Politics is Always Religion and Vice Versa
A Note on Paris and Tomorrow
A Note on Paris and Tomorrow
When you study religion for a living you know that people are not rational, that they are susceptible to the most bizarre confidence games (in fact, the more bizarre, the more likely), and that their need for social consolations and their individual insecurities will keep them in groups and believing long after the abuse is understood. People are not merely swayed by the power of imagination, for better and for worse, they are made of it. We humans have to imagine even the most natural facts of the world. We’re made to invent ourselves and to invent the worlds in which we live.
This means that when the stakes are high, really high, we have to agree on facts _as if_ they _are_ more than our imaginings. Of course, we _invent_ the world in which we live. But does anyone here think that a fact like, say, radioactivity is somehow all just in _your_ mind? Or that our current climate change is not human made? Or that our collective human existence isn’t on an unsustainable course because it is expending the resources of our planet in ways that are utterly destroying our environment? Will God save us? You see, facts matter and human beings must agree to act. Like religion, like politics.
Any fact may be irrelevant to you after you are dead but to make that the benchmark of meaning might make you want to consider your inner narcissist nihilist (n.b., we all have one). In sum, people need their stories and can’t live in the world without them. People need each other and, in a global world in which our collective acts effect us all, we need to learn to agree on basic facts. We need to use our collective imaginations to make our world livable. Owls, even whales and elephants, already know their stories because nature has made them more complete. Animals know about how to be themselves but cannot change themselves or their behavior in ways comparable to our human invention. We save ourselves from disease, blow each other up for religion or politics or money, and say it all has meaning. It is our incompleteness that confers upon us all of our advantages and creates our every peril. It is that we invent worlds that makes this technology I’m using right now real enough to reach into your story. But what I can do or you can do is nothing like what _we_ can do.
This too is why the stories we tell are so very important. With Trump on the verge of rejecting the Paris Climate Accords, with America on the verge of becoming an outlier state in the community of nations, one with the intention and the military and economic power to alter the fate of all others, where are _we_? What will _we_ do? Who _are_ we that we have come to this place where we are so irreconcilably divided that we cannot even agree that there are facts? We are losing the only advantage we have as human beings. The advantage to take life into our own hands and change the course of events. Our record of taking such actions for the better is more than a little mixed, but it is really our only hope. Let us hope we survive this regime and make a new America that doesn’t cavort with tragic ignorance. If you love life and treasure our planet’s gracious gifts, will you rise up to resist? Will you vote? Do you understand what will happen if the current regime reaches its goals?
We are in a battle for human values, not merely America. We must not allow this fakery, cronyism, grifting, and imbecility to become our shared world. We must remember the brave souls who acted on the train in Portland, that we are _all_ better than this, that we will create a world of values, in which there is room for difference and shared action. The kind of world that respects fact and demands more from our humanity.