One of the pieces of cheap wisdom that I have collected is this adage:
A man will change his beliefs before he will change his behaviors.
The fundamental measure of biological existence is Darwinian survival, which validates behaviors through access to resources and reproductive opportunity. This is built deep into the physical mechanisms of our being, in hormonal emissions that generate powerful feelings that guide our brains. It is entirely natural, then, that behaviors should Trump beliefs.
While the unexamined life reacts to those feelings, indulging them, every wisdom tradition tells us that those feelings must be understood and moderated. This is the essence of Stoicism, Daoism, Buddhism, Great Spirit and Christian teachings.
A friend of mine pointed me at an analysis of the active resurgence of American nativism by Neal Gabler. Neal’s view is pessimistic. He notes that Republican Party has displaced religion by providing a cosmological justification for nativist resistance to equalization of social opportunity. In this interpretation, we are engaged in a second civil war, similar to the first in that a political elite seeks to retain the privileges of its behaviors.
Conversely, all great religions – including Christianity – teach that our empathy should be universal. The abandonment of Christian principles for nativist ideology is proof of the opening adage.
America is not isolated in this choice, however, for the confrontation appears throughout human history. I was present in the struggles between the nobility and the priests in Europe, between the princes and Brahmins of India, between the Caliphs and Imams of Persia. It is the struggle between biological expedience and spiritual empathy.
It is not a straight-line path: the institutions of religion also succumb to expediency. The only hope, as Gabler wisely exhorts, is for us as individuals to act ethically. As Trump and the Republican Congress are demonstrating, there is no honor among thieves. They will tear each other apart, and those of us that share will be left holding the reigns of power.
Gabler, being a global media personality, isn’t an easy person to reach. However, for those that sympathize with his sense that religion should be about spiritual awakening, it might be worth juxtaposing his piece with the commentary on Revelation 12, 13, and 14 out at Love Returns. John was “woke”, so to speak, and foresaw this confrontation and its resolution.