Friday, January 08, 2021

Faith and Insurrection

 Article III section 3 of the Constitution of the United States says:

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

Donald Trump, while wielding the authority of the Presidency, incited a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.  It cannot possibly be any clearer that he committed treason, and hence he is an Enemy of the United States, and hence anyone who still actively supports him at this point is giving aid and comfort to an Enemy of the United States and hence also guilty of treason under the Constitution.  I make these allegations fully cognizant of the fact that treason is a capital crime in the U.S.

Of course, very few people will take this seriously despite the fact that it is manifestly true.  Donald Trump will not be indicted for treason, let alone convicted and executed for it, despite the fact that if anyone else had done what he did they would already be in shackles.  And if that person had been black, they would probably be dead already.

Seriously, imagine if Barack Obama had done the exact same thing as Donald Trump after the 2016 election: made baseless accusations of voter fraud and claims that the election was stolen from Hillary, and incited a mob of angry black men to storm the capital.  How do you think Republicans would have reacted to that?

The sad fact of the matter is that 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, and while some of them might have had a change of heart after the events of Jan 6, most surely have not.  Not even the actual manifestation of an attempt at violent overthrow of the government will dissuade these people that Donald Trump is the Chosen One, and anyone who dares accuse him of treason, indeed who dares to question him in any way, will face their wrath at the ballot box and now, quite possibly, in the streets or in their homes.  And so there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands.  There might even be ignominy of a second impeachment and removal from office (though I'll give you long odds against).  But there will not be justice.  Donald Trump may live out his remaining days in disgrace, but not in prison.

I think it's really important, though, to be clear about what brought us to this pass, because it is plain as day: we are here because Donald Trump lied.  And he lied and he lied and he lied and he lied and he lied and then he lied some more.  And eventually people started to think that there just had to be some truth to the lies, not because there was any actual evidence that they were true, but simply because no one could possibly lie that much, right?  Where there is smoke there has to be fire.  So the election was stolen, not because there was any evidence for it, but simply because Donald Trump said so.  And said it again.  And again.  And again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again...

And it worked.  And it continues to work.  And that is our ultimate shame: we have built a society where lying works as long as your lie is big enough and you repeat is often enough and you never back down, not even in the face of manifest catastrophe.  In this regard we are extremely fortunate that Donald Trump is merely a consummately skilled con man and not a scheming despotic mastermind, because if he were the latter we'd staring down the barrel of a much bigger gun.

How did we get here?  How did we build a society full of people so utterly incapable of skepticism and critical thought that it gave us not only Donald Trump and his followers in the tens of millions, but anti-vaxers and anti-maskers and holocaust denialists and lunar landing denialists and climate-change denialists and flat earthers and birthers and 9-11 truthers people proudly waving the Confederate flag saying it has nothing to do with slavery?

I submit that it is because, in American society, denial of the truth is considered a virtue.  Except that it's not called denial of the truth, it's called "being a person of faith."

Now, I want to be very clear here that I am NOT signing on to Richard Dawkins's rabid anti-religion agenda.  I'm sure many religious folks are fine peopleSome of my best friends are religious.  The irony here is intended to be dark humor, but in all seriousness, I am about to levy some pretty harsh criticism on religion, and I want to be very clear that there is a distinction between that and religious people.  The problem with "people of faith" is the "faith" part, not necessarily the "people" part.

The problem with faith is not that it leads you to believe in things that aren't true (though it certainly can do that).  The problem is that it leads you to believe in things without evidence, or worse, in direct contradiction to the evidence.  Again, I want to be clear that this is not necessarily bad.  There are circumstances where believing in things without evidence or contrary to evidence can be very beneficial, which is probably why we evolved the tendency in the first place.  If you believe you can kill that sabre tooth tiger despite all the evidence that it is hopeless, that might spur you to attempt to kill it, and you just might surprise yourself and succeed where your more rational competitor might have just given up and cowered in a corner and gotten eaten as a result.  In some circumstances, suspension of disbelief really can be a virtue.

But it can also be incredibly dangerous.  It's not mere happenstance that a large majority of evangelical Christians support Trump, nor that many of the insurgents were waving signs that said, "Jesus saves."  They have been trained to bow to authority, to submit themselves to the Will of God, many from a very young age.  I'm sure many of them believed in their heart of hearts that they were doing the will of God.  I'm sure many of them still believe it.

People of faith now need to wrestle with this if they want democracy to survive in the U.S.  Faith can lead to hope where there might otherwise be despair, action where there might otherwise be complacency, courage where there might otherwise be fear.  But it can also lead to people doing stupid shit like what we saw two days ago.

Where faith becomes especially dangerous is when it leaves the realm of the ambiguous and the spiritual and places itself squarely at odds with objective reality.  Your faith in your ability to vanquish the sabre tooth tiger will be put to the test when you try to act on it.  Either you will vanquish the tiger or it will vanquish you.  That kind of dynamic prevents faith from spinning too wildly out of control.  If you see enough of your tribe mates being eaten by sabre tooth tigers you may start to rethink the wisdom of believing in your prowess against them.  But your faith in (say) being rewarded in the afterlife cannot be put to the test until it is too late for anyone to act on it if you turn out to be wrong.  And if your faith is too strong you may well end up believing that, say, Donald Trump is telling the truth when he says he won the election because it was God's will so it cannot possibly be any other way.  If the evidence says otherwise, well, then the evidence must be wrong.  Too much faith leads inevitably down the conspiracy rabbit hole.

The events of Jan 6 were horrific, but we actually dodged a bullet because it could have been so much worse.  Think of what might have happened if the rioters had been organized and brought their assault rifles.  Or if, instead of inciting this riot, Donald Trump had instead decided that the best way to for him to stir the pot would be to nuke Tehran.  (And if you think he wouldn't go that far then you really haven't been paying attention.)

Faith can be a virtue, but it is not an unalloyed good.  I'm not a person of faith so there's not much I can do to help solve this problem other than to point it out.  If you consider yourself to be a person of faith, this ball is squarely in your court.

1 comment:

sabu36 said...
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