RELIGION NOT POLITICS
I have been intrigued the last few days by the excerpts from Hilary Clinton’s book. She seems like she is casting around blame for her loss to Donald Trump. Sexism, Comey, Trump, the Russians, even Bernie Sanders doesn’t escape blame. But I think Bernie Sanders is right when he says that she ran against the least popular candidate in American History and lost. I was no fan of either candidate, and I have totally been caught up in the manic coverage of Trump’s continual failure. It’s been fascinating and hypnotic.
Politics is in our culture is the most passionately talked about conventional subject. It’s a way that people casually express their deepest held values. But it shouldn’t be. One of the problems with contemporary life is that politics has displaced religion as an expression of our most profound values. Our religious instinct has been sublimated in our culture and it’s distorted expression is our political beliefs.
In order to understand this process, it’s important to understand the two expressions of religious life. The first is the exoteric religious experience. This is the experience of a group gathering together in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Exoteric religious rituals are designed to instill a sense of belonging to a social group that shares your beliefs. In exoteric religious experience, there is an intermediary between you and the experience of the divine. A priest, rabbi, or an imam communicates the will of the divine to you, and if you wish to receive the favor of the divine, you do so by following the instructions and participating in the rituals designed by the intermediary. In our culture, Evangelicals are a very visible bloc of the population that prefers exoteric religion. Not coincidentally they are also a very motivated politically. They see their religious beliefs and their political beliefs as the same thing. The second manifestation of religious life is esotericism. Esotericism is a personal experience of the divine without an intermediary. Examples of this are meditation and yoga practices, depth psychology, or in the mystery cults of Alchemy, Astrology, Gnosticism, and events like Grateful Dead concerts or Burning Man. The esoteric urge is often sublimated in political life(as it was by Hilary Clinton) in progressive humanism. In recent days she has demonstrated her confusion by stating she is unwilling to grant absolution to those who did not vote(for her). Absolution is divine forgiveness for sin, and is something granted by priests in Catholicism and Protestantism, it is not something provided by failed political candidates. Those who consider themselves too sophisticated to belong to a group that seeks an intermediary between them and the divine, often cloak themselves in doing the will of the divine through their policy work. In its own way, this can be as misguided(but possible more efficacious) as evangelical devotion to bringing to pass what they see as the will of god.
Both expressions dovetail into the sense of disorder you experience when a political candidate that you do not like becomes President. For evangelicals, that sort of person was Barack Obama, and for Progressive Humanists, that man is Donald Trump. As upset as you might be by Donald Trump being President, I assure you it would be easy to find people who were similarly upset by the Presidency of Barack Obama. In the case of Evangelicals, they imagine “their” candidate as an intermediary for the divine. Likewise with Progressive Humanists, they imagine a like minded President as someone who shares and will enact their values. The suffering in each case, is a real.
I don’t think too many Evangelicals are going to be reading this essay. So, I will address progressive humanists. Of course Donald Trump is an abomination as a person and a President And he has brought a legion of ne’er do wells with him into his administration. The impact of these people and their policies is real. But, does Donald Trump being the President, interfere with your experiencing a genuine sense of the divine and it’s interest in you? I think for many people, it has. To Carl Jung, all psychological suffering was in fact, religious. Where there was a disconnection from our Primordial Origins, there was suffering, and it was only by addressing that suffering that we reconnected ourselves to our source, which can be the only source of all well being. So, if you think it is Donald Trump is making you suffer, look deeper. Look at how he symbolizes your separation from your origins. Likewise, from the eastern perspective of Zen Psychology, whatever it is that you attach your unhappiness to, was something that was sought out to reflect your unhappiness back to you. The feeling precedes the experience. So, If I feel unhappy, I will seek out the experience of things that reinforce that feeling, like Donald Trump being President. But the unhappiness precedes the Trump Presidency and the suffering I feel it causes me.
I am not advocating being passive about the political process. Our country provides us the opportunity to express our values and advocate for them in a variety of ways. What I am advocating is not misunderstanding ones political passions as religious ones. The origin of the word religion comes from the latin, “to reconnect.” Our religious instinct(as strong as our instinct for food or sex) results from finding ourselves in the world and it’s experiences and needing to turn back one hundred and eighty degrees toward our origins, and to make real contact with them. That is the only way we can impact on our moment to moment experience, which is something that Donald Trump being President will rarely be able to touch. It is this re-connection that is the source of all profound comfort. Without it, we may be left feeling like when we don’t get what we want, our only comfort may be, “Yoga and lots of chardonnay.” And we all have access to a lot more than that.