Saturday, October 8, 2016

Revolutionaries, Moderates and Reactionaries in Politics and Religion

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr. 

            American politics are coming apart at the seams.  The fabric of our democracy is resilient, but it’s being tested as never before.  Donald Trump’s angry Republicans demand a return to the halcyon days of the past when they were part of a secure and moderate majority, while Hillary Clinton’s Democrats are challenging that majority and want to abandon its traditional moral standards to recreate America in their liberal image.  The political faceoff has created a dangerous political polarization that this country has not seen since the Civil War.

            Trump’s followers have supported him in spite of his nastiness, narcissism and disdain for those who question his suitability to be President, while Clinton’s coalition of minorities have ignored her questionable ethics as she leads their attack on traditional cultural values to promote the rights of newfound LBQT minorities and provide more power for racial minorities.

            Partisan politics now resemble a football game between the Trump team and the Clinton team in which each team member must be committed to defeat the opposition.  The game plans are prepared by Trump for Republicans and Clinton for Democrats, and the quarterbacks who call signals for them in the House are Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.  Winning is everything, and those members of the team who question the game plan must sit on the bench, or worse.

            In more traditional political terminology, Democrats might be considered political revolutionaries and Republicans political reactionaries (see David Brooks’ commentary in the Notes below).  Once there were moderates in both parties who worked with the opposition on important issues and understood that politics is the art of compromise.  But in today’s polarized two-party duopoly there is no place for moderates who can reconcile contentious partisan issues.  A third party could provide the moderates needed to diffuse partisan polarization and gridlock.   

            Revolutionaries and reactionaries have long been driving forces for social and cultural change.  That has been evident in the evolution of religion as well as politics.  In politics, the U.S. Civil War was a dramatic and tragic example of what can happen when there are no moderate forces to reconcile issues that divide revolutionaries and reactionaries.  Slavery was an issue that reflected a virulent mix of politics and clashing religious standards of legitimacy.

            The Enlightenment motivated revolutionary changes in both politics and religion by challenging the truth of ancient religious doctrines and laws with advances in knowledge and reason—this despite the reactionary efforts of fundamentalists.  But this revolution of reason did not occur in Islamic cultures where there is now a revolution to determine whether Islam emerges as a religion of peace and justice or one of violence and oppression.  Its outcome will be determined by Muslims.  The intervention of outside forces has proven to be counterproductive. 

            The violent mix of religion and politics goes back to ancient times.  Moses began as a religious and political revolutionary and became a reactionary in eliminating challenges to his leadership.  Jesus was a Jewish religious revolutionary who was eliminated by reactionary religious and Roman authorities; and Muhammad, like Moses, began as a religious and political revolutionary and became a reactionary ruler who effectively eliminated his opposition.

            Religious fundamentalists are reactionaries who are opposed to any change to their ancient religious doctrines and laws.  In America, most Trump supporters claim to be Christian fundamentalists, even though Trump is the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus.  Al Qaeda and ISIS are Islamist fundamentalists who are reactionaries to progress and modernity, but they are also violent revolutionaries within an Islam that was once a religion of relative peace.

            The measure of liberation for politics and religion from oppression is for them to embrace the libertarian values of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.  In Islamic nations in the Middle East and Africa, shari’a prevails with apostasy and blasphemy laws that preclude the fundamental freedom of religion and speech and with women and Non-Muslims denied equal treatment under the law.  Only moderate Muslims can liberate Islam from that oppression.      

            In both politics and religion, reconciliation is needed between the liberal revolutionaries who seek change and reactionaries who oppose change.  Without moderates to reconcile those contentious conflicts in politics and religion, the delicate fabric of democracy, peace and justice will remain at risk in a world of increasing political and religious violence.

            Political and religious moderates must be able to bridge contentious issues with a moral imperative accepted by revolutionaries and reactionaries of all faiths, and that is found in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as ourselves—even those we would rather ignore.  It is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike that can reconcile revolutionaries with reactionaries, whether political or religious—or both.


For David Brooks commentary on The Age of Reaction in which he cited Mark Lilla’s The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction, see

Michael Gerson has said that he doesn’t understand how people who claim to be Christians can support Donald Trump, and asked, “I wonder how Trump evangelicals explain to their sons and daughters that this man is a suitable leader for a great country.”  See

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