My Private Progressive Agenda
“A religious liberal pride parade. We definitely need one of those”–concluded Melinda Barton in her article A Religious Liberal: It Isn’t an Oxymoron, published in April by aspiring online liberal news and opinion portal Raw Story.
The reason why Ms. Barton dreams of a religious liberal pride-parade is that, as she reminds the readers, “much of the social and political progress we so revere was brought about in no small way by religious liberals. From the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement, from women’s suffrage to gay liberation, these living, breathing ‘oxymorons’ have been at the vanguard of the fight for justice.”
Then Ms. Barton rightly suggests that “they support liberal causes [not in spite of but] because of their religious beliefs.”
She also asserts that religious liberals “do not seek to force their concept of morality upon others.” They according to Melinda Barton “just” implement their “faith through what Jews call Tikkum Olam, the healing of the world.” The expressions of their “unimposing” personal morality deeds include such “absolute” “self-evident” values as “marching for the common dignity of human beings, for peace or economic justice or women’s rights or gay rights or the environment”–not to mention feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and healing the sick.
Finally Ms. Barton complains of an ill fate of religious liberals whose existence has been ignored by the mainstream media while they are being “denounced by conservatives as heretics who support sin.” More so, she writes bitterly: “The extremists on the secular left attack them for their religiosity. After all, religion is the root of all evil, the cause of all of the injustices of the world.”
The sarcastic tone of this last sentence is apparently supposed to establish a sense of superficiality to be associated with denouncing religion every time some silly secularist brings up such comment. After all, “didn’t my list of religious liberals’ progressive deeds provide extensive proof to the contrary?”–“probably,” said Melinda’s inner voice.
While reading Melinda Barton’s article I felt an itching sensation to add another fringe color to our progressive rainbow: “Hi! I am a secular conserv…” Brrr!
Just an innocent attempt to spell out my political identity gives me goose bumps! I can imagine the apoplectic reaction from a sea of secular progressive officers and religious liberal soldiers: “A conservative among our troops?!”–and I back off (just kidding).
For starters, a phrase such as “Bush sold out to corporations at the expense of working men and women” inflames and irritates me no end. Why? Because I have an incorporated business, and I challenge any progressive psychoanalyst to show me that I became evil the moment I became a capitalist while the everyday “working man” is intrinsically good by virtue of his socioeconomic position.
But I also gasp for air when I hear this: “It’s not about what Terry Schiavo wants, it’s about what God wants” (an actual comment I heard during a CNN report from a woman who was protesting outside Schiavo’s hospice). This strikes me as a classic example of a person spitting a self-indulgent belief in my face while pretending that the remark is exempt from a demonstrable test for truth.
As you can see, I am a political identity misfit and there is a story behind it.
I lived half my life before escaping the prison of the Soviet Union’s “common good,” and my experiences during that first half of my life have made me wary of any ideology claiming to be “objective,” or “social,” or in pursuit of a “common cause.” As I see it, any sociopolitical “army” banner with such inscriptions can’t be true unless every subjective private has signed off on it. Otherwise how can anyone lay claim to a belief in one’s version of the common good as objective universal? And if a person insists on going ahead with such a belief regardless, it will inevitably be a case of committing an intellectual fraud and supporting political discrimination. One should be well advised to carefully test any idea of a common good that is by definition more ambitious than the obvious one where the private goods agree with each other.
On the other hand, although I will stick to my conservative intuition vis-a-vis absolute individual freedom, only one step into a closer examination of such intuition separates me from most conservatives and possibly many libertarians: there is no infallible evidence that human liberty is inalienable right endowed and backed up by some omniscient “Creator”–and to suggest that even that remark is “self-evident” is an egregious doctrinal error.
One can only show that freedom, both in a deepest metaphysical sense and as a trite desire to be free, is an inalienable psychological quality of mind for which we have no explanation.
But such an understanding leads to this conclusion: since human beings have an ability to cultivate any belief about their identity they in turn have a right of possession, a “copyright,” so to speak, as the creators of the belief in question; but since they have displayed an inability to prove that their subjective selves are at the same time objectively determined truths, humans have no right to promote their identity beliefs as such, as objective truths, that everyone in society must adhere to. Therefore, human beings have to learn to curtail their own right to freedom of speech with a degree of humility: no one can make such proclamations about universal or inherent ideals before we actually know for a fact what connects us to the universe.
All of the above more or less make up my progressive agenda: it is about bringing all people together in this country–hey, what the hell, in the whole world–in an extra- super- transmoral unity, in learning how to think right hence how to live correctly with each other. That is why I do not exactly find myself belonging either to the progressive camp or to the conservative and/or libertarian camp; too many of their causes, beliefs and notions are simply untrue.
