Thursday, January 19, 2017

#19 / Born Bad?

The photo above is from a movie called Born Bad. The movie is a kind of horror flick, I believe, with most of the horror revealed in the last fifteen minutes, when that really nice young man, shown above, reveals his true nature. At least, that's what I gather from the trailer. Click the link if you want to watch the trailer for yourself.

Despite the picture above, this posting is not about the movie, and was not even prompted by the movie. It was stimulated, in fact, by a column in the January 5, 2017 edition of The New York Times. That column, by Robert Leonard, the news director for two radio stations in Tennessee, was titled, "Why Rural America Voted for Trump." Mostly, the column describes a number of reasons that rural residents might resent city residents, specifying both tax allocation issues and perceived cultural differences.

Leonard, who says he is a pretty liberal Democrat, was having a hard time understanding why his friends and neighbors seemed to be so willing to vote for Donald Trump. None of them were fascists, racists, misogynists, or otherwise deplorable, at least not visibly so, so what could possibly be motivating them?

Here is how Leonard describes his enlightenment:

For me, it took a 2015 pre-caucus stop in Pella by J. C. Watts, a Baptist minister raised in the small town of Eufaula, Okla., who was a Republican congressman from 1995 to 2003, to begin to understand my neighbors — and most likely other rural Americans as well. 
“The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that. 
“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.” 
[Watts] continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”

Leonard's column doesn't really go much further with this kind of theological differentiation, which hypothesizes that the different political parties are made different by their different approaches to God. What you get from Leonard on this topic is what you have just read, right here, and I personally don't find the argument very convincing. In fact, I don't really get the point that Reverend Watts is trying to make in that last sentence. To me, his statement seems contradictory on its face. If Democrats (supposedly as opposed to Republicans) believe that they ARE God, then when things go wrong, who else could those Democrats possibly blame but themselves?

What struck me about Leonard's revelatory encounter with the Reverend Watts is Watts' assertion that Republicans believe that every human being is "born bad."

Pictured below is my grandson Jay, on the very day he was born.  Maybe he will, indeed, just like that "nice young man" in the picture at the top of this posting, turn out to do really bad things. Nonetheless, I am resisting that "born bad" designation. Of course, maybe I am just proving Reverend Watts' point. I am a registered Democrat, after all!

I have a lot to say about theology (for instance, I believe that ALL humans have a tendency to want to think that they "create God, not that he created us"); however, I would like to urge us all to keep our religious and theological views separate from our political views. That is, in fact, exactly what the First Amendment to our Constitution commands, and there is a very good reason for that.

If we permit ourselves to classify political parties by theological belief, as opposed to differentiating political parties by the different policy positions they take, then we will have a good reason to reject any accommodation or agreement. When and if we do that, a genuine "politics" becomes impossible, because "politics" requires us, having different views, to find a way to make a common decision nonetheless.

If the Reverend Watts actually believes that I am "born bad," and as a Democrat am beyond redemption because I actually think that I am God, how are he and I ever going to come to some sort of agreement about any policy issue that either of us thinks is important?

The supposed theological differences that Leonard apparently believes accurately differentiate the two major political parties don't, as far as I can tell, have much to do with "why" voters in rural areas supported Donald Trump. They do have a lot to do with how dysfunctional our government has become, because to the degree that theology becomes our politics, we don't have any politics at all,

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo

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