By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Altruistic values are needed to promote the common good In America’s pluralistic democracy, and American values are reflected in its elections. Current polls indicate that Donald Trump is likely to defeat President Joe Biden in November. If Trump is elected for a second term, America is likely to become a dysfunctional democracy.
Is a second Trump term inevitable? If it happens, we can’t blame it on an uneducated electorate or lack of job opportunities. Over 44% of Americans have a college degree, and the unemployment rate is under 4%; yet in 2016 a majority elected Trump, and most still support him. They are white “Christians” who, like Trump, ignore the altruistic teachings of Jesus.
In America, tribal partisan loyalties outweigh providing for the common good. Biden is not as nasty and narcissistic as Trump, but he favors his Democratic constituencies, contributing to America’s polarized partisan politics. Race remains a major factor in politics, with most Blacks voting Democratic, and most Whites claiming to be Christians and voting Republican.
In the cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil, a shrinking and racially divided church has lost its moral compass and failed to promote the altruistic morality taught by Jesus. God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer. The problem is that Satan does a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church.
God’s will is summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. It’s taken from the Hebrew Bible, was taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith and politics by Islamic scholars to provide for the common good; but the Abrahamic religions have ignored its altruistic moral imperatives.
When the church subordinated the altruistic and universal moral teachings of Jesus to exclusivist church doctrines that were never taught by Jesus, it ignored the moral stewardship of democracy and enabled white Christian charlatans to promote Donald Trump as a political messiah. In that way, the church has promoted Satan’s will over God’s will.
The failure of the church to promote the altruistic teachings of Jesus in politics has been the major cause of the dysfunction of democracy in America, Russia and Israel. The Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine, while Netanyahu is using militant Zionism to promote Jewish nationalism to force Palestinians out of Gaza.
Today none of the Abrahamic religions promotes the altruistic morality of the greatest commandment as a common word of faith and politics. If they did, those religions would all be moral stewards of democracy. Instead, the failure of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to promote altruistic morality as a common word of faith and democracy has corrupted the moral legitimacy of both their religions and their politics.
Modern monotheistic religions have condemned the dualism of good and evil that acknowledges that the world is in a cosmic battle between the competing forces of good and evil. See Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness, By Rudy Barnes, Jr., Nov 22, 2015 at https://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/11/dualism-satan-evil-versus-god-goodness.html.
Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Good and Evil in Religion and Politics (11/7/20):
Ignoring the existence of evil is an impossible reality for monotheists. According to the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, those who believe that God is all good, all powerful and the creator of all things cannot also believe that evil exists independent of God’s goodness. That would make them dualists rather than monotheists or Trinitarians. Dualism originated with the Gnostics of ancient Persia, who believed that the forces of darkness (evil) were in a cosmic battle with the forces of light (good); and Sacks acknowledged that dualism is found in both Judaism and Christianity.
Rabbi Sacks addressed dualism in the context of religious violence, and he explained that “Dualism entered Judaism and Christianity when it became easier to attribute the sufferings of the world to an evil force rather than to the work of God.” For Sacks, God is the source of the bad as well as the good, judgment as well as forgiveness, and justice as well as love, so there is no room for Satan in Sacks’ monotheism. Sacks explains that “…the bad God does is a response [punishment] to the bad we do.”
Sacks articulates a dualistic concept of an omnipotent and universal God in matters of justice, and particular in favoring the Jews as a chosen people. God loves and judges, forgives and punishes; and Sacks acknowledges that dualism simplifies the complexity of that concept. Sacks attributes religious violence to a “…pathological dualism that sees humanity as …divided between the good and irredeemably bad” in an Us versus Them dichotomy of fundamentalist and exclusivist religions that assert one true faith with all others false, and condemned by God.
Jesus was a Jew who was tempted by Satan before predicting a coming kingdom of God based on love and mercy rather than on fear, divine law, and judgment; it was a spiritual kingdom opposed to Satan’s worldly domain. Jesus and the Jews of his day spoke of Satan’s evil as opposed to God’s goodness, and Jesus exorcised demonic minions of Satan. In The Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, and to deliver us from evil. Muhammad also spoke of Satan’s evil versus God’s goodness.
