The Last Cowboy and when Politics became Religion

As Americans, we entertain a romantic notion that we are a group of rugged individualists. We imagine ourselves as the cowboy sitting astride his horse in a driving blizzard, hat pulled low, coat collar turned high as he watches over the herd. We have visions of life on the prairie, the pioneer wife, busting through the sod to plant a crop to feed her family, or the rugged New Englander, launching his hand-made wooden craft into the stormy Atlantic in pursuit of lobster or cod.

That individualism may be a part of our national gene pool, but if we’re honest, we are mostly a nation of joiners. We join the Lions Club, Kiwanis or Masons, we become Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostals. We sign up for book clubs and knitting groups, identify ourselves as Cubs, Cardinals, Red Sox or Yankee fans. And of course we align ourselves as Democrats or Republicans.

There is value and comfort in joining with others of like interests. It provides a common bond, a baseline of communication and a sense of belonging. It allows us to relax, knowing that we are with others of same beliefs. That group becomes our community, more than our neighbors or the residents of the town we live in. They become our tribe.

But humans are an inherently flawed species, and all this joining carries with it a dark side. Somehow we understand that our tribe is made up of a collection of individuals, we are willing to cut each other some slack for our idiosyncrasies, for our differences, for our humanity. But that other tribe, the group that we don’t belong too, we paint with a broad brush. We use terms like, “those people.”

And then we have politics.

Somewhere along the way, politics ceased to be a preference of one policy over another. We no longer debate the merits of the New Deal or the Truman Doctrine. Economic and foreign policy issues have been relegated to lessor importance than social issues, and with the focus on social issues, political debate has become very personal and very divisive. National politics has become our national religion, an unholy alliance of church and state.

To know God’s love and grace is a wonderful thing.

To believe that God is aligned with your political party is a scary and dangerous thing.

Once you make the leap that God is on the side of your political party then there is just one answer as to who the other political party serves. If your party is good and the other party evil, then there is no reason to communicate, there is no need for compromise because who would want to compromise with evil. The result is vote after vote divided strictly along party lines.

Once you decide that God is on your side, then every action, every attitude, no matter how cruel or vicious is justified. We know that God hates evil, therefore it is perfectly permissible to hate members of the other party. We become crusaders, fighting a new holy war.

The irony is that this religion doesn’t even require a belief in God.

No matter, because we can make one in our own image. Sometimes he appears as a white, middle-aged, Republican living in the mid west. Other times she takes the image of an east coast Democrat, a vegan hipster, espousing radical environmentalist views. This is a God of our own construct, miraculously aligning with our party’s platform.

Our sacred texts are no longer delivered on tablets of stone, but flow daily in no more than 140 characters from Mount Hollywood or the white marble temples of Washington D. C.

If we need more motivation than tweets can provide, there is always Facebook. Our need for periodic outrage can be satisfied by selecting from an endless smorgasbord of questionable news sources.

The high priests and priestesses of these national religions tolerate no heresy within their own ranks, only true believers will be accepted.  Any Democrat who entertains thoughts of being pro-life or any Republican considering gun control is shunned and removed from meaningful committees.

Marie Newman, a long-time Democratic activist said in an recent interview. “No matter how you feel personally, you have to vote to support the Democratic Party values. We have all looked at the 90-page document that is the Democratic Party platform that was created last year.”

Individual thought is discouraged while “groupthink” is praised.

Wikipedia offers this description of groupthink: Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.


Somewhere on a high mountain sits a cowboy.  He looks down into the valleys below and sees a string of towns and cities, glittering in the night. He can see the twinkling lights, but they do not compete with the canopy of stars above him. He has been to the city. He knows that the lights they have created block from view the constellations and galaxies that form the roof over his head.

By their measure he is uneducated, but he can tell the weather by watching the skies, and knows when a storm is brewing. He is comfortable with himself, he needs no titles or trophies.

The cowboy appreciates that the constellations he now enjoys will slowly shift over the horizon as the seasons change and smiles knowingly that herdsman in other countries will soon view the same stars. The stars create a perspective that can’t be denied. The heavens above remind him that he is just one small person in God’s creation. God’s creation illuminates the slums of Haiti, the sidewalk cafes of Paris, the villages of China, the high-rise apartments in New York, around the globe the light of the stars and sun shine on all the world. God recognizes no political parties, no sports teams and no organizations, he only knows his children, which is to say, all of us.

The cowboy whistles softly to his dog and they trot slowly back to the herd, leaving the glitter behind.

Be the cowboy … Poppy

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