For a long time I’ve been puzzled by how anybody could possibly vote for the Republicans, or take their party seriously. Yesterday, in one of those chit-chat sessions you get into on Facebook, the other shoe dropped. I now understand Republicanism.
It’s a religion.
To be sure, it lacks some of the trappings of what we think of as organized religion. There is no deity (though Saint Ronnie is often invoked). There are no chapels where the faithful may gather for quiet reflection — but the resemblance of Tea Party rallies to old-time tent revival meetings is not hard to see. The details of Rush Limbaugh’s commentary may differ from what a fire-and-brimstone radio preacher would spout, but make no mistake: Limbaugh is a preacher.
The significant point is this: The appeal of Republicanism, like the appeal of religion, rests entirely on the natural human tendency to believe unquestioningly what an authority figure tells you. “It must be right, because the Pope [or the Elders] said it,” is exactly the same response, at the level of brain function, as, “It must be right because [name your favorite Republican oracle] said it.”
Republicanism is based almost entirely on doctrine. The facts seldom matter. To be sure, facts will be trotted out when they support a position dictated by doctrine, but when the facts become inconvenient, they are jettisoned without a moment’s hesitation. They are denied. They are shouted down. Those who mention facts are attacked, sometimes physically. The ironclad intolerance of Republicans should come as no surprise if we compare Republicanism to the long and bloody history of Catholicism and Islam.
The Republican belief in the doctrine of liberty is sacrosanct. Any idea, however twisted, that can be cloaked in an appeal to liberty will be swallowed whole by the faithful. This is precisely why tens of millions of people continue to follow unflinchingly a cabal of leaders whose real agenda is to funnel money upward to their grotesquely rich patrons.
The unmistakable congruence between Republicanism and organized religion helps explain the otherwise paradoxical appeal of Republicanism to millions of fervent Christians. Christians are trained to obey authority; if you get in the habit of questioning authority, you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up as an atheist before very long, so the faithful don’t dare drift in that direction. Thus the unholy alliance is forged.
The roaring success of Republicanism rests on two pillars. First, the faithful are tireless in their efforts. They’ve been promised Paradise, just as soon as they cleanse the world of the nasty heathen liberals. And second, what’s the alternative? The Republicans have the faith business sewed up. The Democratic Party is not a religion, it’s just a Godawful mess. Our charismatic leaders (Obama, for instance, and Clinton before him) turn out to be closet Republicans.
Besides, attempting to govern based on facts is messy. The facts are often in dispute — sometimes legitimately so. The world is a complicated place, and a political movement that attempts, in any realistic way, to come to grips with that complexity is sure to be all but incomprehensible to voters. No, becoming a True Believer is way easier and more comforting. And never mind how much suffering you cause. Hey, that business with the Albigensians didn’t bother the Pope, did it? Heck, he ordered the genocide. If butchering thousands of people is all right with the Pope, who are we to start asking difficult questions?