The universe is a chaotic and unmanageable place. This is a fact, and it is indisputable. There are a handful of things that can be made to work reproducibly – gravity, mainly, most of practical physics and simple mathematics – but for the most part, we live in an anarchic realm that we have to try to force some kind of order upon.
For thousands of years, we have attempted to bolt some handles onto an idea. The handle is called God, and the idea is that there is some kind of order required of us – not just to survive in society, but to co-exist with other people. The details may vary from belief system to belief system, but at heart, God is the name we give to the idea that nobody is above an ass-kicking. Some higher judgement exists, too abstract to anthropomorphize, but we know it when we see it. God is in the iceberg. God is in the pathogen that gets a billionaire sick. God is in the indictment for tax evasion. Thus the frequent concept of God as father, because who else is our earliest notion of ultimate authority? At least if you were raised in the South in the 1970s, anyway.
And God is the thing that Silly Con Valley denies when it places itself above the judgement of the market, above the dictates of the law and above the obligations of humanity. The notion that you are so big that you can no longer be expected to take responsibility for yourself? Above God. The idea that your company’s value should not be measured by what the open market will pay for it or the collective value of its goods and services? Above God. The belief that the state and federal governments and their duly elected representatives have no jurisdiction to question or regulate you? Above God.
Irony of ironies, it’s the belief system of the modern GOP. Man was created in the image of God, and the GOP has returned the favor by creating God in their own image: as the ultimate dominion over other people. It’s a doctrine of selfishness, of celebrating ignorance and stupidity, of “I don’t know, I don’t want to know and I don’t have to know.” And as such it is a torpedo shot at the entire value system of my upbringing. And framed thus, it extends well beyond the Republican Party. It’s the belief system of venture capital in this country. It’s the belief system of every big-media Status Quo Warrior who is outraged that their opinions are not above reproach or question by mere Muggles.
It’s often said of the Golden Rule that it exists in most every religious system in some form or another. I generally prefer to express it as “do you KNOW there’s other people” but it might be more accurate to phrase it as “does it matter to you at all that there are other people.” When you see this administration running roughshod over the norms of a functional democracy, over the precedents of our electoral system, over the very idea that they are subject to the judgement of any electorate other than handpicked supporters or that there are any consequences to their actions, what they announce in full voice is “there is no God.”
And when we let them do it – when we let them promulgate utter bullshit, when we let them deceive without question and lie without consequence, when we say we shouldn’t be the arbiters of truth and that the free market should decide questions of fact and that reality is open to interpretation – we say there is no God. At some level, God is the idea that there is an actual difference between right and wrong, even if we don’t always have a clear view of what it is. God isn’t the right, God is the difference. The distinction. The notion that you cannot just believe what you want unchecked by things that are demonstrably true. God is there when you claim not to believe in gravity, and step off the Empire State Building only to find that gravity very much believes in you.
God, in short, is in the idea that there is such a thing as “what we owe to each other”, in TM Scanlon’s famous formulation. The Enemy is in the reply “nothing.” And the Enemy is alive and well in America, and in 2020 must be fought. And if I am to be just one finger on the hand of this God, I only ask that it be the middle one.