Friday, August 23, 2019

The Duality of Politics

Recently I have been doing some reading on the age-old “problem of evil” and the theistic solution to it called theodicy. This is the attempt to comprehend how a good God can allow evil in this universe. For some strange reason it got me thinking about American politics.

Politics in America is divided between warring perspectives. People call them by different names (not all of them fit to print), but the two sides are typically referred to as liberals and conservatives, usually divided into Democrats and Republicans. Capitalism is championed by one side, socialism valued by the other. The Donald on one side and Bernie on the other. The more you tend toward one end of the spectrum, the more you see it as a battle between good and evil.

Each side of the political spectrum has its extremes – Proud Boys on the right, antifa on the left – as evidenced in the recent standoff in Portland, Oregon. Both see the other as evil, dangerous and anti-American. Fascism on one side. Communism on the other side. I could spend half the blog listing the pairs of opposites.

I find myself caught up in it, choosing one side (at least a moderate form of it) over the other, opting for what I see as the lesser of two evils. Even though I consider myself an Independent - neither Republican nor Democrat - I usually vote for one of the two major parties when I go into the voting booth. In the past I have sometimes chosen a “third party” candidate. But the stakes seem too high these days for me to opt for that alternative.  

As I play my role in this the battle between Right and Left in our country, part of me watches the drama of dueling dualities from a distance. This watcher is my “better angel,” my spiritual and true self, the image of God in me. I take a breath and see that the phenomenon of warring dualities is the never-ending pattern of history. It is human nature and will continue until humankind draws its last breath. It has always been this way and always will be. There is no earthly utopia on the horizon. History repeats itself with endless variations on the theme.

This is not pessimistic resignation or fatalism. It is the shape of reality. There can be no conservative without liberal; they need each other to exist. That is true politically and religiously. To be on the side of the good, one needs an enemy on the side of evil. To be right, others must be wrong. To be on the side of the angels means there must be demons. If we are on God’s side, there has to be a devil. Voltaire famously said that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. The same is true of the devil. The righteous need him.

How would we know we are good without evil to contrast ourselves with? How could we be right unless there are people who are wrong? Religiously speaking, how can we possess the truth unless there is falsehood? There can be no orthodoxy without heresy. This is the play of duality. It is alright to play the game as long as we realize that it is a game. Only when we mistake the game for Reality are we truly lost.

The True Believer is capable of true evil, as any online manifesto penned by a mass murderer will show you. Great evil has been done by those inspired by both religion and politics – or both. To quote Steven Weinberg’s oft-repeated statement: “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil - that takes religion.” Substitute the word “politics” or "ideology" for religion, and the statement is equally true.

We are all capable of self-deceit when it comes to politics and religion. We all are capable of evil when caught up in a righteous cause. The only way to ensure we are not ensnared by the dark side is to rise above the fray and transcend the play of opposites, if only for a moment.

Take a breath and look at our current political ruckus from a higher perspective. When we put a little breathing room between us and our beliefs, we see things more clearly. Even matters of life and death are seen as part of the dance of duality, a cosmic drama of opposites which never ends.

If we loosen our grip on ourselves often enough, we can glimpse the God “who is above all and through all and in all,” to quote the apostle Paul. Only from this perspective can we reenter the world to play our role in this earthly pageant with greater wisdom and integrity.

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