By Hani Hamdan, Engage Minnesota
Although it does not happen frequently, the internet is rife with stories of people switching from one religion to another or to a different sect within a religion. I’m sure most people know at least one person who’s done so. But how many of us personally know people on the political left switching to the right or right to left?
Choosing between right or left-wing politics is supposed to be about choosing between different methods of achieving the same goal. Helping the poor, for example, may be achieved through direct government help in one person’s opinion, and through freeing the market in another’s. However, political leanings may have evolved from simple disagreements on methodology to entirely different mindsets altogether.
Public discourse and media coverage even throw hints at the phenomenon, using lingo such as “ideology”, or “ideological disagreement” when referring to political opinions. Changing opinions from liberal to conservative or vice versa is called “conversion”, and so on. As nearly spontaneous as these terms might be, they are, nonetheless, quite telling.
Consider the case of the Flint, MI drinking water fiasco. Political analysis of the core reason behind switching water supplies from Detroit to Flint was “ideological reasons” in the minds of state Republicans like governor Rick Snyder, leading to austerity measures that resulted in switching to a lower-grade water supply in the name of “fiscal responsibility”, Republican syntax in line with “smaller government”.
Think about this for a minute: an ideology prompted persons of authority to make a decision that risked polluting the water supply for thousands of other human beings. This is reminiscent of some extreme decisions made under the authority of religious figures taken with rationales placing faith above reason.
We’re also witnessing such political leanings create fervent, even violent adherence. People are willing to go as far as committing acts of terrorism in the name of political conservatism on one side or in the name of protecting the environment on the opposing side, both of which are thought of as being more political than religious positions.
Another stark example of the similarity between religious divisions and modern political ones is the shunning of persons from liberal or conservative circles due to singular breaches with the group doctrine. A person who has mostly liberal opinions may be viciously shamed out of liberal circles for the single reason of being in favor of traditional family values, for instance. This resembles religious sects that often branch out over very few differences deemed irreconcilable.
Adding more intrigue to this phenomenon, it is noteworthy that such political positions often go against their adherents’ religious teachings, even as such adherents profess to being religious. For example, the belief that what one earns is solely a product of his/her hard work (so-called being “self-made”), a staple of Republican thinking, may not only be against Christian/monotheistic teachings, but could count as a major breach in one’s creed. Anyone with a deep understanding of scripture is justified to consider being a religious Christian while having strong politically conservative leanings as being a walking oxymoron. Indeed, most serious studies into whether Republicanism is compatible with Christianity yield a negative answer, not a positive one.
So the question that begs an answer here is: If there is barely any difference between modern political doctrines and religion, what is keeping us from calling left and right-wing politics religions?
The answer may be several fold. One reason may be that we pride ourselves in being a secular civilization where the separation of church and state is a philosophical hallmark of which we are proud. Therefore, it would go against our principles to admit that we are simply replacing a group of religions for another.
Another reason is probably a subconscious attempt at intellectualizing political differences, thereby making them more appealing to the general public than the simplistic-sounding dubbing of “religions”.
Also, many people hold special places in their hearts for their religions, making it especially hard to admit that they are, in fact, following more than one religion simultaneously. Whatever the case may be, coming to the realization that political ideologies have morphed into their own religions may be a necessary wake up call on the way to reducing polarization and increasing political moderation.
Hani Hamdan lives in Burnsville and practices dentistry in Lakeville, Minn. He is a contributor and editor of Engagemn.com and a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you like this piece, share it on social media. We invite you to join us in this project on our social media sites. We welcome your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a commentary, podcast or photo story. (For more information, email engageminnesota@.)