They awoke, instead, to a wasteland, their wealth, their families, their communities all destroyed without the previous hundreds of years of culture that Europeans had to help resurrect them.  All they had left to look back on was a fictional past, “the good old days” and the “dignity” that their leaders had never surrendered.  Thus were the post Civil War monuments erected in honor of their confederate heroes, the last vestige of dignity to be found in a vanquished society.

     Abraham Lincoln, more than any other human being, seemed to realize that to rebuild the South, its dignity needed to be preserved.  It is the lesson the US finally learned after the failures of botched reconstruction after both our Civil War and WWI.  Unfortunately, John Wilkes Booth almost single handedly destroyed any hope of effective reconstruction of the South for at least the next century and a half with the foolish assassination of Lincoln.  Andrew Johnson simply did not possess the political capital to get the job done and while most of the Southern states rightly blamed vindictive Northern congressmen and senators for this failure, many of the more intellectually and emotionally challenged blamed “Negroes.”

     To this day, there are millions and millions of Whites and Hispanics and other non African Americans who cannot empathize with the plight of the African American community and the fact that the community is not permitted the dignity that it deserves.  In the same vein there are millions of liberal “northerners” and African Americans who cannot empathize with southerners who wish to maintain the dignity associated with their heroes, however imperfect they may have been.  Even statues erected in the early 1900’s by and in honor of extremist elements should not be torn down.  They should be moved to appropriate historical sites, museums, and cemeteries where their entire histories can be honestly examined and explained, preserving whatever dignity they may have left, at the same time revealing their many serious flaws, including the relentless oppression of the African American community.  

     I seriously doubt that any ‘White American” North or South, can experience the sense of oppression still felt by members of the “Black American” community.  Empathy is not the same as sympathy.  Nor do I think that most Americans can feel the sense of abandonment still felt by so many in the South.  The time for reconciliation is at hand, but still cannot be accomplished by our current generation.  There are simply too many of us, Black, White, liberal or conservative unable to change our emotional ties to the fanciful version of the past taught to us by our elders. It is our job to present as accurate a picture as possible to our children and grandchildren and let them decide how best to get along with each other.  In the meantime, I believe that the overall rhetoric ought to be toned down considerably and liberals would be well served to stop calling General Lee a “traitor,” nor should admirers insist that he is a hero.  Whether or not fighting for a state that has already seceded from the Union is treason is still an open question in many circles and one I hope we never again find necessary to answer

     It is time that White America actually owns up to the heinous, inexcusable and relentless torture inflicted on an entire race of people.  It is White America, North and South that is responsible for the purposeful breakdown of the family unit in so much of the Black community, first with slavery separating family members and later by treating them as less than human.  The lame explanation that it is their own fault is the cowardly excuse of people who never take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.  The problem is that only the Black community itself can rebuild its own belief in the family unit.  What that necessitates is applying our resources to providing better education, jobs, infrastructure, civility and especially the restoration of dignity to all members of our society, all goals that seem absent from the ethos and agenda of the current administration in Washington, D.C.

Allen Finkelstein, 12/13/17