Gary Hart, former U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate, offers some of the most insightful critiques of American democracy and the current state of affairs. As one who has studied Law and had a life long history in politics as well as a degree in divinity from Yale, Hart is one of the most qualified individuals on the planet to deliver such an outstanding blow for American politics. In masterfully asking that his critics offer him as much forgiveness for his past discretions with prostitutes as they have with W and his former use of cocaine, Hart effectively regains much of the authority that would most certainly have been quested had he ignored it all together. This thoughtful and beautifully written essay on religion and politics is the most insightful and thought provoking account published since Thomas Paine.
Right now, according to Hart, there is a religious revival undergoing in the United States that has proved damaging to our country’s democratic principles, especially when it comes to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Evangelical and Nondenominational churches are currently increasing in their numbers of attendees while all other denominations are either at a plateau or declining. The former often times have eschatological beliefs and contend that America is a quote unquote Christian nation with the right to fight Crusades against “evil” and govern by the principles of the Bible rather than those laid out by our Founding Fathers. In fact, most people see evangelical ideals as actually being one and the same. And what Hart is quick to point out is that our current President and his administration are among this group of people. People who when we see them holding signs on the street we think they are insane and when we walk by them when they are holding court—usually on city corners they consider secular, a term synonymous with evil in this day and age—they tell us we are going to Hell to burn for all eternity because we eat shrimp or smoke pot or kill hookers or whatever. These are the kinds of people running our country according to Hart. And he’s right.
Hart is tired of this Bush shit that all of us have had to deal with for the past eight years. He is sick and tired of rewarding the wealthy for being wealthy with tax cuts, Health-and-Wealth gospels, and our present Crusade which has brought us back into the period of Christian v. Muslim in hand-to-hand warfare reminiscent of medieval Europe when the Pope controlled national policy and declared war on Islam. He believes our leaders should be helping the poor instead of republicans and should actually listen to the United Nations before going off and fighting in the name of Christ.
What’s going on now is that the line between politics and religion have been blurred and its been done without many taking notice, or at least hadn’t noticed it was happening. Much of this is the result of the “code words” our leaders use all the time that can mean anything the audience wants them to mean instead of the freaky stuff that the evangelical right really knows them to mean.
This minority, a minority not only within this country and their religion but also within their own party and their denomination, has taken control of country and established what Hart calls “the tyranny of the faithful” comparing them to another minority political group with freaky religious beliefs that hijacked their nation’s government: the Nazis. He explains that the greatest danger in the politicization of the early twenty-first-century religious revival, aka the religious occupation of politics, is that both religion and politics are corrupted. He says:
Organized religion that seeks to occupy political power loses its purity and its purpose. Jesus sought to change people’s hearts, not their political parties… When any faith becomes an instrument of politics, it no longer is a religious faith. It is simply a political instrument like all others. And that is the way it is being used today. (34)
So now the U.S. has been reconstituted on religious lines and this group was the one responsible for Gulf War Redux which makes our government look more like a theocratic empire rather than a political democracy. In other words, everything is fucked.
With our “modern theocracy,” we have taken on the role of Avenging Angel with detrimental consequences all because of American hubris. When a government thinks it is ordained by God and therefore must be right and then implements those sentiments into state policy no matter how many oppose it or however unreasonable or opposed to reality and then insisting that those who oppose them are wrong or stupid or evil or insane, then things end up getting pretty scary. It’s pretty obvious that this is what is going on now, there is an Us, which means conservative-fundamentalist-Christian-free-market-capitalists, and a Them, which includes everyone else.
Jesus taught us that where your head is, your heart is as well. As everyone knows, there is no such thing as atheism, everybody worships something whether it is money or power or intellect or beauty or the Four Noble Truths or JC or Allah or whatever. Something else that everyone knows, Hart points out, is that there is no worshipping more than one God in a way that allows for you to worship them both in an equal and accurate way. Either you worship God in the way that Christ intended or you worship money or power or one of those other things that will eat you alive. There is no reconciliation between the Kingdom of God and the thrown of Caesar. It just cannot happen.
