|Apr/May 2003 • Miscellaneous|
Every so often, an overly optimistic secular humanist will jump the proverbial gun and proclaim—in a fit of the sort of wishful thinking by which us progressive types may so often be easily identified—that the intellectuals of the world have finally established something of a beachhead in the struggle between science and faith, that only a short "mopping-up" campaign remains before the contemporary incarnations of organized religion are relegated to the status currently held by the Norse pantheon and pamphlets on crystal healing. "Theology" will soon be reclassified as "mythology," young children will be taught to fear only oncoming traffic, strangers with candy, and discarded syringes, and that will be the end of it.
Socrates might have presumably believed something of the sort, at least until the voting public of Athens convinced him otherwise with a swift execution by lethal concoction; Clarence Darrow, having achieved the miraculous feat of beating portly fundamentalist and notorious serial candidate William Jennings Bryan in a rational debate (if not in the actual legal proceedings), certainly couldn't have helped but feel the end was nigh for the fire-and-brimstone crowd; and I myself, though having not yet achieved anything on par with being executed or chosen to represent the side of reason in a national courtroom spectacle, share at least one trait with those two revered fellows, having admittedly succumbed to moments of wild abandon in which I've predicted the total and inevitable victory of urban bookstore patrons over rural connoisseurs of porcelain angels. But then, I'm something of an idiot.
Stupid as I may be, though, I do take a certain pride in having my finger on the pulse of the nation. And the reality of the situation is that God is coming back in a big way, and has never been very far from the center of things to begin with. Public and press alike agree that the post-September 11 America (if the reader will excuse an overused but nonetheless indispensable phrase) is a more religious America; even if the destruction of the nation's tallest buildings produced few conversions to That Old Time Religion, it is generally acknowledged that this most striking of events did remind a good number of sinners to go to church every once in a while and, as far as I can tell, to write letters to their local newspapers in which the collective readership of said publications is strongly urged to put God and family over hedge funds and cute secretaries.
Not that religion needed such a boost, at least not in this part of the globe. Between articles on Ritalin and the latest arthritis treatments, Time has of late managed to find time to commission a series of polls by which it was revealed that a good deal more than half of all Americans believe that the Bible is a literal account of God, His life and times. Even (or perhaps especially) George W. Bush, leader of the Free World and personal secretary to Dick Cheney, is certainly quite a fan of Yahweh, having cited His temporal incarnation Jesus Christ as his greatest influence. Jesus, as he told the nation during the fight for the Republican candidacy, came into his heart and set him free, presumably around the time that George quit drinking. And even the most hopeless news addict would be hard-pressed to come across a speech by the president in which the world's most popular deity is not praised, evoked, or generally spoken highly of. God, it seems, is bigger than the Beatles.
To believe in such a god as Yahweh—an all-knowing, all-seeing, infinitely wise creator deity with a line on all that is good and true—is to defer to his judgment, in theory if not in practice. Certainly one who believes in such an entity would make a point to at least pay lip service to His injunctions, however one actually decides to act; one does not split hairs when dealing with the omnipotent.
From this it may be logically inferred that one who believes in both the God of the Testaments and the democracy of western civilization probably finds no contradiction in this dual-citizenship of ideology, although there's no need to come to such a conclusion through logical analysis alone—anyone who's ever read a newspaper can't help but be aware that religious Americans believe our nation to be endorsed by God, its fundamental foundations similarly sanctioned by Him, its success a result of His goodwill. Simply ask any churchgoer—or even someone who only aspires to be—and he's certain to inform you that God is democracy's biggest fan.
But let us go out on a limb and assume for a moment that these fellow citizens of ours may be wrong on this point. After all, would it be unwise to examine a major premise of our collective political consciousness when nothing less than the proper use of an unprecedented position of global might is at stake? Sillier arguments (with less opportunity for alliteration) have been undertaken; thus I would like to submit to the reader that the concept of representative government—as well as many of the key ideals so integral to modern civilization that they may be agreed upon by capitalist and socialist alike—is contrary to the policies of God as described by the religious texts that these literalists hold to be infallible.
Whether he be statesman or deity, determining a subject's political affiliation is a simple enough matter; one need only look at the record. The overriding ideology of any revolutionary figure may be reasonably ascertained without reading a single word of the chap's manifestos, proclamations, or revolutionary pamphlets. Instead, it is necessary only to examine the sort of government this fellow ended up creating. Through this fairly self-evident method, it may be ascertained with a great deal of certainty that Lenin was probably a communist, having established the USSR; Hitler, most likely, was a fascist, having established the Nazi regime over Germany; and Jefferson and his drinking buddies were all certainly republicans to one degree or another—a very small degree, in the case of Hamilton.
Yahweh, it is often forgotten, also once engaged in a bout of nation-building (an activity usually frowned upon by his admirers in the Republican Party, particularly when it's done by a Democrat); the result of this experiment, as related in the Torah, was the Kingdom of Israel. Those well-versed in the nuances of the Old Testament will take note that the Republic of Israel is nowhere to be found; similarly, there is no mention in the scriptures of any People's Republic of Israel, with its myriad kibbutzim and drab collective delis. Indeed, if either of these two entities has ever existed, history seems to have totally overlooked the both of them, while oddly taking note of such seemingly trivial facts as how many wives King Solomon had (more than I do, as it turns out).
