Talking politics and religion: how they inform each other, my story

One of the key attributes of the “developed” world in the modern age is compartmentalization. We tend to separate various aspects of our lives into neat boxes using somewhat arbitrary criteria. We have our “personal lives” and “professional personas.” We put our “personal feelings” apart from what we say in public. Many of us have been taught not to talk about politics or religion in a polite company. And many of us believe in the so-called separation of church and state as if faith and values should have zero influence in the public sphere.

The reality is not that simple. We don’t turn into multiple separate personalities depending on where we are at any given time and any given place. If we have a bad day at home, it will be very hard to keep that away from our work hours. Sometimes professional relationship develops into friendship and maybe even romance.

The modern age is the age of atomization. Instead of treating a person as an integrated and multifaceted being shaped by all sorts of experiences, we pretend that we can somehow “shapeshift” between various personas and somehow expected to maintain “boundaries” between those personas.

Lately, I have begun to think how this is actually a very unhealthy view that does not honor or does justice to anyone.

Both religion and politics are ways of articulating and organizing one’s value system, one’s philosophy of life, and one’s cosmology (how one perceives and make sense of the world). They are often inextricably connected, even if one is not a fundamentalist or a theocrat. Ultra-liberal people of faith are just as likely to express their religious beliefs through political opinions and actions as the “religious right” would, even if they are not so in-your-face about it. For example, Unitarian Universalist ministers, Reform Jewish rabbis, and United Church of Christ pastors are often at the forefront of progressive activism.

In the United States, many important political movements and subsequent gains were made in the name of faith: the abolition of slavery, prison reforms, the Temperance Movement, anti-war movements, and the Civil Rights Movement were all backed by people of faith. Despite — or rather, because of — the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom, churches and faith leaders were able to inspire people and society for a better world.

In this light, I began reconnecting the nexus between my religious values and my political values. For most of my life, I never felt as if I fit in anywhere. My value system is a product of my rather non-mainstream life experiences, and as such, I found no home at a mainstream religion or a mainstream political ideology.

To make the situation more confusing, I can come across as being very mercurial. I could join one church or political organization and, for a year or two, act as if I totally fit in there (though I didn’t). Then suddenly, I go away only to find myself somewhere else. I am a stereotypical “autistic chameleon.” It has been only the last year or so that I became aware of this tendency myself. This, however, also gave me an invaluable opportunity to experience and learn about many different cultures, beliefs, and ideas. Since early childhood, I have been always intrigued by the way people believe and think, and why.

But lately, I have been taking stock of my past experiences in my political life and how my core personal values align with it.

For most of my adolescent and adult life, my life revolved around one religious community or another. Since in my early teenage years, I was very active in my church–even more so than in school. Even after I have abandoned Christian faith for all practical purposes, I volunteered for many church-based social services. I thought I found a community — and a sort of family of choice — in churches that I never had in my family-of-origin. But in reality, I would never fit in. I was active but never played a meaningful role. At best, I was tolerated. I spent countless hours on minor and unimportant tasks that no one else had time for. In the end, no genuine friendship or authentic human relationship came out of it.

Then came 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since the first day, I became part of one of the largest and most active Occupy encampments in the world. It felt like an amazing mini-city, a true Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), where I met all kinds of people I would never have otherwise. For the first time, I felt like I belonged.

This experience took me away from religion and ultimately I spent the following four years immersed in political activism and community organizing.

But as a stereotypical “autistic chameleon,” these four years was the time I ended up losing the sense of who I was. I was loyal to the community and the causes it supported. The community mostly consisted of progressives, many of whom were in the far-left faction of the Democratic Party, while a greater number of them were self-identified socialists, radical leftists, and communists.

While I supported a number of their talking points, I could not in good conscience agree with many of their demands.

But as years passed, I began internalizing the progressive slogans and mantras.

I was thoroughly indoctrinated into “democratic socialism,” identitarianism, Oppression Olympics, and radical feminism. I became a useful idiot, even though many of these ideologies actually undermined my own best interests. Furthermore, I have lost critical thinking.

During the preceding seven or so years, I have done a few soul-searchings as it related to my political views. I was quite turned off by the antics of the so-called anarchists at the protests. I found some of the radical queer activists’ obsession with pronouns and identities over common activist goals to be a distraction. I delved into radical feminism, read up on paleoconservatism, and found myself sympathizing with some (but not all) of the right-wing ideas and arguments. Yet, I was still being a chameleon, not quite sure why I supported or agreed with this or that political ideology. I was rather being reacting to whatever the disgust I felt at any given moment and looked to the diametric opposite of what disgusted me for an answer.

Then on that fateful day in November 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States of America. Like many others around me, I panicked and was overcome by grief and fear. I lost faith in America itself. Soon after, I desperately tried to find a moment of comfort in the emerging “Resistance.”

The Resistance seemed to have shown up big and promising on the day after President Trump’s inauguration when the Women’s March on Washington became the largest-ever mass demonstration in the U.S. history.