Fundamentalists who are running our country seem to care about one thing—money. Fundamentalism and wealth are proving insufficient and things are not going well for our country. Not well at all. This is because, as Hart makes clear, we are being forced to adopt these ideas that are by no means mainstream. Faith cannot be coerced and still have a salutary effect; it does not fulfill our longing in anyway to have a faith forced on us just as it didn’t a thousand years ago. They are judging us but not themselves. They judge and prescribe who is evil and what is good for us. They do this because they are among the Elect and are absolute in their convictions. This, however, is extremely dangerous national policy because it makes a decision without lateral dialogue and sticks with it no matter the outcome—ah la Iraq. This is reverting back to “pre-enlightenment ideals,” Hart explains, where absolutism reined supreme. Bush’s God policy has reverted us back to the centuries before the French Revolution in a belief that seems to say Reason is the Enemy of Religion. Faith is a very personal thing, yet now it is something people use to get votes and to go on crusades.
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, wanted us to be our best by empowering others, he said nothing about apocalyptic end of days or partisan values or trampling on others for our own financial gain. In fact, Hart believes, these were the things that Jesus spoke out against. In our capitalist system, some people are in need of help, yet these supposed Christian don’t give two shits about the poor. It is easy for those with inherited wealth to talk about the American Dream and bitch about the poor and do nothing for those in need. We need to work on social issues and we need to do this now. The need is now and must take place through justice, mercy, and humility.
However, there is little to suggest that we live in a just, merciful, or humble society. The idea is to be righteous, not self-righteous by forcing others to accept their own policies. This would include, Hart declares, ceasing the demonization of liberals which was just getting out of hand for a while. But liberal doesn’t seem like a dirty word anymore; not in Indiana and not in the South even, at least North Carolina that is, which is saying a lot since when I told people I voted for Nader in 2000, I got looks from my high school classmates that you could just tell they thought I was either an idiot or crazy or both. This goes to prove Hart’s last assertion of the book—that the system won’t let this continue to the point of a all in all theocracy—as people start wanting to know what our politicians mean when they say “values” and how they are going to influence policy. There are checks and balances built in so this won’t happen.
Not only is a shift to more secular politics taking place as a result of our three branched system, it is happening because, as history has taught us, it is inevitable (or at least seems to be [especially in a democracy]). According to JC’s old adage, what’s Caesar’s is Caesar’s and what’s God’s is God’s; that is, the state controls the secular and the church rules the spiritual. With that he warns the Religious Right that it ultimately can’t win. People are getting tired of their medieval mindset, their covert advances toward making this a Christian Nation, their unwillingness to negotiate, the lack of lateral dialogue, Bush using the word crusade, etc., etc. The Religious Right’s strong-arm over the political landscape, Hart believes, isn’t going to last much longer, and neither do I. The Founding Fathers, feeling divinely inspired themselves, set up roadblocks against greed, power, and terror. They knew that the future leaders of this great nation would be only human and thus susceptible to error as well as the aforementioned evils. Nobody is perfect so they made it impossible for one man to change the nation to the way he see’s fit. Now, it seems that we have returned to our inevitable moderate center which, trust me, is really for the best. This is what makes the current attempt of combining religion and politics so incredibly pathetic and stupid and pointless because someone is going to come along and undo all the religious mess that we are now left with. But we are still going to truck along, as Americans that is what we do and will continue to do.
What makes Hart’s book so impressive is the way he shows us that Jesus was an awfully warm and caring guy and the way the Religious Right has shanghaied Him for political ends and pretty much done everything in their power to twist his words into things they were not in order make their own worldview fit into that of Our Lord and Savior’s. But after closer inspection, this isn’t what they are doing at all, what they are really doing is twisting His words and taking His words out of context so as to fit them into their belief structure. Isn’t that blasphemy? Isn’t our present situation the sort that Jesus sacrificed his life to speak out against? And hey, doesn’t our country suddenly, when you think about it, start looking an awful lot like Rome? Shit, if some guy knocked on Pat Robertson’s door and contested his faith as he understands it and claimed he was the son of God, don’t you think he would probably scream that the guy be thrown in jail? Don’t you think just maybe we would crucify Him again? After reading Hart, you start to ask yourself some of these very tough questions.