Political Conversion Theory

Although reflective of a general decline in organized worship across the country, for Washington more than most places, politics is the new religion. This being a presidential election year only makes it worse. As a beneficiary of and stalwart supporter of democracy, I would love to believe that this interest in politics is based on a thorough investigation and understanding of the issues, but I don’t.

Rather, I have come to the reluctant conclusion that while some small part of political affiliation is based upon public policy preferences, most of the stridency which attends politics as I see it is simply a poor substitute for a “Greater Cause” to believe in.  Instead of the River Jordan we immerse ourselves in oily waters, slickened by the ooze of self-dealing and promises unkept.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the fact that humans love drama. To be patient and moderate in our ways is considered at best foolish and nothing worth remarking upon. But to express moral indignation! Ah, the thrill of this sensation. To yell and scream and fume and march. To point fingers and shudder. To turn our heads away in disgust. Or, another tactic: to use a patronizing, patient tone that conveys how silly and shortsighted the Other is. Well, that is satisfying.

Whether it’s Washington or Santa Barbara or some hotbed of political discontent in the middle of the country, where the congregations of churches and synagogues dwindle, we must find a substitute for our focus. And, alas, politics has become the approved alternative. Nobody cares anymore whether or not you go to church or how you actually conduct yourself on a daily basis, but your stance on immigration, abortion rights, taxation, and a few other hot button topics will, all too often, determine who your close friends are and whether you’re considered intelligent, let alone a truly good person. Suspicion of the Other has extended its gnarly finger far beyond the confines of church pews.

Shunning. It’s a tough world out there.

Instead of weekly worship, we read the op-eds. And the only op-eds that get printed are those that express righteous indignation. This is the 21st Century version of fire and brimstone. The hymns we sang have been replaced with chants for rights. A drumbeat to rouse the masses.

Moderates, by nature, are measured and quiet and hesitant to express their opinion in the face of such loud, angry mobs. So, they’ve been squeezed out of the political process on both sides of the aisle. Is anger the only way to rule? Since when did all matters of public policy devolve into a high stakes game of chicken? And why is it that the mentality of ten year old boys has taken an entire government hostage? How does a moderate make his or her voice heard in this cacophony of bilious bile?

People need something to believe in; they will accept what is force fed them if they lack the strength or creativity to seek it out on their own. These days, God is Out and Politics is In. We are sheep. But our new Deity is one built on covetous rage or colossally idealistic beliefs. It is a False God that demands tributes in the form of campaign dollars, votes, and alliances only with those who see things as we do.

The unkindness, intolerance, and hypocrisy for which organized religion has become so well known has simply shifted over to politics. We see it all around us. But like sheep, we know not where else to go, so we either stand there immobilized with all this swirling about us or indignantly join the braying. A sad choice, if ever there was one.

But this is the moment where we need to get creative. We need to be clever and determined as to how we might lift up the tenor of this chorus. What might you do?

The road to Damascus may require us to revisit places heretofore abandoned.


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2 Responses to “Political Conversion Theory”

  1. kaarenrobertson Says:

    Fabulous. I love this post.

  2. helenga Says:

    I think you’re right on target here. Ironically enough both politics and religion have the potential to unite us, but instead serve as wedges to drive us apart. Religion is based on tolerance, acceptance and understanding–love your neighbor as yourself–but too often is seen as a way to divide us against them. Our political system, which is uniquely American, instead of being a point of pride has devolved into something that turns us against each other and threatens to rip us apart. People don’t see opposing views as important to the functioning of the system as a whole and essentially two sides of the same coin. Thank you for being a voice of reason on all of this. (I would argue, though, that politics has always been a religion of sorts in DC.) 🙂

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