Monday, August 16, 2004

When do personal politics become a religion?

What is really the difference between religious beliefs and political beliefs? While the superficial differences are obvious, are there really any fundamental differences?

For instance, some people are beginning to view the difference between European social liberalism and traditional religion as rather artificial. To quote from Bawer’s article from the Hudson Review,

“Europeans mock American religiosity. But American religion, for all its attendant idiocies and cruelties, has never prevented Americans from acting pragmatically. Secular Western European intellectuals, however, have their own version of religion. It is a social-democratic religion that deifies international organizations such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and, above all, the U.N. Not NATO, which is about waging war, and which has for that reason been the target of much European criticism in recent years; no, the NGOs are about waging peace, love, brotherhood, and solidarity, and, as such, are, for the elites of Western Europe, beyond criticism, for they embody Western Europe’s most cherished idea of itself and of the way the world works, or should work. The elites’ enthusiasm for these institutions, whether or not they are genuinely effective or even admirable, is a matter of maintaining a certain self-image and illusion of the world that is intimately tied up with their identity as social democrats; America’s unforgivable offense, as Kagan notes, is that it challenges that image and that illusion; and the degree to which the reality of America is distorted in the Western European media is a measure of the desperate need among Western European elites to preserve that self-image and illusion.”

So when do beliefs, like political preference, start reaching the level of religious conviction? Perhaps it is at the point when more and more decisions start to get based on a dogmatic view of ethics. For instance, if I truly believe that every person is fundamentally good, the more I base other decisions on this view, the more “religious” like my humanism becomes.

Of course this may perhaps get turned upside down if one starts moving away from a dogmatic view of religion. If religion is more than believing everything in the bible because it is THE BIBLE, the similarities between religion on political thought start to merge. They do so according to the degree for which they are used in value based judgments. In this case, it is more the amount of uncontroversial evidence that determines the importance, or “religious” level of an ideal.

In either case, perhaps things reach the stature of religion once we start actually believing in their infallibility. The more fallible we think religion is, the easier it is for the philosophies of experience to take its place. Of course, I guess whether or not this is a good state of affairs depends on how trusting one is of the applicability of experience. Does the error introduced in accessing God’s perfect experience through imperfect religion outweigh the error introduced in accessing the imperfect experiences of this world?

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