The feeling came over me one day in my old age to write about those two subjects one is often warned against discussing in polite company so as to keep the tone of the party as pleasant as possible: religion and politics. Usually these subjects seem so intractable that one avoids them even in the day-to-day party within one’s head. But now in my leisure, my party winding down to a serene close, last glasses being collected, I take this opportunity to write down the opinions I have formed over the last half dozen decades as coherently as I am able. Have they changed much during this span? Some, but a better answer is that during the hustle and bustle of everyday life these serious subjects only occasionally, and for short runs, came to the forefront of my interest. I endured short explosions of what I’ll call “intellectualism” in my teens, again during my twenties, and thereafter intermittently during rather rare reflective periods. But these modest fireworks soon fizzled, extinguished by the need to make a living, learn my job and in between enjoy the minor miracle of life.
In the first part of this essay, I tell a very personal story of the path that I adventured through the religious forest. Yet, though each of us may walk different early paths, in those times when a year seems like an eternity, eventually most of us come to a common highway of thought so busy and impersonal that it is not an exaggeration to call it a religious superhighway. It does not seem to me that the route one takes to the on-ramp of this artery is as significant as the importance of the turnpike itself which has a universal, philosophical feel to it. The second part of my essay concerns these most general considerations. The exit that one eventually takes from this common highway is again a personal choice, though the highway itself remains a common one.
I want from the start to reassure the reader that this story is not a polemic. My interest is in describing my journey, not especially in proselytizing. Yet I suppose, to be candid, that in any travel story the wish of the writer is that the reader understand and reflect upon the peculiarities and the interests along the route taken.
The second main part of this essay concerns politics. Clausewitz is said to have considered war an extension of politics by other means. I think it can also be said that politics is an extension of religion by other means. Politics is a vital consideration for humans, and I hope that there is something to be gained by the reader—regardless of the off-ramp chosen from the religious superhighway—from my political discussion, which is more analytical and studied from a high altitude, not a personal tale at all.
In the small farming town in the Midwest where I was raised, my father worked nearly every day in a blocky, two-story, brick building with several very large sliding doors. I remember it better than most places I’ve lived in my life, and I still occasionally visit it in my dreams. High on the front of the building, in careful lettering was painted:
F. S. Goetsch & Son
Frank S. was my great grandfather and, when I was very young, the building was still a blacksmith shop. We just called it, The Shop. Calculating back from my father’s birth in 1907, I guess that the shop had existed decades before the twentieth century began. Frank, as well as his son, my grandfather, passed away unknown to me, but the shop, and my father, William Valentine Goetsch, remained a central part of my early life. I worked at the shop until well after I married, and I resonate with strong echoes of its hammer blows still. The Can Do part, painted smartly in Italics on an upward slant, had been added by my father in an uncharacteristic burst of promotion.
I offer this bit of trivia only to provide some context for my approach to this article. My dad once made an offhand remark to me in this building that, oddly, has stuck with me all my life. He said, pointing to a strong, welded metal rack built of angle iron that held various heavy metal stock for the shop, something like this: If a welder is going to make a rack like that one, he will make it from angle iron, a carpenter from timber, and if he is a plumber he will use pipe. This homely bit of knowledge for some reason struck me and even then I saw that it had much wider application than simply the building of storage racks: One uses what one has, what one is familiar with.
Now here, to suppose that in a short article like this one, these most weighty of subjects, religion and politics, can be treated with any degree of rigor is certainly more than should be expected. Thousands upon thousands of words have been written on these two topics, the distillation of millions and millions of thoughts. This immense effort testifies to their deep importance and complexity. So intractable are they that after millennia there does not exist a common ground to stand upon even for the deepest thinkers on the planet. So in lieu of a rigorous philosophical treatment, which lies beyond both my abilities and my inclination, I have instead chosen a construction homely as a hand built rack, one built with the skills of a welder, a carpenter, a craftsman, and without the elegance a philosopher might bring to the subject.
My trade seems to have turned out, willy nilly, to have been primarily that of a systems analyst, and I must say, even with due humility, that it seems to me one not entirely unsuited for the job at hand. I have attempted here to bring this craft to bear on these important subjects and I hope and believe that this rather different approach may bring a few novel insights to these questions. So in the rough, pioneer-American spirit of Can Do, that of William Valentine, I say, and perhaps not a little arrogantly, “We have a job to do. Let’s see what tools we’ve to hand and get on with it.”