The “political season” is like winter in Vermont – It’s almost always with us. And with politics come sound bites – those oversimplified phrases assigned to complex issues. There are the requisite politician appearances on the Ellen Show, Oprah, and of course – SNL. There are the debates … but the only reason for the debates is so the actors and actresses who most resemble the actual candidates can appear on … well, SNL. The next day the morning talk shows get to assess how the actual candidates are reacting to the spoof of themselves the night before. And then there are the commercials.
Sometimes politics looks more like the WWF than a serious conversation about the issues of the day.
That’s the easy part of this post – being cynical about politics. The hard part is the proverbial look in the mirror with this for a sound bite: Are we getting exactly what we are looking for? Is the political marketplace neither more nor less than what we are willing to pay for? Many of the “outsider” candidates are people who have made a career out of holding public office; other “outsiders” are so far outside we really can’t be sure exactly where they are from or where they are going to. (Come to think of it, that sounds like a lot of us.)
And now for the religious section – the part where the look in the mirror becomes a searching of – or for – our souls. We are, according to the most recent poll, less religious as a nation than we were just eight years ago. One response on NPR’s web site came from a formerly devout Christian who attended a service led by a popular preacher/evangelist in the late 1970’s. So filled with hatred was the message she heard that day that she never went back to church.
It’s interesting that about the same percentage of people who say religion is “very important” to them is equal to the percentage of eligible voters who actually go to the polls – 53.2% and 54.9% respectively.* Is there a correlation between the caricature of religion and the trivialization of politics? Are we having a harder and harder time taking anything seriously in this country? Is there a connection between the line that says “Washington isn’t working anymore” and the complaint so many have that “Religion isn’t relevant anymore”?
Spirituality can’t be reduced to a sound bite. We do injustice to more than our souls when our religion is nothing more than an attempt to legitimize our prejudices and protect our entitlements. And the more organized and public our religious displays become the more susceptible they are to the temptations of celebrity. But once again, maybe what is actually happening to religion is that it has stooped to the level of our expectations. Perhaps it has become a carefully choreographed dance designed to entertain rather than to challenge; at its best it requires no commitment; at its worst it demands no sacrifice.
What I really want to say is this: Both our politics and our religion are too important to allow either to be reduced to sound bites. The joy comes from doing our politics well and living our religion with humility. Both require hard work; and when we fail to do that work – or refuse to do it – the joy is gone and all we are left with is cynicism.