Patriotism: The Religion of the State

A Tour of Washington DC and the National Mall

 

 

I recently had the good fortune to visit our Capital and spend a day touring the National Mall. It was an excellent trip, particularly the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I would highly recommend anyone who has the means make the trip at some point. But as I toured the National Mall and surrounding areas, something struck me, something that I had been ambiently aware of before, but never so directly confronted with.

Patriotism is a religion.

Now I have a deep interest in and respect for US history, and I understand the sort of reverence before history that can be felt at certain sites or at memorials for great historical figures, but when touring DC I was struck by just how eerily religious a lot of the imagery was.

The first memorial to really catch my eye in this way was the monument to General George Meade, the Union General of the Civil War, which is just a short walk from the Capitol Building. As I looked upon the monument, it struck me: “That is a saint.” With his regal posture and golden halo, he is portrayed almost identically to the way Saints are typically portrayed in Catholic iconography.

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Left to Right: Saint Francis of Assisi, General George Meade, Saint Patrick of Ireland

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Gen. Meade

And while not particularly associated with Saints, the large structures over either shoulder holding the halo aloft are quite reminiscent of wings are they not? These similarities seemed to striking to be coincidence.

Later in the day I made my way to the Lincoln Memorial. Of course I have seen numerous picture of the memorial before, but I immediately recognized what I was seeing, something I had never realized until I stood at the foot of the memorial in person. “That is Zeus at Olympia.”

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia no longer exists, but we have several descriptions of it from contemporaries and a few renderings from coinage at the time, enough for artists to have created reasonably accurate images of what was once a wonder of the Greek world. The likeness to the Lincoln Memorial is pronounced. The way he is entroned, the massive size, event the fact that both Lincoln and Zeus sat in column lined rooms in Greek style temples atop a hill.

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Left to Right: Lincoln Memorial, Zeus at Olympia

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Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Perhaps most convincing at all, the statue of Zeus had a reflecting pool at it’s feet, and while the Lincoln Memorial does not have a reflecting pool inside at Lincoln’s feet, before the entrance to the Memorial, at the foot of the steps, is an enormous reflecting pool. That cannot be coincidence.

 

 

So as I sat on the grass at the National Mall, contemplating all of this, and wondering if this was all mere coincidence, my attention was drawn to the pleasant shade I was sitting Obelisk dictionary jpgin. The shade of course cast by the largest and most iconic of all of the monuments at the National Mall: The Washington Monument, at the feet of which I sat. Of course, the largest and grandest of all monuments at the Capital is the world’s largest Obelisk.

The Obelisk is one of the most ancient and prevalent religious symbols in the world. Most associated in antiquity with Egypt, these structures were almost always of a religious nature. In Rome they also serve as religious monuments, with the most famous of all being the Lateran Obelisk marking the location of Emperor Constantine I’s baptism.

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Left to Right: Washington Monument, Lateran Obelisk

I propose that it is no accident that many of our shrines and memorials to our Patriarchs have a pronounced religious flavor to them. Is Patriotism not the religion of the State? Does it not have its Holy Texts? Does it not have its symbols and icons that are to be treated with great reverence and care? Does patriotism not have its own hymns and parables and holy days and rites of observance? Much like religion, does not expressing a different form of patriotism as the rest of your community instantly mark you as an outsider and lower your social cachet?

I am not a religious person, nor am I a patriotic person. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the history of our nation and for the many fantastic qualities that make the USA influential, prosperous, and admirable. However, I have no inherent or innate deference to my national identity. I have no ideological predisposition to think of my own nation as best or our actions as righteous or our laws and founders as being somehow sacred and above reproach.

Shrines and memorials to influential and important figures of the past are all well and good. A humble place to take a moment to learn and reflect on the great works of those who came before is certainly important and worthwhile. Ostentatious quasi-religious monuments however, are gaudy. I can only speak for myself, but I must imagine that if I were a Founding Father, if I had fought a war against monarchs and helped establish a secular government, and somehow were able to leap forward in time to find Saintly effigies of myself, towering sculptures of me enthroned, or enormous Obelisks erected in my honor, that would make me profoundly uncomfortable and would think these people had somehow missed the point.

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Abortion and the Ancient Law

In today’s video I discuss how the conspicuous silence of the Bible on the topic of Abortion can be reasonably interpreted as an *acceptance or perhaps even tacit endorsement of the practice*.

I an fully aware that this idea might rub some people the wrong way, it is a Point of Contention after all, but I ask that you please set ideology aside for only a moment and earnestly consider the case being made on it’s own merits, and I look forward to hearing what you think.