Oh, I do form political alliances left and right both in America and in Russia but I always keep in mind that so many of them are tactical and temporary, and that we may wake up as foes next morning. Melinda Barton can find me right next to her in a protest march for gay rights but will I find her next to me in a march to do away with the concept of marriage altogether on the grounds that its alleged “sanctity” is not objectively demonstrable? I have reasons to doubt that she would.
And so I am also suspicious of Melinda’s praises for the contributions of religious liberals throughout American history. Yeah, I have no problem saying a brief “thank you” to religious liberals for bringing about progressive achievements in this country, especially since you can hardly find anybody but religious fighters in American history–good, bad, and ugly. I grant to Melinda that they thought they freed the slaves, emancipated women, ended discrimination of blacks, and did their other Jewish Tikkun Olam because of their religious convictions. What I am interested to know, however, is why that divine intervention to make America a more just society was always so stingily measured and selective?
Why were these religious brains progressively enlightened by the spirit to free the slaves in 1865 and not in 1789? Why is it that these religious liberals were somehow supernaturally guided in the middle of nineteenth-century America to only free the slaves, but not to end segregation altogether? Not to allow interracial marriages, not to give women equal rights–not to mention abortion rights? Not to fight for gay marriages, etc. etc? Why is this creator’s goodness so parsimonious and myopic in guiding these believers into making advances in one area, but remaining asleep at the cosmic wheel for others?
I submit it is either because this Supreme Being acts on a whim and doesn’t mind being a bigot while doing so, which suggests to me that we ought to screw him (her?) and our faith in this being, or because–and this other choice is inescapable–this being doesn’t exist.
Of course this latter view compounds the problems for believers. If the theory of a higher power cannot be shown to be fact, and yet people retain a belief and faith in this being, then a fraud has been committed. But isn’t the first and foremost task of a progressive individual to not commit fraud? And so we have to challenge the psychology that makes this possible.
First, to claim that a person fights evil because of her religious convictions implies that a person would not recognize injustice if those religious beliefs were somehow taken away. At the onset, the central position of religious thinking is to assert the imperfection of the human being. In other words, it’s argued that the observable human ego, this beautiful and the only known point of subjective awareness in the universe fully able to know what is good and bad, that can distinguish its own egoism and its own relativity, is actually on closer wishful “inspection” morally disabled because it is in need of help by a fantasized ghost! As Nietzsche once put it, “faith for centuries … deprived egoism from its good conscience [as well as its] cheerfulness and sensitivity.”
Consequently, personal achievement, private stability, wealth, and intelligence, are indicted as incomplete and inferior unless they are accompanied by redemption through mythologically justified sharing–all without establishing actual connections, wants, needs, reasons and judgments of what is good for particular humans in question, and how exactly they arrived at it. And so even before we take a first step into the world we all are already knocked off–metaphysically murdered, you might say–and humiliated by religion’s conviction that human beings are creatures who are intrinsically evil in the absence of religious faith. This view has to be condemned for what it is: a lie.
Second, it is a religious person’s ego that gets sick, gets as much corrupted as much as it is inflated by its invented connection to the Source. This evil of self-completeness, not by evidence and merit but by faith, promotes a psyche that is arrogant because it “knows” better, and demands because it “knows” better. But the most damaging malfunction that faith necessarily accomplishes is that it drowns a natural ego in hypocrisy.
Now, instead of navigating oneself through the sense data of one’s own private pains and pleasures, by examining one’s private means and wants, by changing an opinion on new evidence and negotiating, so to speak, with the world in order to figure out what is good and what is not good for yourself and others, a religious psyche, by contrast–in one single leap of faith–gains “knowledge” that is “good” because it is claimed to be a child of “Good.” By virtue of its connections in “high places,” the ego creates this false position of make-believe in which it is deemed worthy of goodness, justice, wealth, love, order, and dignity, with the result that its physical body now can demand all of it “justly.” This is to say, then, that a person’s actual, normal, egotistic wants go into hiding and our earthly egos are unfairly forced to deal with a presumptuous one influenced by a Superior one. This is the amazing position of a religious liberal!
Religious or secular, people lie not because they have “big” egos but because their “small” egos seek a right to claim that they exist objectively. The lies start when humans give up their subjectivity and freedom for the right to belong to the world by necessity, when they believe in god, a greater good, unconditional eternal love, or inalienable rights. When scientific standards of strict justification and infallibility are applied to such beliefs, all of the above mental commitments can rightly be called “religious.”
