Saturday, April 17, 2010

Misunderstanding the Significance of Religion in the Cold War

3:35 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Cold War era American politicians sound like baptists. They had to mention God 8-9 times a paragraph; they sound like holy warriors on a crusade. We ridicule them for this. We say to ourselves, "If only we had been there with our reason and modern sensibilities; the cold war could have lasted just a few months." We see how they blew things out of proportion. What should have been a conversation became a deathmatch. If only they could have benefited from our sophistication.

They also sound like a bunch of nationalistic lunatics. "Freedom this," and, "Freedom that." Lines and lines about the superiority of our idea of freedom, our brand of freedom, and our acting out of freedom. They sound like Tea-baggers and maniacs. If only they could have benefited from our sophistication.

What has our sophistication brought?

To understand later problems we must first examine the way our views of freedom changed.

The progressive era saw many changes, but the only one I am concerned with right now is the shift it began in the American view of freedom. Previously, freedom was inherent, something we had from birth and could never be added to, only taken from. Equality was that we were all born with those rights, and that those rights only left us when they were yielded up by us. Therefore, all men inherently have equal political rights by nature.

Freedom under early progressives--and later augmented by FDR--is not something you are born with; it is something that is given or taken. Freedom is largely material in this right. You have the right to a job, food, clothing, house, and from fear of wicked men. These are all wonderful things, but you have taken freedom out of the realms of the self and put it into material goods. Those who have more of the above are more free. Who is more free? Is it the man who has to buy a crap used car? Or is it the man with the means to buy whichever car he wants? According to a progressive definition of freedom, the second man is more free.

Bear with me, I am about to take you back through the Greeks and Cicero again. What is it, according to almost all of the ancient and medieval philosophers, that is the measure and greatest desire of the democratic man? It is freedom. He who has the most freedom is greatest and best.

See the building problem?

Instead of political participation being the highest good of American democracy, we measure our good in wealth. Is it any coincidence that poll turnouts fell drastically after we entered the progressive era? No. The vote was no longer the greatest honor and duty of a citizen; money was. Despite the fact that it was a movement that was supposed to lift the downtrodden and oppressed, it saw drastically reduced electoral participation.

Now. You might ask, "what in hellfire has this to do with religion in the Cold War?" I respond with much patience, "I am getting there, but first we must detour again."

Capitalism, the unrestrained procurement and trade of goods, was restrained in our founding fathers plans, which they drew from the works of still greater men. There were two strong bulwarks against the economic chaos we are experiencing now. On the one hand, we had the emphasis of liberty of political action being the highest good and goal of the citizen, with political action as the place in which all men were as self determined as kings. And on the other hand we have the infinitely stronger and more important influence of religion.

Friendship and the common good must be in the heart of the citizens in order for a republic to work. This is universally acknowledged in all of the political theory that I have had the pleasure of reading this semester. Capitalism would seem a bit mercenary for the promotion of such lofty ideals. Whose good is capitalism aimed at? Mine. How do you chain such a beast? How do you prevent the citizens from becoming a flock of wolves? Religion.

The purpose of religion in a capitalist system is to sustain the most important values of the republic, and to encourage such virtues as charity, loyalty, faith, friendship, love for fellow man, honesty, and respect. Religion was supposed to aid the stability and longevity of the family, which is the basic building block of all human societies. Religion was supposed to temper our capitalist spirit in order that we, though we had unlimited potential for accumulation, might glory in liberality and philanthropy; that our heroes would be kings of generosity and civic good will.

Can you see the problem? Religion is a joke to so many now, and even many of those who have it are ashamed of it or do not think that it bears any relation to the realities of the political world. Religion has been mocked and ridiculed; it has been attacked as old fashioned and stupid, and has so been cast from its place of honor. We reap the benefits of that today. We are rampant competitive consumers. We have to have the newest car, clothes, and apple gadget. The American middle class just doesn't give to charity anymore--the number is something like 2% of income--and our heroes are masters of conspicuous consumption.

Behold, our sophistication.

Those crazy Baptists and Tea-baggers knew what they were saying. We were separated from the oppressive--if one more persons talks about "wealth disparity" to show we were as bad as them and I am going to feed them a picture of the mass graves dug for the millions killed by the forced starvations in Ukraine, or maybe the recently gassed and lifeless bodies of Bosnian children --and viciously brutal regimes of the (Godless) Soviet Union by a wall; this wall was religion, held together and augmented by the mortar of freedom.

Thanks be to God, we still maintain much of what we once had, but it is--in many respects--so much weaker than it was. We have our constitution, and she will not break easily, not even to the force of our sophistication. Religion in America is weaker, I think, because religious people do not defend themselves with the eloquence that constitutionally aware Americans do. American Christians do not understand their religion; they do not spend time on their religion. If the average Christian spent as much time on God as they did on football; they might actually have a chance in debate. In this respect, Comrade Brian--head of campus atheists and agnostics--has been good for me because he has forced me to explain my beliefs...add to the deal that he is an admitted Marxist and we have a nice contrast going.

Americans need to shore-up their understanding of freedom and religion. Religion especially, for its ramifications for the state, as well as the obvious soul thingy. ;-p

Maybe those Cold War politicians had no idea what they were doing. Perhaps it was all gut reaction. Could it be that it was all just indoctrinated jingo, spat out by scared men in tough times. What I would give for such leaders right now. Even if they did not understand; they placed importance where it belonged.

Fools, cowards, and yet still guardians of freedom, would that we had such right now.

1 comment:

  1. Patrick, I love the way you developed this piece. You do have a gift, you know.

    Do you need an agent? ;)

    ReplyDelete