Hate, Faith, and Polarization
I read recently that if people with strong conservative or fundamentalist beliefs have their beliefs challenged, their position hardens. I don’t think that applies solely to conservatives. When I see some outrageous statement form Michele Bachmann or others of her ilk, my negative feelings tend to strengthen my position.
Back when I was taking Political Science courses, the prevailing mantra was that the underlying strength of American democracy was a spirit of compromise. Legislators on opposite sides of the aisle would come together and work out a deal that accomplished some of the goals of each side. There was an atmosphere of give and take.
The nation has had periods of cooperation. The Truman and Eisenhower years may be an example. Polarization has also been a repetitive theme in our history. Slavery and race are the issues dividing the nation since the eighteenth century. We seem to be inching toward a resolution, but don’t look for peace and harmony yet.
The current impasse in congress is, on the surface, Republicans versus Democrats. The rhetoric on both sides is “The American People want this” or “The American people want that”. The members of congress want campaign contributions and more money.
Most Americans don’t know what they want or don’t care. Under the rhetoric is ideology. One the one side are the dedicated progressives with a broad view of how the country should change. They see social issues that need to be changed. They like the money.
The other side is composed of two main groups. The true conservatives just do not want change. They want retreat to a simpler time without the complex, baffling issues a huge, diverse culture is facing. Think Norman Rockwell. They also like the money. The other group is ideological. They see themselves as engaged in a global struggle between the forces of evil and the true path they represent. To compromise would mean giving in to temptation and the path to destruction. They like the money. They want power to overcome the Enemy.
The true believers on either side are resistant to opposing views, and when confronted their views tend to harden. The Karl Roves are mainly interested in power. The true believers are preparing for the end times, the final confrontation between the Antichrist and the faithful.
This confrontation has, of course, been a constant theme in Christianity since the Book of Revelation was written. It was written about Rome during the time of the destruction of the temple and the Jewish diaspora. The imagery is about Rome. The Beast, the seven hills, all refer to Rome, not today. This theme came up again around 1000 A.D., at the time of the Black Death, and often in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whenever some True Believer sees prophecies and does some calculations.
Almost every generation has applied it to their own time. Christ continues to tarry. The faithful are not deterred. The consequence of this hardened ideology is congressional gridlock. Compromise is not an option when confronting demonic forces. It doesn’t take too many fundamentalist Christians in Congress to lock things up.
The current trend goes back to the Enlightenment, which was followed by the Industrial Revolution and the beginnings of a secular and progressive society. Concurrent with the secularization was the growth of literacy and people reading the Bible for their own selves. Now there is a book with a lot of themes. There is rich soil for a fundamentalist ideology, a return to the City of God.
The Bible and the Quran came from a region where people have always fought over for land and power. They also fought over ideas, moving from paganism with a God for every purpose to a God wanting everyone to follow His purpose. Jesus and Paul wanted us to find God’s law and purpose in our hearts. That takes a lot of work, and most are content with the law. Mohammed laid down a new law and people went right to war over who should enforce the law.
Those who want power use the law for their purposes. They are not too concerned with eternal truth. Check that with Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Some want to use to use the law and power for what they see as spiritual purposes. Check that with Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin.
The struggle in the Islamic world is much the same. Secularization and progressivism contend with a reactionary attempt to return to pure times that never really existed. Old tribal and religious hatreds return with true believers armed with computers and AK-47’s.
There is a broad movement of people seeking to use the common bonds of humanity to work and pray for peace. I hope the peace seekers will prevail. I pray with them. There is a universal web of love that can overcome hate.