Jesus taught that God does not favor one religion over others, and that all who do God’s will, summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and one’s neighbor as oneself, are spiritual brothers and sisters in the family of God. The Hebrew Bible teaches that those who are obedient to Mosaic Law are rewarded, while the disobedient are punished. The Qur’an teaches that only those who believe in the Qur’an as the immutable word of God and follow its holy laws (shari’a), will be saved, while all unbelievers are condemned to eternal damnation.
Such exclusivist views give rise to what Sacks calls altruistic evil, which is based on the belief that God saves His chosen (Us) and condemns all others (Them). Satan uses the theme of fear and condemnation in a convincing imitation of God, and some of his best performances are in the synagogue, church and mosque. How do we tell the difference? God reconciles and redeems us with love and mercy, while Satan divides and conquers with fear, hate and violence.
All religions—and for monotheists, even God—can be the source of good and evil. The seeds of evil germinate from a fear that progress and modernism threaten traditional religious beliefs, and that fear is the motivating force for religious fundamentalism. Most Jews and Christians in Western democracies are not religious fundamentalists and share belief in the greatest commandment as a common word of faith. But most Muslims in Islamic cultures are fundamentalists who fear libertarian political beliefs are the enemy of Islam and Allah/God.
In a world of increasing religious diversity, justice depends on all religions sharing the libertarian values of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law. Those values are prevalent in Western religions but rejected by Islamism. Unlike Moses and Muhammad who taught the primacy of holy law, Jesus taught the primacy of love over law. For God’s reconciling love and mercy to defeat Satan’s divisive fear and hate, religions need to reject their exclusivist and fundamentalist doctrines and emphasize universal religious reconciliation.
Rabbi Sacks was right to attribute religious violence to a pathological dualism in religion that considers unbelievers as evil, but wrong to dismiss the idea of a cosmic battle between spiritual forces of good and evil. That must remain a mystery known only to God. The challenge for people of faith, whether monotheists or dualists (or both), is to do God’s will and love all their neighbors, including unbelievers, as they love themselves.
Notes to Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness:
The quotes from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are from his book, Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (Schocken Books, New York, 2015 at pp 49,51 & 53). For a book review, see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/books/review/islam-and-the-future-of-tolerance-and-not-in-gods-name.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share.
On the origin of Satan as the personification of evil in 1st century Christianity, see Elaine Pagels, The Origins of Satan (Rndom House, New York, 1995).
The Editorial Board of The Washington Post characterized the Paris attacks as evil. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/facing-evil-in-paris-and-beyond/2015/11/14/c0f82606-8afd-11e5-be39-0034bb576eee_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines. The editorial asks, “What can containment mean in a war like this?” For my response see A Containment Strategy to Defeat Islamist Terrorism, November 1, 2015; Tough Love and the Duty to Protect, November 8, 2015; and American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion, November 15, 2015.
Paul Waldman refers to the debate over whether to use the words “radical Islam” or to avoid using the word Islam in referring to Islamist terrorism as a “silly, distracting” debate. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/11/15/the-silly-distracting-debate-over-whether-to-use-the-words-radical-islam/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_opinions. It is a legitimate and important debate since Islamist terrorism must be recognized as a fundamentalist (and evil) form of radical Islam, or Islamism, in order to be effectively countered within Islam.
In the battle against ISIS and Islamist terrorism, experts have explained how global powers can smash ISIS and agree that it will take religious reform within Islam. Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist, has criticized those who say that Islamist terrorism has nothing to do with Islam as disingenuous. It will also take putting the defeat of ISIS ahead of ousting Assad from power in Syria, and establishing legitimate governments in Islamist cultures which provide “fair justice” (that must include libertarian human rights, beginning with the freedoms of religion and speech). http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/world/middleeast/envisioning-how-global-powers-can-smash-isis.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0.
On the objective of Islamist terrorism to polarize Western society by destroying the “grayzone” of tolerance to pave the way to Jihad, see ttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/hating-muslim-refugees-is-exactly-what-the-islamic-state-wants-europe-to-do/2015/11/15/dfe0ca84-87d1-11e5-be39-0034bb576eee_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_opinions.
On the Paris attacks as “precisely chosen targets” chosen by ISIS, with Paris as “the capital of prostitution and vice,” see https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/we-are-everything-they-hate-mourners-gather-at-paris-attack-sites/2015/11/15/c09acbbe-8b39-11e5-bd91-d385b244482f_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines.
For an earlier commentary On Altruism, see Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/altruism-missing-ingredient-in-american.html (3/31/18).
