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I’m not a religious person, and in terms of the way my grandmother approached her faith I don’t come within a continent of being called devout. Dealing with others I usually try to keep free of specific religious observance. Interesting though, the way many of us walk such a line and keep the distinction comes from the Christian tradition of rendering individually unto God and unto Caesar that has become the foundation of Separation of Church and State in a civil and secular society. Separation requires the citizen to perform a balance between private or religious belief and their adherence to the state. This overall is a good thing, but also an obligation on the citizen to respect and honor a sometimes tippy balance.
In general most of the Western origin faiths are fairly well onboard with this and make an effort, at least in outward reminders, to keep the injunctions of their faith from applying to others. Live and let live is a common expression that gives a version of the balance individuals in free and secular society regularly observe as they render here and render there on the weigh scale of rights. But now here’s an interesting thing. Unsought and more frequently than coincidence I’ll hear a secularist throw in a dig at believers. Applying such a slur is apparently part of a certain breed of secularity and is often followed with lifted chin saying in some fashion, “I don’t follow any of that nonsense.” That’s the funny part. I thought I’d best point that out because many of us are so used to it we nod agreeably instead of laughing. And why laugh? Well, given the way each is typically practiced there’s hardly a functional difference of moment between belief and non-belief. In fact I suspect non-belief may be a little more dangerous than its opposite because the non-believer often substitutes her or his own divinity as source or justification of truth.
When I say such things to people I’m accustomed to getting the look that says “What in hell is Harry rambling about now? Faith is certainly not the same as disbelief. He’s crazy.” It’s the content that’s different, not the behavior or the method of support for positions. On both sides these operate on the same less-than-totally-rational system of conviction. What’s the functional distinction between faith and conviction? You’ll work on that one a while, but in any case I think it useful to consider the similarity between faith inspiration in one’s public and private life compared to adherence to a secular godhead for guidance. They behave similarly and both have that human quirk of desiring the absolute. This quest of absolute perfection in belief of politic can be quite demonstrably primitive with its warnings and observances to ward off devils.
Done want to believe me? Well believers have Satan and all of his snares and little trouble making devils to tempt the faithful and keep them in perpetual peril. Does that sound on the superstitious and primitive side to you? Well, worshipers of the political secular state don’t show a whole lot better. It’s just that their evil one has various names and poses different threats. The political treat their demons with all the fanatic fervor believers have for Satan. On either side of the political faith mention either the Devil Trump or the Incubus Soros and see what response you get. Bring out the muttering of incantation, of warning, of woe, and of warding off the evil that lurks. Otherwise reasoning people throw away rationality when it’s time to do the ritual of political cleansing or perform the right of righteous communion.
They often bow down together chanting the supplication to whatever spirit it is that needs to be recognized or appeased. The believer and non-believer are cut from the same human fabric. Knowing what human quirks and failings we’re prone to individually and in any cultural collective is about the best thing any of us can do to deal with the forces that require obedient agreement in favor of tough debate. People will flock to listen to someone they agree with, which is fine so long as they will equally throng to hear that which runs their counter. Having a religious faith will no more get you into heaven than having a political faith will create paradise on earth. The way of being a human is not that simple. The personal work and effort needed to understand yourself, others, society, nations, and etc. is a lifetime task with many a wasted avenue and unexpected portages required in order for the journey to continue. Methodist or Muslim, Democrat or Independent has yet to achieve ultimate truth or idyllic society.
We humans have tried lots of paths. We’ve no doubt long ago once lived and bred as roving packs. We founded villages where we lived one woman to one man, and we know of one man with multiple wives and of women taking more than one man. We know the above styles breed differently in numbers, and we can wager the ranch that two of the three breed considerable imbalance and upset in social order by leaving too many outside the leading order. In simple terms you don’t have to do it in order to see that multiple marriage creates a social imbalance. In the same way we don’t have to go unthinking down any path (religious, secular, or political) that proclaims progress toward perfection without asking of it all the questions and for all the proofs we should see before announcing in glory, “Praise Be!” Kneel reluctantly and only when you feel a moment of acknowledgment is worthy of giving. As the Fourth nears many of us will plan the feast and enjoy the fireworks. But I hope as many will be thankful for the frail but real successes of democratic freedom. I hope, too, that more and more we’ll do honor every day through diligently questioning as we go about our lives as a free people. Freedom was never free and each of us has a fee to maintain it.