As Christianity’s hold on America weakened, many experts believed our politics would become more ecumenical and rational and less stormy and slanderous. But the opposite has happened. We are now more polarized, risking being torn apart by two diametrically opposed ideologies about what America stands for. One part I’ll call “awake”, the other “Trumpy”.
But this column is not about politics. This is a basic force underlying our political struggle for food: religion. And by that I mean religion in the broadest sense, a belief in something greater than the individual. As social animals, it’s ingrained in us. We have an intrinsic need to feel a sense of belonging and attachment.
This link has been known for a long time. Over a hundred years ago, Abraham Kuyper, theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands, argued that all strong ideologies were really about religion. As our country has become more secular, our political parties have replaced the church because humans cannot exist without ultimate loyalty. Much has been written recently about the fact that our human needs go beyond the physical. As Molly Worthen tells us in the New York Times, we have “spiritual desires; a hunger for a sense of control over our destinies and assurance that we are on the side of good versus evil.
And without a doubt, Americans are more religiously zealous than most countries. “It is rare to hear someone accused of being non-Swedish or non-British, but non american is a common insult, hurled by left and right at each other. “(America without God,” Atlantic). It is religiously accused as being accused of heresy.
Our salvation, whether we are “awake” or “Trumpy,” is to explore under the stalemate of our political struggles for food to find what we really need: a genuine sense of belonging.
And where do we find it? With our families who love and nourish us, giving us a real sense of belonging. And beyond that, we aspire to be embraced by our nation, our extended family, to give our life existential meaning. As with our families, we must do whatever it takes to preserve our country and make it better.
But it’s never easy. We must compromise and negotiate to move forward together towards the common good. No country, like any family, can survive for long if individual members insist on complete freedom to do whatever they want.
This is what we really want to revere and love, our family and our country, not our political parties which tend to be mean, often only for themselves, and the corporate lobbyists who now plague our capital.
Fortunately, President Biden is all the rage, using religious themes to talk about national unity. Worthen cites examples such as “on Remembrance Day he described the ongoing battle for ‘the soul of America’, a conflict between ‘our worst instincts – which we have seen lately – and our best angels. “. Between “Me first” and “Us, the people. In January, in his inaugural address, he quoted Saint Augustine: “A people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.
Worthen, a historian, emphasizes the importance of following the wise counsel of those who have gone before us, such as St. Augustine, who wrote “The City of God” at the beginning of the 5th century. In it, he “deplores the fate of a people who go from listening to their best angels to obeying their inner demons – like the citizens of the Roman Empire, who” declined … rotted the link of concord in which consists the health of a people.
George Santayana’s famous quote takes on new urgency today: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. “
(Jean Stimmell is a semi-retired psychotherapist living with the two women in his life, Russet the artist and Coco the dog from Plott, in Northwood. His blog can be viewed online at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.)