Thursday, March 30, 2006

Your Soul Is Keeping Us in Iraq

When we think about religion and politics, we tend to think in terms of religious leaders and demographic blocs exerting political influence. But that's not the most pernicious effect religion has on the public sphere. The most insidious religious beliefs, the ones that damage our society and culture most, are the ones that are held by everyone of a religious bent, from fundamentalist conservatives to the most radical lefties who say they reject god and superstition yet cling to superstitious, religious notions such as souls and spirituality and even fate.

For instance, if you believe in such a thing as souls, you're a part of the reason for some of the support he still has for the U.S. war in Iraq. Here's how.

On Wednesday, President Bush spoke yet again about the war. He made one interesting comment which got a lot of play on cable news, but I haven't seen it picked up in print yet. I suspect that's because the certainty of his delivery made for good TV better than the insubstantial content made for good print. Here's what he said about the (presumably monolithic) enemy in Iraq:

They're not going to shake my confidence, I just want you to know. I understand their tactics and I know their designs. But I also believe that Iraqis can and want to self-govern. That's what I believe. And so when you see me make decisions, or make statements like I make, you've got to understand it's coming from a basic set of beliefs. That's what I believe. And that's what a decision-maker ought to do. The decision-maker ought to make decisions based upon deep-seeded beliefs. You don't need a President chasing polls and focus groups in order to make tough decisions. You need Presidents who make decisions based upon sound principle. Now, people may not agree with the decisions; I understand that. But I hope after this talk, those of you who didn't agree at least know I'm making my decisions based on something I believe deep in my soul.
There are, in fact, people who are uncertain (at the very least) about this war, but who actually do take solace in the fact that his decision to send U.S. troops to invade another country was based on a belief that's located not just in his soul, but deep within it, away from the surface of it.

There are actually people in this country who believe that and, worse, think that it matters. If you believe in souls, then you have to support the idea that they matter (in some way, somehow), in which case, you can't logically deny Bush the political shelter he's just claimed by ascribing his war-mongering (which we know is actually politically motivated) to the soul (which, of course, we all know, is where purity and "essential" goodness reside).

In a world where journalists observed the Ten Commandments of Covering Religion, Mr. Bush's remarks would have demanded several follow-up questions from the journalists in attendance, such as:

  • Why should people care whether this belief is held in your soul, rather than in your brain?
  • Is a belief that resides in a soul intrinsically better or more credible than a brain-based belief?
  • We have it on good authority that other people believe in their souls -- at an equal depth -- that the war in Iraq is wrong. What mechanism can you suggest for comparing and assessing soul beliefs that are held at equal depths?
  • Why does it matter to you that other people know where you hold this belief?
  • Have any other of your soul beliefs -- of equal or greater depths -- ever turned out to be wrong?
  • Have any soul beliefs of yours at any depth ever been proved wrong?
  • What is the greatest depth at which a soul belief of yours has turned out to be wrong?
  • By what mechanism did your soul communicate this belief to your brain?
  • How did your brain recognize this belief as originating from within the soul and how can you assure the American people that this belief was not planted either in your soul or in your brain by Satan?

If the American president will reap political gains by ascribing beliefs to an ethereal, supernatural expression of some essential "self," then American journalists have a duty to pursue all of these questions and more. But as long as you treat souls like real things -- with an understood but unchallenged (and absurd) set of governing principles -- then journalists will have no reason to ask precisely the questions that would deny him the political safe haven that has afforded him the ability to start and wage this war.

1 comment:

Sportin' Life said...


This is so great! Hysterically funny and absolutely true at the same time.

I'm curious, do you ever cross-post your stuff at DailyKos or anywhere? Don't know how many readers you have here, but you deserve a wide audience.

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