In a March, 2011 Salon.com piece titled War Room: The erosion of the Civil War consensus, Civil War buff Glenn W. LaFantasie documents the return of a landscape in which political operatives show more loyalty to the states in which they live than the nation to which they belong. The article focuses on some legal ramifications of the 14th Amendment and how nebulous aspects of the law leave room to pull political shenanigans, to the point of secession from the Union. All over again.
But what of the deep motivations for secession? What underlying emotions could drive a will to secede? In what category of human endeavor do we find such passion to exceed even the national trust?
Only in the foundations of religion. But seeing that religion and politics are quite commonly mixed, and mixed up, it should be no surprise. Many a nation has determined that God is on their side only to find out their opponents think the same. Certainly that was the case in the war between the Confederacy and Union in the American Civil War. There seem to be people, especially those on the Right, that still question who was right. We certainly face the possibility that our nation’s great efforts to resolve issues of state versus federal control have never been resolved. But as the start of this paragraph suggests, the problems of America run even deeper than that. While the surface issues fester and boil, in truth we are dealing with what people consider the deep down soul of America. And tradition there runs against progress.
If progress is by definition a liberal enterprise (and it is, in being open to change) then why does a nation known for progress always seem to be re-fighting its battles over issues of human rights? It is because the human temptation to rule over others is so strong and severe that people cannot resist using any means possible ro gain or keep social advantage. These include politics, commerce and yes, religion. We’re talking primeval urges here. And to the roots of human civilization we must go to find answers.
But first let us consider the present. There are moves being made this minute to reverse American social progress and gains in areas of equal rights by gender, race and sexual orientation. It is no coincidence that behind these attempts to reverse social progress lurks a brand of corrupt and anachronistic biblical interpretation that also fuels the movement against scientific knowledge and intellectualism. The stubborn pride of Old Time Religion stands ready to fight progress at every turn. It has done so for millennia and will continue to do so as long as people of rational faith refuse to confront religious corruption and the perverse effect it has on politics, culture and religion.
The Conservative/Liberal Divide
The current-day battle between liberals (or Progressives, as they now like to be called) and conservatives carries the same stridency and stubbornness that marked the American Civil War. The difficult question we must now face is whether we can anticipate the rise of a neo-confederacy in the modern age.
The original, Southern Confederacy stemmed from dissatisfaction with the state of the Union, the future of government and the use of slavery to support commerce. It might seem easy to assume that the Union was 100% on the right side of political issues in the Civil War. But no matter how correct the Union cause might appear in retrospect, the Confederacy was not by definition without virtue. As a political entity it may well have been justified defending itself against economic and military aggression by the Union. And in spite of the notion that the ideology of the Confederacy was purged through the Civil War, the nature of the personal and political freedoms advocated by the South are alive and well today in modern society, woven into the politics of libertarians and other conservatives who contend that the best government is that which governs least. These principles in part the Confederacy sought to defend. And we all know the sense of pride in defending these perceived moral principles has never been lost on at least part of the South. That mindset has now spilled over into political entities such as the Tea Party, whose motto might as well be the age-old motto of Don’t Tread On Me, repurposed for the modern age of course.
However unfortunate it may have been for the Confederate South to secede, one can admire the determination of a movement still somehow symbolic of the American revolutionary spirit. But it is a daunting reality that partisan politics could again produce an America so divided over ideology, geography, oligarchy, or all of the above.
Perhaps the most likely scenario is the formation of a “neo-Confederacy” around doctrinal states. Proponents on either side of the political fence have begun to see the value of the “winner-take-all” approach. We are not far from a moment in history when battles over doctrinal authority could lead to a secession of some form in the hands of the neo-Confederates and the states or ideologies they represent.
But there are other parties with a stake as well. The next Civil War may be fought not in the fields and forests of America, but in courtrooms where armies of lawyers battle over the rights of corporations to control America’s life and politics. Corporate lobbies and revenue now influence every facet of American life. The largest corporations and the individuals who run them have more money and power than many countries in the world. It is not a stretch to say that one cannot become a governor, senator or representative without the backing of corporations.
In essence a neo-Confederacy of corporate largess already exists in America, and it is not limited to the Republican side of the political fence. It may not be long before the power vested in corporations becomes a mandate where America is forced to choose between its original model of a democratic republic and a corporate society in which companies literally run the business of America.