 

Libertarian Liability: Why Libertarianism Fails to Impress

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I am not a fan of Libertarianism. It does not appeal to me. I do not see the wisdom in it.

However, I find myself in an awkward situation when people whom I otherwise have a great deal of intellectual respect for, people with whom I am usually in moral and philosophical alignment, seem quite smitten with Libertarian ideals.

So I feel the need to explain why it is that Libertarianism fails to impress me, to suggest that perhaps it should not impress others as much as it does, or at the very least to explore what exactly it is about my own values that Libertarianism is in such irreconcilable conflict with.

When I start to think about the problems of Libertarianism, I am often reminded of Communism. I do not mean in a mechanistic sense regarding how the two systems operate, but rather the sharp contrast between Communism as explained in theory, and Communism as applied in practice. I am sure that many of you can relate to this experience. At this point Communism is practically a punchline to a very unfunny joke. It is the great 20th Century example of an idea that seems great on paper, but fares so poorly in practice. In Libertarianism I feel as though I see an adolescent stage of the same sad story.

When Libertarianism is explained to me, in sympathetic terms, in principles, in ideological mantras, it sounds great. How could it not? Individual Liberty above all else, Voluntarism, Freedom of Association, the Non-Initiation of Force. These seem like great ideals. Yet time and again, when I hear proposals floated as to how these ideas would be applied to actual communities, actual economies, actual people, I find myself in uncomfortable waters. Whatever spell the ideology cast on me is rapidly disenchanted.

There are a hundred examples I could give of such proposals not sitting well with me, but I would like to cut to my favorite: The example I give is from the 2012 Election Season, when Paul the Elder, Ron not Rand (and the better of the two Pauls in the opinion of this writer) was asked a question regarding using tax dollars to feed hungry children.

I want to take a moment to explain why this is the example I use, least some Libertarian apologist dismiss me as cherry-picking a particularly bad case to make a study of. Ron Paul is no poor representative of the Libertarian ethic, at least he was not at the time. He was well received by the Libertarians I knew as an erudite representative of their position. Furthermore, the kind of answer he gave to this question seems very much in line with the kinds of answers I have received personally from Libertarians when discussing similar issues. I also pick Ron Paul because, for as much as I disagree with him, during the 2012 primary debates, he proved himself to be the smartest man on stage, being the only one to consistently answer in meaningful and intelligent ways rather than in vapid talking points.

In 2012, Ron Paul was running for a spot on the Republican Ticket rather than as a third party candidate. The calculation was that Libertarianism had a much better chance of making its way into the White House if it attempted to hitch a ride, lamprey-esque, on the back of the larger, stronger, fish that was the GOP. The strategy was a good one, despite the fact that he did not ultimately win, and it was during one of those Primary debates that the following occurred:

Ron Paul, regarding a previous statement he had made critical of the practice, was asked to elaborate on his position regarding free and reduced cost lunches for economically challenged public school children.

He replied that yes, of course those children should be fed. Of course they should not go hungry due to whatever economically woe begotten circumstance had befallen their parents. That was not the fault of the children and for it they should not suffer. However (of course there is a “however”), it is not the role of the Federal Government to do that. It is beyond the proper role of Government to mandate support for those children by taking the money of citizens, through taxation, and applying it to that cause.

Paul acknowledged, as a point of Constitutional Law, that State and Local Governments might have the authority to intervene through taxation, but that ideally all mandates to aid the hungry would be removed and if those children were to be fed, it ought to be done via individual, voluntary, and per instance acts of charity by the local community.

That was his answer, and that is precisely the kind of answer you get from Libertarians regarding other similar issues.

So what is wrong with that? The problem with that reasoning jumped out to me immediately, as I am sure it did for many of you. However, for those not predisposed in the same manner as myself, allow me to elaborate:

The problem with Ron Paul’s answer, the Libertarian answer, is a simple truism if human nature: Charity is fickle.

I do not wish to be dismissive of the level of charitable giving in this country. We can be relied upon to donate enormous sums to a vast array of worthy causes. However, we do not donate Proactively,  or as a matter of regular and dependable civic duty. We donate reactively. When the latest catastrophe strikes and we are shocked by the humanitarian need, we donate. When our employer or school has a canned food drive, we donate. When someone in our family or in our neighborhood asks for pledges for their charity walk-a-thon, we donate. We often even donate simply because it is the Holiday season, out of the simple benevolent atmosphere at the time.

