The Religious Left: Christian versus Buddhist Socialism

Flag of the French Resistance

                Religion and politics are inseparable because religion is the underlying foundation behind everyone’s ethical philosophy and within the definition of religion I include secular religions like secular humanism which is often practiced through Unitarian or Quaker services. For this piece, I will focus on two religions as they are the two theistic religions with the most influence on leftist politics, where I spend most of my time. The very rough secular analogies to Christianity and Buddhism in political philosophy are Aristotle and John Stuart Mill. The most profound divergence between Christian and Buddhist moral philosophy is the value of the individual. Christianity is altruistic egoism while Buddhism is anti-egoism. Heaven is supposed to be a society of perfected individuals in perfect love and virtue while Nirvana is the obliteration of the individual and absorption into either nothingness or everything with the perk being that without individuality, there is no suffering.

                There we have the ethical mandates of politics which are either to help an individual attain eudemonia and self-fulfillment or merely to reduce their suffering. That is Aristotle versus Mill. My socialism, being Christian, focuses on the Jane Jacobs, cute, community building in large part because in an interdependent community every individual not only has suffering reduced through some bureaucratic welfare policy or medical treatment but is appreciated for the individual they are full with their name, their hobbies, their triumphs, and their tragedies. I do hope to reduce their suffering but what is more important to me is their individual dignity. I don’t want a socialism that looks like a Weberian bureaucracy with a Rawlsian spiritual vacuity. In that system, the individual is nothing and I believe as strongly in the importance of the individual as Ayn Rand and I also think Ayn Rand was a disgusting sociopath.

                I do mental health politics, a lot, and one of the disturbing things I hear is that people talk about getting people help rather than looking for tools to help people. On this website, I have published a three-step guide to deescalating an anxiety attack and I’ll repost the link to this article. People imagine the socialist answer to treating the needy is to get professionals to institutionalize them so society can forget about them. A point made within the same sentences as very bat-shit things by among my least favorite philosophers Michael Foucault. Whether or not they reduce suffering, the reduction of suffering is not the primary end of moral law. Its primary end is the appreciation of the individual and whether or not therapists and drugs can reduce an individuals suffering, it is still wrong is a community throws away its uglier and more difficult members for being inconvenient and discomforting.

                Now, this emphasis on the importance of the individual in political philosophy has been controversial in the general Christian emphasis on the consistent-life-ethic. Something I generally support. I consider abortion like killing a Chimp, a Bonobo, or an Australopithecus, a fetus is more important than a chicken but less important than an infant. Lucy is a dear cousin to me, compared to a pig, she is a Sicilian grandmother to me, but compared to an actual Sicilian grandmother, she is not family. Shout out to Lucy the Australopithecus, you are amazing and beautiful! That bi-atch Eve has nothing on you. (mic-drop). Most of the philosophical opposition to the consistent-life-ethic I’ve come across is poorly thought through. It generally goes “Life is a means to satisfaction and not inherently good”. To say nothing of the points being defended, the line of thought claiming life has no inherent value except as the syringe through which serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins are delivered is weak and porous for a plethora of reasons.

                Yet, that is the basic philosophical line of thought of political Buddhism. That the aim of politics is foremost to reduce suffering for the maximum people possible without factoring in human dignity, human creativity, human beauty, the human spirit, or the many other attributes of the human condition that should be fostered and nourished by society. It fits in with Buddhist thought in another way, that letting people choose allows people to learn through the karma of their actions, and grow instead of the more paternalistic approach where citizens are guided through a rich education to be cultured, healthy, and possessing of eudemonia. The Buddhist approach is libertarian while the Christian approach is less so. This is why the Buddha said that people should follow whatever tradition they thought best because he thought, without guidance, trial and error would eventually lead to them choosing the true path. Jesus said to follow him without those assumptions.

                A Christian socialism adopts a thicker good and tries to enculture its citizens with it while the Buddhist approach is more free-market, entrusting karma to build character. Both philosophical approaches believe in single-payer health care but how that health care is doled out and administered is different. One approach emphasizes peace and the other emphasizes love. None of this article is to speak for the whole of each broad philosophical tradition and many in each don’t fall into the categorizations I have written about. This is also written about thinkers on the political left and right, not nominal political watchers. A Trump-disgusted soccer mom or dad probably has no articulate philosophical beliefs whatever her or his religion is. That said, the esotericisms of the political class are of paramount importance to the courses human society takes. The obscure Dennis Kucinich was the Bernie Sanders of the 2008 election, now a platform touted by marginal politicos is mainstream.

I don’t know what the future of religion in politics is or religion, itself. I can say that evolution takes a long time and humans won’t not need religion anytime soon unless predisposition for atheism becomes a popular genetic modification. Even if elective gene therapy goes mainstream, no one is going to pay that much money to affect cognitive propensity for religion. No, there is going to be a Black Friday avalanche-like land rush for the epigenetic switch for that sweet, sweet, chalice of youth: telomerase (the chemical that lengthens telomeres). On that, you think this century has been a dystopian circus, you’ve seen nothing, yet. It’s weak authoritarianism, consumerism, and the wild west of sociology and science but instead sophisticated villainy, it’s stupid villainy. In any case, these approaches are going to be important because with the decline in and catastrophic failure of Rawlsian liberalism, religion is going to resurge one way or another and these philosophies will be major.

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