Sunday, February 05, 2006

WHO OWNS GOD? (Part Three)

[Image copyright by Don Beck]

[In part one of this series, I introduced the premise that the culture wars in America are not so much about values as they are about the definition of God. Americans are not split between believers and non-believers, but they certainly do not agree on how to define God. Part Two examined the ways different worldviews define God. In this final installment, I propose that the culture war is really a battle for possession of the "correct" Memetic definition of God. Each section is also cross-posted at Raven's View.]

Toward an Integral Politics, Part Three

God in America

The great divide in this country is not between believers and non-believers--it is between different Memes of the Spiral. Evangelical Christians are heavily rooted in the absolutist values of the Blue worldview. The growing edge in America is the Green worldview, as exemplified by the environmental movement, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, animal rights, and cultural diversity. To the Christian right, the Green Meme represents "Multicultural Madness," which was the title article in a February 2005 issue of the Whistleblower Magazine, an ultra-conservative Christian magazine. For those people centered in the Blue Meme, the culture war is not merely a media catchphrase, but a literal battle for the hearts and minds of all Americans.

The materialist, individualistic worldview of the Orange Meme, with its reliance on rational science, is just as big an enemy of the Blue worldview as is the relativism of the Green worldview. At its best, Orange scientism seeks to dispel Blue mythological thinking and replace it with a rational understanding of the world. At its worst, Orange thinking reduces the entire mysterious universe to the interactions of atomic particles in adherence to the immutable laws of physics. Our entire medical model is based on a mechanistic science that does not permit soul or spirit into the equation. Corporate capitalism is based in an economic model that does not value the Earth as anything other than a source of natural resources or human beings as anything other than a source of labor.

Over the last year, the Orange scientific worldview, especially as exemplified by Darwin's theory of evolution, has been under frequent and fierce attack by Blue mythic believers. Dover, Pa., became the battleground last year after the school board voted to include "intelligent design" in the science curriculum. The controversial decision and subsequent lawsuit by parents opposed to allowing creationism into the science classroom received national attention. The school board members lost the legal case in December, but had already been voted out of their positions last November. Similar controversies are ongoing in Georgia (where "intelligent design" was recently overturned) and Kansas, as well as other small towns across America.

Meanwhile, Green is very idealistic and egalitarian, and wants everyone to be free and equal. In this quest, however, Green often attempts to break down Orange economic structures and Blue law-and-order strategies, which unleashes Red and creates instability throughout the system (Don Beck points to Zimbabwe as an example of this practice, while I might point to America's inner cities). Green's relativistic embrace of all forms of religious and spiritual practice infuriates the Blue belief in a single, true God and just looks like superstition to Orange rationalism.

These are the basic contours of the divide that currently exists in America: a traditional Blue Meme worldview with its corresponding view of God as opposed to a progressive, relativist Orange-Green worldview that allows for a more personal understanding of God--a God more universal and expansive than the God of the Bible. Conservative Catholics joined Evangelical Christians in seeking to defeat John Kerry in 2004, seeing in him the scientific rationalism (Orange) and cultural relativism (Green) that they believe threatens to corrupt their faith.

The battleground for this divide has traditionally been abortion and school prayer. Lately, however, the teaching of evolution and the right to die on one's own terms have entered the fray. Very recently, pharmacists are claiming moral high ground in refusing to dispense birth control and morning-after pills because to do so would violate their faith. As the Christian right continues to gain ground, its range of influence will continue to grow. Progressive worldviews are on the defensive and, so far, have done little to defend the ground they gained during the last one hundred years.

It must be noted that being a Christian does not automatically pigeonhole a person in the Blue Meme, just as being a Buddhist does not necessarily mean a person resides in Green or in the second tier. One Catholic may strictly follow the Church's teachings (Blue), but another may understand God as more loving and inclusive (Green), while a third person may perceive God as a benevolent life force completely devoid of human traits (Yellow or higher). Likewise, a Buddhist may worship many of the lesser gods (Red), but another Buddhist may accept the doctrine of anatman (no soul) and seek to dissolve personal identity into nondual awareness (Yellow or higher). Although most religions are founded within a certain cultural Meme, within every religion there may be people with a variety of cultural Memes.

Resolving the Conflict

The divide will get wider before it begins to heal. The clash between red and blue states (more accurately, Blue Meme and Green Meme) will certainly persist into the next election cycle (2006) and beyond. There is only one way out of this war of the worldviews--we must elect leaders who are not so strongly aligned with their own first-tier Memes that they cannot see the validity of other positions. Ideally, we need leaders who can operate from the second tier--what Beck and Cowan have termed Spiral Wizards. A Spiral Wizard can see the whole Spiral, recognize imbalances between Memes, see pathologies within Memes, and act to harmonize opposing worldviews. Unfortunately, there are few of these people around, and most of them are not likely to be involved in politics.

Bill Clinton, despite his personal weaknesses, was able to work outside of his own worldview as a politician. According to Beck and Cowan (pg. 127), Clinton's thinking was as much as a full step ahead of American voters, yet he was able to create policy that was only one-third to one-half step ahead, which made his goals more attainable. However, when he tried to impose too much change too quickly, as he did in appointing his wife, Hillary, to lead a healthcare reform panel, he failed miserably.

Clinton's personal mistakes were the impetus that catapulted the religious right into action in 2000, [almost] electing a candidate who shared their views and promised to restore moral dignity to the White House. The events of September 11, 2001, solidified the return to a more heavily Red/Blue-influenced worldview--the "bunker mentality" of the White House that was also adopted by the American public. The majority of Americans took on Bush's Old Testament and Wild West "eye for an eye" approach to justice, which caused our nation to fall a full step on the Spiral, from blue-Orange to red-Blue (the dominant Meme is capitalized). With the unprovoked invasion of Iraq that followed, America experienced a renewed sense of patriotism (with its concomitant "my country right or wrong" slogan), a hallmark of the Blue Meme.

Automobiles around the country sport yellow ribbons that ask God to bless America. In a few progressive cities, similar stickers have "bless" crossed out and "forgive" scribbled in its place. Again, this reveals the split in the way God is understood by different groups in this country. For those ensconced in the Blue Meme, God chooses sides and favors His Christian children. For those who are moving into the Green Meme, God not only refuses to choose sides, but S/He opposes violence as a means to resolve conflict.

In the final analysis, the way one understands God will be determined by the way one understands the world. For the Red Meme, which is about power and control, God is angry, vengeful, and selfish. For the traditionalist Blue Meme, which rewards good behavior and demands law and order, God is strict but loving, offering a heavenly afterlife to those who obey His commandments. For the Orange Meme, where rationality and self-interest are privileged, God operates much like the CEO of a corporation or a scientist in a lab--detached and objective. For the Green Meme, with its emphasis on community and the environment, God is a loving being who seeks to support all of creation with compassion.

Until we have politicians who can speak to each of these worldviews and honor their divergent understandings of God, we will continue to experience a moral and political divide that threatens to rend the fabric of our culture. The resurgence of the political power of the Blue Meme and the growing emergence of the Green Meme will dictate the return of Spirit to the political life of America. We can no longer leave God out of the discussion without alienating large numbers of people.

The fate of our democracy rests with the leaders we choose to guide us into the future. If we do not choose wisely, electing leaders with the ability to understand these divergent worldviews, our democracy may regress to a theocracy (some would argue that it already has). We are currently fighting two wars to prevent theocratic governments in other countries. Are we so blind as to not see the same future awaiting us here?

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