Having had the chance to form a government conducive to His particular sensibilities, Yahweh opted for absolute monarchy over the more imaginative forms of social contracts which were to come later—the social contract, for instance. One must wonder at His lack of originality. Monarchy had already been done to death by the time this not-entirely-noble experiment rolled around in the 11th century B.C. In fact, this was pretty much the only form of political association to be found anywhere at the time, aside from the whole "roving band of horse-mounted barbarians" setup, which would have provided better opportunity for an active lifestyle.
Yahweh, being Yahweh, certainly couldn't have been ignorant of other potential governmental institutions; even without His ability to see the future, the God of the Hebrews should have had no problem thinking up something that the Greek mob would accidentally hit upon a few hundred years later and that John Locke would eventually rediscover and legitimatize.
There's no getting around it: Yahweh knew of democracy but somehow neglected to mention any such concept to his followers. He certainly had ample opportunity, this being the era in which He was in the midst of His yakkity-yak, "Do this, do that, conquer those chaps over there" phase. Yahweh was indeed a blue-blooded monarchist, a fact that the kings of Europe would later seize upon, spiff up, and hold aloft as Biblical support for the "Divine Right of Kings" concept. Louis XIV was right on the money—God was in his corner all along.
Not only is Yahweh a diehard opponent of any sort of representative government; he would also be a poor candidate for government representative of any sort. The sheer number of scandals, missteps, and archaic policy positions that He is credited with in both the Old and New Testaments would make a Trent Lott presidency seem quite feasible.
By far the most damning of these views is God's well-documented tolerance of slavery among His people. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's," Yahweh tells the Hebrews in Exodus 20:17, putting human chattel in the same category as real estate. By the way, that bit about coveting your neighbor's ass refers to donkeys; scattered condemnations of homosexuality may be found elsewhere.
To be fair, God was at least on the level of the 19th century southern plantation apologist; in several instances, the benevolent slaveholder is urged to treat his property with kindness, or at least as much kindness as one is ever likely to come across in the Old Testament. "And if a man smite his servant," he warns in Exodus 21:20-21, "or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money [property]." Meaning that beating the dickens out of a "servant" is all well and good, but if he should die that same day, some unspecified punishment awaits the owner. Perhaps his driver's license is revoked for a period not to exceed 90 days. But should the slave not die from his wounds until a few days later, the master is in the clear. Understandably, Bush's speechwriters tend to skip over this particular passage when trying to inject a little religious fervor into the president's weekly radio address.
As for women's suffrage, little examination is necessary. Though the Bible mentions no specific injunction against females voting (seeing as how very little voting was going on at the time), there are several passages to be found in which wives are commanded to obey their husbands in all matters. Unlike God's position on the slavery issue, which modern pastors make a point to overlook when composing a sermon for the following Sunday, the majority of literalists still have a tendency to shout this particular commandment from the rooftops—or from the bleachers, as is the case when the Promise Keepers come to town and reserve entire football stadiums for their pseudo-masculine sob-fests. Anyway, one may conjecture that in the event of an election, a married man's vote would count twice. This is actually quite a progressive setup when you consider that slaves in the American south were each granted the status of only 3/5 of a person when it came time to divvy up the House of Representatives. So, kudos, Yahweh.
Aside from such glaring forms of political suicide as anti-abolitionism and a stance on women's rights that makes Phyllis Schlafly look like Betty Friedan, there are a number of lesser but nonetheless damning incidents to be found in the Bible. Fundamentalist Republicans who were so concerned about the character issue during the Clinton presidency would do well to read the book of Job, a summary of which follows here:
God: Hey, Satan, this Job fellow sure is a loyal Hebrew.
Satan: I bet he'd ditch you in a second if he didn't have it so well made.
God: You're on! Watch me kill his family and give him the Middle Eastern equivalent of herpes!
Job: God damn it.
Satan: See? He took your name in vain.
God: Wait, it's not over yet. (Explains to Job why He had to kill off his loved ones in order to win a bet with the devil)
Job: I see. I guess you're really a just god after all.
God: Right. Now here's a new wife.
Job: Hey, a blonde! I don't care what the Philistines say; you're alright, Yahweh!
God: Hey, Satan, where's my five bucks?
And all Pete Rose did was make a friendly little wager on a few ballgames.
Having failed several essential political litmus tests, having had all of his "youthful indiscretions" recorded and so widely distributed that they may be found in the drawer of every hotel room bedside table on the planet, and having failed to appear on an MTV special in order to get His hands on some of the youth vote, how is it that God still reigns as America's unofficial Elder Statesman, a Washington insider of the highest sort whose approval is sought out on matters ranging from abortion to gun control to genetic engineering? Is this some kind of bizarre aberration, one of those rare political "stays of execution", the kind we only grant to such formerly evil but undeniably loveable figures as Strom Thurmond?
Hardly. Our fellow citizens are proverbial for their lack of consistency. Ted Kennedy attended a small gathering with a bunch of shapely campaign workers, got drunk, attempted to drive the girl to a suitable mating nest, drove off a bridge, left her to suffocate in a rapidly-shrinking air pocket, neglected to call authorities about it until a makeshift cover-up could be implemented, and then got re-elected about a dozen times since.
On the other hand, Gary Hart got caught fooling around with some chick on a boat, and this is probably the first time you've seen his name in print since 1988.
The lesson is clear. God, like Ted Kennedy, has made a deal with the devil.