But such charity is not reliable. Interest wanes, the walk-a-ton ends, the holiday season gives way to just another year. But the hungry are not only hungry during the holidays, or when your child happens to have a canned food drive. They are hungry during the other times as well, and will continue to be, month in and month out, decade after decade, for the reminder of our lives and far beyond. There will always be hungry people who need to be fed, or else left to perish. And these kinds of problems, regular, constant, mundane suffering and need, these are the issues that charity is woefully ill equipped to deal with. These issues require reliable, steady, and systematic attention.

So when Ron Paul, or really any Libertarian, offers such a solution to the insoluble problems of poverty and need, I am forced to one of two conclusions: Either they are stupid (which, for the record, I do not think Ron Paul is) and somehow failed to recognize this basic truth about the unreliable nature of charity, or they are fully aware that chastity is fickle, and as much as they may feel for those poor children, ultimately, they are willing to sacrifice the stomachs of the hungry on the alter of individual liberty.

That is calculus I cannot abide by. That is a prioritization of values that does not sit well with me. And it is the way so many similar discussions with a Libertarian will go. This philosophy seems to miss the basic truth of the social contract, the core advantage of being a communal species as opposed to a solitary one. It seems to forsake the glue of civilization, the idea that every person in the civilization, simply by merits of being in it, is afforded some level of protection and prosperity beyond simply what they have individually earned by their own merit. In this way, a community is greater than the sum of its parts.

And this leads me directly to my second major problem with Libertarianism; how out of touch with reality is seems. It has often occurred to me that Libertarianism is a political philosophy one can only preach from atop a mountain of safety, security, and influence purchase by the combined effort of millions that came before. Put simply, it is the political philosophy of the privileged and the few.

I recently came across an example that perfectly illustrates this: A friend of mine (again, a person who me I otherwise have a great deal of respect for) shared a Meme headlined, “Things that are none of my business (as a Libertarian), or the governments”. The list began;

1: What kind of love, or what gender of lover, consenting adults prefer.

-Sounds great.

2: What Political Party you belong to.

-Ok, I’m with you.

3: What restroom you choose to use or gender you identify as.

-Hell yeah!

4: What you choose to read.

5: What you choose to write.

-Yes, #agreestrongly

6: How you choose to spend your money.

-Well, that depends on….

7: Who you choose to employ or not employ.

-Ok, now wait a minute.

8: Who you choose to serve or not serve at your business.

-And, you’ve lost me.

As always with Libertarianism, what started out so good, plummets into a dark place where I cannot follow.

And then the Meme wrapped itself up by ending with the following caption: “I will treat you with respect and human decency. If you choose not to reciprocate, no biggie, I’ll move along.”

…If you won’t treat me with respect and decency….no big deal….I will move along.

I replied to that friend by quoting the above passage and saying, “If the core of White Privilege were condensed into a bumper sticker slogan.”

And while I don’t want to make this post about race, there is no way to ignore the privilege that statement drips with. There are really only two conditions under which a person can say such a thing with a strait face and not even a hint of irony.

The first possibility is that you have access to such great resources that it truly is no big deal to you if people treat you disrespectfully and indecently. Resources such that encountering such treatment really has no impact to your prospects.

Either that, or the second possibility, that you belong to a demographic, in a time and a place, where you can feel reasonably sure that this poor treatment will not be systemic enough to affect your earnings, employment, healthcare, housing, education, and treatment by the criminal justice system.

If you are not one of those two types of people, if you are a person of a group towards whom that poor treatment is systemic enough to have a very real impact, or a person with so few resources that finding a world disrespectful and indecent towards you would be devastating to your ability to prosper, then you could never make such a statement with a strait face.

This idea that the disrespect and indecency of other towards you is truly “no biggie” and something you can “move along” from, is an idea that can only be born of a disconnected and irresponsible privilege.

And for those reasons, Libertarianism does not impress me. It prioritizes individuality over communal responsibility to a degree which I deem to be both harmful and immoral. It stares down from a place of influence and strength to propose a system of governance in which those not also atop that rampart of privilege would be left to the wolves. It is both intimate in the way it disrespects the have-nots, while simultaneously distant and disconnected from them as well.

In short, it is, by my judgment, a terrible system for governing a population and lacking in its moral priorities. Unless or until someone can present to me a form of Libertarianism that takes those values of Individual Liberty and Free Association and Non-Initiation of Force, and balances them in a wise and moderate way against our shared responsibility to one another and to our community, until that happens, Libertarianism is a ship I just cannot board.