Adam, Eve and the Campaign Trail by George Merrill


I hug trees. I believe paying taxes is a privilege considering the blessings I enjoy as a citizen. I am pro choice and support more effective legislation to contain gun violence. I’m for upping the minimum wage, for supporting equal pay for men and women, for more taxation on the upper one percent of our economic stratum, and I support gay marriage and LGBT rights. In summary, I am white, male, middle class, educated, liberal and old. To complete my profile, I’m an Episcopalian, although some don’t find that necessarily being religious.

I mention this in the spirit of full disclosure as I’m reflecting on politics and religion.  I don’t want to be accused of deception. And so I offer this thought: our current political tensions are nothing new at all. They are timeless and, I would add, of biblical proportions.

Myths shape our understanding of our world and ourselves. Each political party is informed by a myth. I sense the Republican myth leans toward dominance with emphases on power and control.  Democrats tend to facilitation, enabling and greater inclusion. The one myth seems driven by fear, the other by possibilities.

Myths are not make-believe or idle fancies: they are stories and images through which you and I interpret our own story. Myths need not be historically credible to be effective. Most, in fact, are apocryphal. They must, however, capture some primal longing in the human soul to be influential.

Genesis and its creation epic is one of Judeo-Christianity’s core myths.

In it,  God  effectively gives to us humans two charges: The one is to “Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over fish of the sea, the birds of the air and everything that lives”

The second has a significantly different tone: “And the Lord God took Adam (us) and put us into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”  This is a softer image, more suggestive of enabling and caring for the creation, watching over it to maximize its full potential.

Historically the human family has swallowed the “dominion” and “subdue” clauses whole, while giving shorter shrift to the enabling and nurturing functions.

We’ve been dominating and subduing the earth as if there were no tomorrow. If our subjugation of nature continues, there may well be no tomorrow. We differ from our ancestors in how we have the material means to destroy the earth through scientific achievements. The environmental movement emerged from the evidence that we are fouling our own nest, and the nests of our fellow creatures.

The same two prevailing myths are guiding today’s political ideologies. In America today these ancient myths are represented by two symbols:  one is the American eagle, a symbol of power, typically male. The eagle we see portrayed isn’t mom sitting in the nest warming her eggs. This eagle’s a conqueror, the indomitable predator. The other symbol is the Statue of Liberty, expressive of the hospitality to the stranger, a haven for the oppressed and welcome to the homeless. It’s a female image, suggesting inclusion.

It’s no stretch that Trump represents the eagle and Clinton the Statue of Liberty. Clinton’s agenda has been primarily in the human services arena before becoming the Secretary of State, enabling opportunities for the disenfranchised.  Trumps’ thrust has been exercising power, boldly, making deals, intimidating rivals and being the winner.

George Saunders, writing in the New Yorker Magazine, makes this relevant observation: “American Presidential campaigns are not about ideas, they are about the selection of a hero to embody the prevailing national ethos.” For the word ‘ethos’ I’d substitute ‘myth.’

The ancient myths of antiquity live on in American politics and in the American psyche: one the mighty conqueror who soars like the eagle and cowers his adversaries, and the other the caretaker who labors from dawn to sundown tilling the earth. The one is about the task of dominating others and the earth; the other myth is about calling forth the earth’s inherent bounty.

It’s an old story, just new players.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.


Letters to Editor

  1. Stephan Sonn says:

    You have heard of Rebel Without a Cause, That would be Trump. Here you postulate worriers with cause quite correctly, which is loosely good vs evil.

    What is missing here is, the qualifier, that being, nuanced by degree and philosophical rational. That is what is required in modern warfare and politics. So if you search further you find the level of individualism vs collectivism. And if you expand that it is more abstract, to changing reality, which is quite beyond Trump. He is just a squatter, just wandering into a larger game.

    So it is all of the above multi-faceted but with a core suggesting divinity at the least, another layer.

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