It is not corporations themselves that are at fault. Like a handgun, they only kill when put to the purpose. But if they are killing democracy through manipulation of our elected officials, then they should be disarmed in that respect. But who will do the disarming? Our Supreme Court recently tried a case in which they effectively decided to remove all restrictions on how much companies can give to politicians in public and in secret. Whether we have the courage as a nation to resist this takeover of American life is a question for our age. Any government owned and run by business will obviously favor the interests of business over that of individual citizens. This of course is the death of democracy as it was written in the United States Constitution where rights of individuals (and not corporations, despite the Supreme Court ruling) are protected.
But here’s the real democracy-killer. If religion should also be used to add clout to to the rule of corporate rights over those of individuals, then a nation has not only lost its grip on democracy and turned itself over to commerce as rule of law, it has lost all ability to monitor its soul. The very things that supposedly make America great; freedom of speech, freedom of commerce and freedom of religion, become enemies of the state when turned against it. That is exactly what is happening now, and on all three fronts.
Part of the reason doctrinal politics, economic aggression and triumphal religious language make such a potent combination is that all three are tools of pride and power. Some people even refuse to distinguish between the three. For a potent illustration of faith at play in the real world of business and politics, we quote the May 5, 2001 obituary of one Carl Bagge, a successful businessman, former leader of the National Mining Association and former National Coal Chief. Mr. Bagge’s obituary outlined the passionate manner with which he did business on behalf of the coal industry and also coal-burning electrical plants. Mr. Bagge called clean-air groups “environmental elitists,” declaring evidence that acid rain came from the pollution generated by coal plants “inconclusive” when in fact the science is quite conclusive and well documented. But Mr. Bagge was practicing a well-known Public Relations ploy of planting doubt in the minds of people by denying the truth in the face of all evidence. The same ploy is being used to this day by people who refuse to confirm the evidence behind manmade global warming, climate change and for that matter, even the science of evolution.
But let us return to the story of Mr. Bagge, who apparently saw his work on behalf of the coal industry as a religious mission. In reference to his occupation, he was quoted as saying; “We’re doing the Lord’s work here, people. Anybody who doesn’t believe that may as well leave, go and work for the other side.” As if the so-called “other side” were automatically opposed to God! Where is the stewardship of creation in that ideology?
But it doesn’t end there. When Mr. Bagge became president of the National Mining Association, he changed the group’s number to 202-GOD-COAL in an attempt to convince its members that God was the only force that could keep them from their aims. The number is still in use.
Mr. Bagge exemplified the manner in which the some people freely mix religion with corporate aims. People who take pride in their religion and their work often find it hard to keep the two separate. The only problem with a close relationship between faith and business is that so close an association has been known to corrupt both.
When religion becomes the cause of corruption
As religions have traditionally has been a source of conscience for cultures throughout the ages, it can be particularly difficult to castigate faith when it becomes complicit in its allegiances concerned only with earthly or political power. Yet so-called Christian values continue to be promulgated in America as tools to get elected. Yet we consistently find that those who treasure the authority of religion either try to create a theocracy or ignore their campaign promises entirely. Few are able, as was Abraham Lincoln, to effectively integrate their faith with actions of conscience and not step over the line where their personal faith is imposed upon other Americans as the Constitution is written to prevent. Religion in politics is tricky because those who dare place a stake in the middle ground get accused of weak doctrine by those on the right and suspicious motives by those on the left.
Yet the issue of faith in politics is vital and real. When religion fails in its role as a protectorate for our souls by abandoning the true voice of faith, all sorts of corruption follows. A faith that lends itself to corruption becomes part of the problem or worse, even a probable cause.
To avoid this corruption in faith or purpose, we can look to an example text from the New Testament, Galatians 6, for guidance: “And let the one who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
Galatians 6 reads like a manifesto of liberal faith, encouraging us to invest in the spirit as well as good works, and to avoid political aims that are clearly selfish. We must remember that the ultimate message of our nation’s Constitution is to protect equal rights, and that implies compassion for others. Also humility, charity and an abiding belief in the principle of equal souls is manifested in these respects. Perhaps most importantly in relation to our national trust, one does not have to believe in God to express these principles. To quote the cliche, America guarantees freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.
It can be difficult to sustain such principles where the harsh reality of bottom line ethics is known to override the best intentions of the faithful. Yet Galatians 6 and many other biblical texts remind us that human beings who believe in God, and even those who don’t, should strive do good works in all things as citizens of a nation that depends on liberalism for progress as well as conservatism for tradition. Only in that balance can we be expected to conduct business without compromising the soul of the nation in which we live.