Thursday, December 2, 2010

Collection of Conflicts

Most of us are a motley collection of conflicting and contradictory beliefs, beliefs ingrained when we were children and too young to apply any kind of critical thinking. As adults, we cling to them even when they are sometimes clearly against our self-interest.

Chances are if we were raised in a Christian family, we still accept what we learned in Bible school as profound truth. Chances are if Mom and Dad were staunch Republicans, we still pull the R more often than not when we vote.

I am always slightly amused when survivors of tragedy are interviewed and the first thing they say is: "it's my faith that got me through." Really? How, I wonder, do they think people like me, who have no faith, manage? Somehow, we survive just the same. Not that I'd ever try to talk anyone out of believing as they do. Whatever comfort you can find in this life is fine with me.

I've never put much faith in either theology or politics. Over all, I think religion has done more harm than good. I think politics has done more harm than good too although I suppose a political system of some kind is necessary or we'd have anarchy. In anarchy, the strong take advantage of the weak. Under capitalism, the strong take advantage of the weak too although with quite a bit more subtlety.

I have always been confounded by the turnabout in God's personality. In the Old Testament, he was cruel and brutal. Plagues and pestilences and sacrifices of first born sons were nothing to him. He was a warrior God, a God of harsh punishment. But come the New Testament and he'd mellowed out. Maybe it was the influence of becoming a parent, although it turned out he wasn't all that kindly of a father. Under Jesus' leadership, the Bible's moral philosophy turned more toward gentle forgiveness and caring for the downtrodden.

So, in the modern world of American politics, we have the Old Testament party - the Republicans - and the New Testament party - the Democrats. Voters tend to lean toward one more than the other based on their own preconceived predilections.

When Democrats are elected, they are all about turning the other cheek. The programs they support are generally of the being our brother's keeper kind. They would like to provide everyone with "loaves and fishes". They believe in "judging not lest ye also be judged." They would prefer to turn all our "swords into ploughshares".

Meanwhile, when Republicans come to power, they are immediately ready to take up the sword and "smite" their enemies. They want to "subdue" their earth and "dominate" it. No soft-headed "turning the other cheek" nonsense for them. They believe in an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" and sometimes, visiting a father's sins upon the child if that child doesn't have the means, whether in brains or brawn or intestinal fortitude, to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

Our two political parties are like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For me, at least, the Republicans are too hard and hot; the Democrats are too soft and cold.

The Republicans are harsh and  judgmental. Opposing, for instance, every program designed to make life more tolerable for gays, smug in their own moral superiority. They feel supremely confident in denying the rest of us the right to have an abortion or to pull the plug on a long comatose loved one. They will fight to the death for the rich against the poor, as if financial success itself is a sign of God's favor. They'll go to war at the drop of a hat, nodding complacently at torture and extraordinary rendition.

The Democrats are too soft and tentative. Obama is a perfect example. He vowed to bring the parties together when every bit of evidence pointed to the impossibility of that happening. Democrats eschew retaliation even when the circumstances demand it. They don't believe in capital punishment even when perpetrators are a cancer on the body of society. They want to "understand" what caused child molesters to be what they are instead of isolating them so they can't create more victims. They want to give to the poor without expecting them to take any responsibility in return.

There is a balance somewhere between the Old Testament Republicans and the New Testament Democrats but we never seem to find it, instead swinging wildly from one extreme to the other based on beliefs instilled in us when we were too young to give them much thought. And so, our past continues to dominate our present.