By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
During the last primary election cycle I, among with millions of other Americans, watched the debates between the Republican hopefuls for the 2012 presidential elections. As a pluralist I like to think of myself as independent with an open mind giving everyone a fare chance to persuade me I should give them my vote. That election cycle was especially important because of the critical economic, social, ethical, and moral issues screaming for attention from a political system in near crisis. I see it as my social obligation to stay informed. What I found interesting is the number of those hopefuls, and others in the democratic opposition too, expressed the belief that “God is on my side”. Or even more self-centered with the statements that “God speaks to me directly” telling them how to consider the critical issues of the day. The implication of those declarations are clear it seems. What is interesting is that God seems to be hedging His bets by backing (or at least speaking to) more then one candidate at a time. We see this all the time in today’s politician rhetoric by many of our “enlightened” officials.
It is easy for a Buddhist to just dismiss these statements as representing a different belief then our own, and they would be correct. Fine. After all, we live in a predominately Christian culture and I’m use to hearing Christians express themselves in relationship to God’s will. (I was there myself at one time) But I am hearing this “God is on my side” more frequently these days. It is a cry often heard to justify separation between us and others in all corners of the world now to justify an attempt to control various power positions. That is disturbing to this monk. Not because it is about the notion of a supreme being. But because it seems to be used to justify an elite status that reflects an ego-mind stuck on self-centered promotion that panders to the uninformed. What I mean by this is that there are some that may not think beyond this God-endorsement, to be informed on the value of a candidates, or tradition’s, positions. If it is good enough for God, it is good enough for me, sort of thing.
I can find many Buddhist lessons that come to mind to put this dilemma in some perspective. But I would like to do something different and stay on topic by assuming for the moment, that “if God exists” what would He think about the issue. While politics has both a social (local) as well as an ethical component, by evoking the name of God places significant importance on the moral component as well. If you consider that all politics is an enterprise of a civilized nation, it is by nature then, moral. So how do we use politics to accomplish our moral agenda, over other competing social demands? This brings to mind something that Aristotle said that all law rests upon the necessary foundation of morality. As a Buddhist I find no intrinsic problem with his position, in theory. However, it is supposed to be this way even though we know that sometimes politicians use their power meant for moral ends as a means to consolidate their own power and control over the very people they were elected to serve. So moral politics is sometimes used poorly. The current political dialogue is proving to be no exception. Think about this carefully. When considering politics as a moral tool, the proper use of power to accomplish moral ends for the common good, it follows that there are either right or wrong answers to political questions if you are an idealist with regards to moral principles as reflected in the cultural framework in which we live. So, we must move beyond the divine endorsement to determine, based on our own experiences, that there are positive or negative outcomes depending on the situational realities to those objective moral issues. There are moral and less-moral responses regarding policy positions. And if there is a “right or wrong answer,” morally speaking, and if God is concerned about the moral imperative, then on any given political issue God would have a point of view, wouldn’t He? If God is always on the side of the right then He does have a side, and He would take a side, right?
What if the opponent is also claiming that God is on their side and praying for success? Both opponents will be mutually exclusive and God will be in a dilemma to grant one’s wish against the other. So one person at least, or both will be disappointed since God might not answer either of their wishes. In this case, it would seem that God would not take sides at all, at least in the way some would want Him to. Or more interesting, what if God choose to remain neutral?
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “God is not a Republican” in big letters on the top, and then beneath that in smaller letters it said “God is not a Democrat either.” These bumper stickers may be either disingenuous or have meaning, but they turn out to be silly slogans because the people who use them may not have really thought about what they are saying. When we use tools to divide, we risk alienating the power that can achieve the very thing we are hoping to accomplish. And language may be the strongest tool we have in our social toolbox. It has a sharp edge that has the potential to cut through delusion. But when this tool is dull, it has little value to promote change.