“Restoring Honor” seemed like a strange theme for a mass rally on the National Mall in the year 2010. In the absence of some very particular, widely perceived grave national dishonor as obvious referent, the title came across to me as peculiarly anachronistic and arbitrary, and otherwise vaguely ominous. For Glenn Beck and the flock he summoned together last Saturday, it ended up functioning as a place-holder or cover for politicized religion, sacralized politics – a revival meeting featuring politicians and activists, a religious demonstration to be argued over by pundits, bloggers, and political junkies. The very words were therefore already somewhat dishonorable, because dishonest and misleading, even before we consider the Monday through Friday Beck: a TV and radio shtickster who, when not flattering or frightening his audience, holds their attention and channels their emotions through insistent and incessant defamation of others, exaggerated assaults on the characters and reputations of political and historical enemies. In the age that Beck and his followers in Revolutionary attire imagine themselves to be restoring, he might have been called out a long time ago under the code duello – presuming that any gentleman made the mistake, did him the undeserved honor, perhaps after an accumulation of insults, of treating him as someone who could matter: As a self-described “rodeo clown,” in other words a fool, Beck often asserts the right not to be taken seriously – precisely not to be treated as a man of honor. Those who gather around him and under his banner seem happily unaware that every value he raises up before their eyes is by this same standard inverted. He makes a fool of himself, he makes fools of them, and they make fools of themselves twice over. In seeking creative excuses for supporting him, conservative intellectuals do the same trick yet again, sacrificing their honor as arbiters of public discourse for the sake of supposed greater truths and purposes. It is at this moment that they punch their ideologue’s ticket, openly announcing a readiness to accept any foolishness, falsehood, or comically ignorant forgetting if it helps them get the job done.
In most pre-modern societies, it would have been almost an absurdity to imagine politics and religion in separate realms, or to imagine any part of life separate from religion, so to that extent I think you’re correct. That also makes politics a constant temptation for religion, since the two realms intersect in civil society, in economics, in the persons of politicians and activists, and in the moral systems and spiritual experiences and outlooks that precede and often guide, and sometimes are affected by policy and political commitments.
We operate with a taboo on explicitly religious politics, because we wish to protect religious/spiritual freedom from politics, and sense that breaking that taboo will set us on the path to religious patronage, favoritism, persecution – and policies based on unquestionable truths rather than on the furtherance of consensual values (which may have a religious basis at some remove, but which are not tied to a particular sect, sacred text, ritual language, etc.).
More later perhaps, but my Owl of Having to Ship Some Collectibles is flying.
Let me stipulate here that my comments here are based on current neuroscience, but that I problably take it further than many in the field would find comfortable.
In other comments, I have made a distinction between religion and spirituality. They are distinct (but only recently recognized as such) phenonomen neurologically. The spiritual brain is closer to the atheist brain than to the religious brain.
It is possible to be both spiritual and either religious or athiest. Certainly relgions have spiritual components, but to define them mainly in those terms is I think inaccurate.
The religious brain is functionally similar with the brain processes concerned with in-group identity and in-group altruism, and with how to deal with out-groups.
That is to say, the religious brain is political.
Even further, I think an interesting hypotheses is: Politics is religion by other means.
I probably have more to say here, but, Owl – Cognition – Dusk.