Both Christianity and Democracy share an essential ingredient: altruism. It’s defined as concern for the public welfare, and it’s conspicuously absent in American religion and politics. Jesus taught altruism as a moral imperative of faith in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions; and it is recognized as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Providing for the public welfare, or common good, is as much a priority in democratic politics as it is in religion; but that civic value is missing in America’s increasingly self-centered, materialistic and hedonistic culture. That became evident in 2016 when America elected a narcissist as its president, and this past year Trump confirmed his utter lack of altruism.
On Easter eve 2018, in a nation where the vast majority of voters consider themselves Christians, there is little sense of common purpose, much less concern for the public welfare. America is now more polarized by partisan politics along racial lines than since the Civil War, and Trump’s election has exacerbated that polarization. We can only hope that America can be resurrected, reconciled and redeemed as a nation of people who truly care for one another.
Unfortunately, American politics are becoming even more polarized, with little evidence of reconciliation. Demographic data indicates a decrease in white voters, an increase in voters over 50 years old, an increase in college educated voters, and an increase in those who claim no religious preferences, all of which have widened political and religious differences in America.
The percentage of white voters in the U.S. has dropped by 14%, with a decrease of 16% among Democrats and 9% among Republicans. Among voters over 50 years old, there has been an overall increase of 10%, with 18% among Republicans and only 5% among Democrats. Overall there has been an 8% increase of those with a college education, with a 15% increase among Democrats, but no change among Republicans. As for religion, Americans claiming no religion has increased by 16%, with 24% among Democrats and 8% among Republicans.
Partisan politics are becoming more polarized with competing identity groups, and the church is not promoting the altruism needed for political reconciliation. Instead, the evangelical wing of the church actively supports divisive radical-right politics, while mainstream Christian denominations avoid political issues, even those essential to providing for the common good.
This can be attributed to the church emphasizing exclusivist beliefs, such as Paul’s atonement doctrine, rather than the universalist and altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment. While that emphasis has allowed Christianity to become the world’s most popular religion, it has ignoring the self-denial and sacrificial love taught by Jesus.
America has always been diverse, but that diversity has become a weakness rather than a strength. America seems to have lost its sense of common destiny and purpose, with divisive identity groups in both political parties promoting tribalism rather than political reconciliation. Republicans have become a white radical-right party, while Democrats have become a leftist conglomeration of minority groups. Neither party relates to moderate conservatives.
A nationwide nonpartisan moral revival is needed to restore altruism as a religious and political virtue in America, and that will require religious and political revolutionaries willing to challenge the divisive tribal norms of religious and political institutions. It will take a 21st century reformation to resurrect the altruistic spirit that gave birth to American democracy.
After 20 years, data shows dramatic changes in party alignment based on fewer white voters, more voters over 50, more with a college education and more disclaiming religion. See https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/after-20-years-data-show-dramatic-changes-party-alignment-n859821.
Political reconciliation is needed for our polarized politics, but it must be based on shared altruistic values; and the values of Donald Trump and his supporters are not altruistic, but divisive and hostile to providing the common good. In response to Henry Olsen urging conservatives “to make peace with a Trump dominated movement” and seek “fusionism” with them, Michael Gerson has advised conservatives to forego any “fusion” with the Trump regime because of the damage they have done “in the realm of values and norms.” Gerson urged elected leaders to “affirm our common bonds,” and “for principled conservatives to hear the call of moral duty and stand up for their beliefs until this madness passes. As it will.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/this-madness-will-pass-conservatives-cant-give-up/2018/03/29/33367342-3369-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html?utm_term=.f5c5bd575e2a&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1.
In a recent poll “61% of Republicans considered Trump a good role model for their children.” The dramatic difference in values and lack of altruism in Trump’s “Christian” supporters and those conservatives before them is evident in recent interviews of Trump supporters. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/as-stormy-daniels-tells-her-story-six-conservative-americans-debate-whether-trump-is-a-role-model/2018/03/28/bb4f258a-2f86-11e8-b0b0-f706877db618_story.html?utm_term=.7b7fede5b811&wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1.
In 1834 Alex DeTocqueville observed that Democracy in America flourished with a diversity of social and religious organizations and was dependent on shared altruistic religious and political values that balanced individual rights with providing for the common good. That was before the Civil War and the residual racial animosity that has haunted America ever since.