Fire your political party

Brian Van Pelt | Staff Columnist

Last Monday morning, the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page read as follows: “…the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” And this got me thinking—he’s talking about relevance. If religion were still relevant to the masses, it might follow that many aspects of our lives be bound up in such an establishment. I went about my morning Facebooking consuming the usual venomous political rhetoric spewing forth from my newsfeed, and then it hit me. Political parties are remarkably homologous to religions. They have a structured hierarchy. They espouse a collective ideology manifested in a written text. Parties call it a platform; religions refer to it as scripture. Their members often identify with these organizations as a whole, rather than a depository of individually related axioms. The resulting division creates a polarity of inflexibility—not very dissonant from religious hostility. While the product of religious conflict is often bloodshed, the by-product of political inflexibility culminates in the worthless, inefficient, mockery we have come to know as partisan politics.

The major discongruity between the two is grounded in relevance. As religion becomes less relevant, I suspect the potential for bloodshed will decrease due to the reduction of classic in-group/out-group dynamics. Conversely, political parties remain extraordinarily relevant to our identity as American voters. Gallup reports that 58 percent of us identify as belonging to a political party. Politicians buy into these ideologies hook, line and sinker, as if they truly represent the aggregate assemblage of our values and the direction by which we the people would steer our society. What do you believe? I ask because it has become increasingly more apparent that the majority of people subscribe to a party platform without entirely understanding the specific elements of its dogmas. According to the Washington Post, of the 112th Congressional Senate, 90 percent of those senators vote with their party at least 80 percent of the time.

This blind faith in someone else’s ideas is the very same recipe that creates religious extremism. With the recent 11th anniversary of 9/11 fresh in our minds, the exigency to combat religious orthodoxy needs no additional elucidation, but the precipice of political orthodoxy begs critical examination. An unquestioned allegiance to a party platform leads directly to inflexibility, and an ever-increasing polarity between us as Americans. It leads to a government that represents the principles of a party and not necessarily that of the people. Most importantly, orthodoxy leads to hate. And hate leads to violence.

George Washington warned us against these potential pitfalls in his farewell address, saying, “They are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” Old George was on to something here and its fascinates me that after more than two centuries we continue to support these machines which serve individual profit, stall the legislative process, lie to the masses and divide the country.

As insightful as the Dalai Lama’s comment is to the relevance of religion, I urge you to question the relevance of the Republican and Democratic parties. If we as Americans truly believe in a United States, we should reevaluate the tangible pertinence of our unquestioned allegiance to political parties by voting for candidates rather than the conglomerate that supplied their nomination.

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