Perhaps the sky didn’t literally fall. There was no apocalypse, there was no martial law, and there was no civil war. Instead, the Trump Administration simply took the very system of the federal government they inherited from Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, and all their predecessors and weaponized it to wage selective attacks on the immigrants and refugees. Most white Americans went on with life as if nothing really happened. The economy was booming. The unemployment rate has been its record low. Most importantly, even the most “progressive” of the Democrats in Congress didn’t really care. They made public grandstanding to boost their “Anti-Trump Resistance” credentials but outside the limelight, they voted for many “bipartisan” bills that simply continued the status quo. They use the progressive activists as tools to get them reelected, but the truth is even the Democrats support more police state, more regulations (even more so than the Republicans), more military, more invasion of our privacy and undermining of our freedom. The progressives may equate their support for certain politicized identity groups (such as LGBTQ, Muslims, racial minorities, the homeless) with their struggles for “freedom,” but they are nothing more than pigeon-holing people into a limited and limiting number of boxes and pretend as if they know what’s best for each of these identity groups.

The Democrats and their progressive cheerleaders have spent the last several years calling for more regulations and more government interventions. They wanted banks and financial industries to act like puppets of the government. They wanted election campaigns to follow strict regulations on how much they can spend and on what. They wanted the government to track every economic activity, how small and inconsequential it may be. They wanted their government to be able to spy on people. Oh, the progressives aren’t calling for an abolition of TSA even as they are calling for an abolition of ICE. On the local level, they want more zoning code, more building code, more plastic bag bans, and on and on even though these regulations disproportionately harm the poorest and most marginalized in society.

The problem I have with the progressives is this: The progressives assume the benevolence of the state. They naively believe that the government is always good because they derive their legitimacy from “democracy” and thus they are presumed to be fair and unbiased. The reality is the opposite of fair and unbiased. The state — the politicians who make policies and the bureaucrats who administer and enforce them — is made up of fallible humans just like every big corporation is. These fallible humans engage in politics in no small part because of their own self-interest: to be reelected or to seek a higher and more prestigious position later on.  The leftists tend to fool themselves into thinking that just because a government is “accountable to voters” it actually represents the ordinary people like you and me. That may be true if we are talking about a village council. But voters don’t really have a say in the federal or state government.

Democracy is a joke, especially when the demos of democracy excludes such a wide variety of people. Children, prison inmates, ex-cons (in many states), foreigners cannot vote by law. The mentally disabled, physically disabled, chronically ill, homebound seniors, and people of color are theoretically allowed to vote but in practice prevented from exercising their rights as an elector. Not surprisingly, these groups of people are almost invariably the first targets to be put on a chopping block when politicians need a convenient scapegoat.

If we can’t trust big businesses such as Facebook or Amazon, then we shouldn’t give any more trust to the state, either.

Government is not the cure-all for every social ill.

And politics is not the only solution for problems we as a human society face.

Some of the brightest accomplishments of the Occupy movement that I remember the most fondly were how people naturally formed an organic community to solve problems at hand. The Occupy Portland encampment provided a safe campsite to hundreds of houseless people and fed them around-the-clock when the government-funded shelters were literally turning many people away. The Occupy groups in the greater New York-New Jersey area came together after the devastation of the Hurricane Sandy and organized Occupy Sandy, a humanitarian relief mission that went to places even the FEMA wouldn’t touch. They all happened with minimal bureaucracy and with a highly decentralized form of organizing, with nobody coercing anyone to do anything.

Occupy was highly functional when people just took initiatives and did things. The dysfunction only happened when its deliberation bodies such as the General Assembly and the Spokescouncil began paralyzing everything through incessant politicizing of everything under the sun. That original Occupy ethos in the encampment also gave births to many innovative projects in the areas of housing, education, food justice, healthcare, and economic justice.

Whether it is leftist or conservative, a government imposes a one-size-fits-all rule (which is often touted as “rule of law”) and enforces it by monopolizing violence and aggression. Neither James Comey nor Robert Mueller is a friend of freedom, despite the recent lionizing of the top cops in recent years by the liberals. Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein have been long-time proponents of surveillance- and police-state legislation, despite recent whitewashing being done in the name of anti-Trump “resistance.” President Barack Obama, during the first six years in his office, refused to dismantle the mass deportation machinery and deported over 2 million immigrants, many of whom were caught in the draconian dragnet operation called Secure Communities Program.

Democrat or Republican, these politicians are fundamentally in bed with the military-police-prison state.

This does not sit very well with me.

This also goes against my religious belief at its most fundamental level.

My faith rejects violence and domination.

Every person is a unique and necessary expression of God, possessing an inherent worth and dignity, as well as full sovereignty and liberty as such. As an image of God, each person thus must be allowed to freely express their potentials–anything less would be against the Divine Idea. Every person, as such, ought to possess an inherent and inalienable right to self-determination, not because they are a member of whatever the category or (privileged, oppressed, or otherwise) social identity, but because they exist as a person.

This realization first took me to join the American Solidarity Party, which believed in a “consistent life ethic,” which rejects all forms of violence and supports the concept of subsidiarity and distributism.

Unfortunately, the ASP has undergone an organizational turmoil a year ago and has now become nearly exclusively a party that promotes a Catholic theocracy and social conservatism. I had to withdraw membership from the party around the same time many other members, including the former chairwoman of the national committee, quit in disgust.

At the end of the year 2018, I have officially become a member of the Libertarian Party. Until early 2001, I considered myself a libertarian, so this is a full circle back. As I was back then, I view myself as a libertarian socialist and now there is officially a libertarian socialist caucus within the LP. (There is another libertarian socialist caucus within the Democratic Socialists of America, but I cannot support DSA in good conscience.)

This news/revelation/confession may come as a surprise to many of my friends and I may lose many of them. But after several years of introspection, no other political organizations really echo my deepest belief in human freedom, creative spontaneity, and self-determination.