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17.9.08

The religious is political

Joel Monka says this well:

Politics - if pursued in a moral and ethical manner- IS a spiritual act. The ultimate intent of a political race is - or should be - to elect the person who will do the most good for the most people. It is where believe meets the pavement, where spirituality is put to practical use. To stand aloof, pretending one is above such worldly things, is to be less spiritual, not more - you are not doing your best for your fellow man.


Contrast this to a post by Zuzu at Shakesville a while back:

If I believed in God, I'd be pretty annoyed at how small and petty people make him out to be, caring about who wins a football game or where your pee-pee goes. Or getting involved in US electoral politics. Doesn't it bother anyone else that all the awe and majesty and grandeur has been sucked out of the concept of a Supreme Being until he's turned into some kind of bookie?


(I'll be talking in terms of "religion" and "God" in this post, but in the spirit of one UU jumping off from comments by another UU, I think what I say can apply to any socio-moral philosophy, even if it's non-theistic or doesn't fit some definition of religion or spirituality.)

There's a good case for avoiding religious hubris in politics -- of being too confident that your candidate or your case is clearly God's choice, much less that your candidate is some sort of perfect heaven-sent messiah (a la Lincoln's famous quote, or what Sarah Palin was actually saying about the war in Iraq). There's a good case for not focusing on a candidate's personal religious beliefs and practices, because it's their decisions about public policy that matter (as said here in a Zuzu post I agree with). There's a very good case against pursuing many religious ends through public policy. And there's a case (albeit not so simple or slam dunk a case as many people think*) against pursuing candidates or policies who can only be justified by appeal to religious reasons.

Nevertheless, to place religion above politics in the way that Zuzu wants to trivializes both God and politics. It trivializes politics by suggesting that gay rights is on the same level of unimportance as who wins a football game. And it trivializes God by suggesting that they don't care about the well-being of their worshippers (which can be impacted in significant ways by "politics" in a broad sense, even if you take a Nader-esque view of the significance of elections). Why does it give God "awe and majesty and grandeur" and make them more worship-worthy to not only not care where I stick my pee-pee but also not care if someone else forces their ideas of proper pee-pee sticking on me?**

Pettiness (an over-focus on the small things) is certainly a bad trait, but so is aloofness (an under-focus on small things). Religion should strive to exhibit neither of them in its engagement with politics.

*I've been intending to write a whole post on this, but basically the idea is that people too often conflate the religious vs secular distinction with the Rawlsian public vs private reasons distinction, which works only insofar as you can attribute fideism to all religious believers.

**This also perhaps deserves a full post, but I think there's a common tendency in socially liberal arguments to conflate caring vs not caring with supporting a broad range of acceptable options vs demanding conformity to a narrow ideal of conduct. If you don't care about an issue, you're not going to support enforcing a narrow ideal -- but you're also not going to invest anything in fighting against others who want to enforce a narrow ideal.

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