And so just as religious psychology is treacherous, so will be its body of politics. That is why we have seen endless examples of religious liberals stumbling and flip-flopping on their own liberal issues time and again, be it abortion, the war on drugs, gay marriage, or stem cell research. That is why it should not be a surprise to find that John Kerry is not, in the final analysis, an opponent of war. That is why it should not be a surprise to realize that one day you can find Jesse Jackson at the “other” bedside of Terry Schiavo, aligning himself with Randall Terry rather than with Terry’s husband, Michael. That is why you can also find a religious liberal, Melinda Barton, supporting the “intelligent design” agenda. That is why the single underlying reason why Democrats are not progressives is because their belief in an Almighty Presence has warped their personas. Their stance on justice will always be susceptible to contradictions, swings and betrayals, as in the back of their minds they know the drill: their beliefs and positions are not answerable to the real you and me and to the elastic subjective, liberal truth in us, but rather to the fraudulent “higher objective good.”
But the evil effects of a religious psychology don’t end there. Another price that believers make us all pay is that their belief is as good as truth. It is psychologically impossible to hold a belief and at the same time think that it is false, thus “God” cannot help but be posited and promoted as an objective entity, independent of “mind”–however liberal. And so the religious liberal mind cannot help but be hopelessly indebted to a mysterious “objective” good. There is simply no other way to convince oneself and the world that your faith is founded in reality but to follow its invisible “truth” as devotedly as one follows traffic lights on Manhattan streets to avoid injury.
And so faith disables the faculty of human liberty to define its own good and evil, and to learn from it throughout life. A person of faith thinks that she and you just have to be good (otherwise, God’s reality simply dissolves), that you must feel for the poor whether it’s a black teenager who chose to ignore lessons of her sex education class, two Russian drunkards who dismembered and boiled their buddy when a habitual snack for their vodka session was missing (true story!), or a Buddhist monk on a life mission to live by UN guidelines on extreme poverty; you are obligated to “heal the world” regardless of whether you feel that the world needs spanking much more than healing, or whether you conclude that some parts of the world might better just die out.
The religious mind lives under a dictatorship of its “good” and it wants others to do the same. Religious minds impregnate themselves with a thought of “objective love,” and therefore have to carry within them a fetus of a supernatural loving big-brother who is so invincible that you can never relax into the normalcy of just being alive. Isn’t it unbelievable?! Human thinking can turn good into a burden! And it will stay this way if we remain indifferent to the human mind’s ability to continuously create ideologies where “good” triumphs over truth.
The problem of course is with the fraudulent nature of a religious universal good. It is not empirically detectable and knowable unless presumed so. As a consequence, it can never be matched, never be attained, by the imperfect world. No amount of “good” deeds and “good” wishes can ever satiate the fantasy of infinite good. No matter how much you celebrate and meditate on your faith’s promise of the world’s final orgasm, no amount of mental masturbation will ever bring it about.
The evil psychological result here is that the mind finds itself in a state of permanent self-induced anxiety and frustration. But one always has a choice: be stressed because of your embattled ego “falling short of glory” or be frustrated with the empirical world that evidently keeps on refusing the divine imposition.
Cooperating, working or living with religious belief, or with persons who hold religious beliefs, presents an existential challenge that has no necessity for being and can plainly be socially hazardous. The reason is that the broken machine of a religious psyche can’t escape displaying its worst and most dangerous malfunction by declaring that it is the world that is sick, that mankind is evil. It is never the immature faithful mind that is at fault; instead, it is you and I who are at fault; we are malfunctioning because we refuse to honor the so-called objective but unseen “goodness.” And so as the world is either “blind” or “evil,” the remedy of believers is that good has to be prescribed for you and me. Oh, how they love to coerce you into their image by dreaming up “good laws” and more “good laws”!
You could probably have guessed the conclusion. I see little to nothing that is progressive in anybody being, to quote Linda Barton, a “living, breathing oxymoron,” that is, in being a “religious liberal.” Nor do I see any progressive effect in anybody being a living misnomer otherwise known as a “religious secularist. ” As you can imagine, I had little patience when dealing with the fanatical proponents of an atheistic-driven “common good” back in the days of the USSR. I prefer to be a living fact–a free, conscious being of unknown origin fatally enslaved by my biology.
As I said, I don’t mind when my scientific judgment of fraud and injustice coincides with someone else’s “righteous passion” but I am always mindful of the fact that when a right action is performed for false reasons, such good deed is rotten because it simultaneously permeates a false agenda. I find it to be a good rule that without checking for intellectual honesty of a general worldview’s underlying premises any political identity proclamation however “progressive” is misleading if not meaningless altogether. Enough “knowing” as believing, brothers and sisters! Be a progressive–be a scientist–be a skeptic! Otherwise your liberty will die, eaten up by the evil germ of your own imagination.