How ideology covers a multitude of sins

If you’re still wondering how to make sense of why lots of people (including most GOP politicians) still support Trump even in the midst of all of the blatant lies and cheap fabrications, not to mention his sheer ethical nihilism and possible (likely) connections with Russia, the moral of the story has become pretty clear: people will put up with all manner of things if it means (1) preserving the power structure of traditional white male supremacy in the U.S. (this is why his supporters hate PC culture and love that he “tells it like it is,” it’s why there’s been a huge resurgence of Confederate flags and the scapegoating of black and brown immigrants, etc. etc. etc.); and/or (2) the possibility of getting richer and richer off the backs of the poor (e.g., the AHCA, tax reform proposals, etc.), including deregulating everything in order to make windfall profits at the expense of others, not to mention the planet (e.g., DAPL). 

And because those of us who benefit from this don’t want to acknowledge our depravity (you look selfish and cold-hearted and ungodly if you wish to preserve white supremacy or pursue idolatrous greed at face value), we invent all kinds of narratives and ideologies to mask these truths, so that we can convince ourselves we aren’t bad but are actually operating under the guise of the good: “the free market” (AHCA), “the rule of law” (ICE), religious beliefs that provide cover for your discrimination against LGBTQ persons (80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump; notice how the right wants to preserve freedom of religion as enshrined in the Constitution not in order to, say, support local mosques, but to have a legal means to discriminate against gay and transgender persons), etc. etc. It’s not surprising that the Religious Right began as an effort to preserve racial segregation. And its roots remain deep in today’s GOP — it is literally its lifeblood (it’s no wonder that Jerry Falwell Jr. recently said that Trump is the evangelical’s dream president). As my friend Tad Delay once said in a sermon that got him in hot water a few years ago:

“Let me begin with a word about ideologies, paradigms, and communal beliefs. These are terms I’m using for whatever authorizes views and behaviors that legitimate our prejudices as being okay even when they’re unhelpful and unhealthy for everybody involved.

I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. We still talk about the Little Rock Nine and the integration of Central High School in 1957. The Supreme Court had struck down ‘separate but equal’ in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. By the time the city submitted a plan to
integrate, segregationists stood ready to protest. On the first day of the school year in September 1957, nine African American students approached the school to learn Governor Orval Faubus had mobilized the National Guard—men with assault weapons—to block the entrance to the school. The mayor petitioned the White House to intervene, and President Eisenhower commandeered the troops, ordering them to stay at the school to ensure the African American students could enter the school safely.  

The problem only escalated. There are unbelievably vicious pictures and horrific stories from those days, pure hatred doubtlessly disguised in the esoteric language of religious people angry at a government contravening God’s moral order of segregation. One African American girl was locked into a restroom stall while her white classmates set the stall on fire. Acid was thrown in a student’s eyes. And instead of continuing with the integration, the governor shut down the entire Little Rock school district for the 1958 year. 

Listen: Do you think anybody experienced themselves as racist? [No.] Bigotry is not typically something we consciously experience in ourselves. Our ideologies, paradigms, and communal beliefs justify it
for us. We see bigotry in others, in actions, and in the systemic operations of society. But nobody
thinks of themselves as a horrible person with an irrational hatred of others.”

That’s what ideologies do. They hide the traumatic truth of our existence, so we don’t have to face our real (cold and selfish) motives (the desire to preserve current power structures so that wealth and power in the U.S. remain concentrated where they’ve always been). It’s why the Confederate flag is about “heritage, not hate,” or why the Civil War was waged because of states’ rights, and not the states’ rights to own slaves, or why not helping the poor and vulnerable is about preserving the free market, believing that if everyone worked hard enough the free market ensures that everyone can access the American Dream, when in fact there are millions of people working 60-80 hours a week at low wage jobs but somehow the American Dream still alludes them, and instead they’re living the American Nightmare…

And, of course, those who benefit from the current system don’t recognize the ideology that masks their true motives. That’s why the self-professed Christian GOP can rescind the AHA with a straight-face, even as their replacement (the AHCA) would destroy the lives of the poor and the sick. Listen: Do you think those who voted for the AHCA think they don’t care about the poor and the sick? No. But they’ve bought into a narrative that justifies what cannot be justified at face value.

In other words, ideology covers all multitude of sins. So perhaps the most important move — as the Hebrew prophets and Jesus knew all too well — is to expose ideology for what it is. 

If there’s any solace to be found — and at risk of buying into the narrative that reinforces the idea that individual efforts are solely responsible for fixing systemic sins — I turn to stories about people like John Newton. He was a slave ship captain, making money off of one of the most horrific practices known to humanity. It was just business for him. And he bought into the narrative that it was for the greater good — after all, the European white Christians could civilize the primitives and give them a chance to convert. Well, he at least told himself that until he couldn’t tell himself that anymore. One day he was confronted with the traumatic truth of what he was actually doing, and he realized that all of the reasons he was given to justify his occupation was actually a bunch of hogwash. So he quit, and worked to abolish slavery. He looked back on what he did, describing himself in the famous hymn he wrote as a “wretch.” Only when he confronted the traumatic truth of his existence was he able to change. He “once was lost, but now is found; was blind but now can see.” What I wouldn’t give for more leaders to do the same, including politicians and leaders connected to the religious right who must surely be familiar with John Newton and Amazing Grace. Because it begs the question: Is benefitting from ideology truly better for you — not to mention others — in the end? Is it truly better to be lost than to be found? After all, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

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