Sunday, September 14, 2008

Political Naiveté

Very rarely do I make public my thoughts and convictions about politics, but I’ll make an exception here because there are Christian principles behind my position. Admittedly I don’t know very much about politics. I understand politics to be the way people work with one another as they devise a system for governing a body of people, or when they put that system to use. Because people are sinners, any political system will be flawed. To me it is clear that the American political process is affected, and often driven, by favoritism, shortsightedness, rigidity, hypocrisy, and all the other sins common to humanity. But in a fallen world there may be no better way to govern our nation, so the political process needs constant correction and rebalancing. Sometimes, on occasion, it works well. Or appears to. As I say, I don’t know much about it.

Political parties are generally made up of people of more or less like-mindedness on whatever issues are before the nation. Like groups or parties within the Church, no one party has a corner on the complete truth. For truth to prevail, then, parties must work together, i.e. people of different convictions must listen to one another and learn to work together—without denying their convictions but also with a willingness to hear what someone else has to say so that all may benefit. That is, one must hold fast to one’s own convictions while working also for the good of all.

The prophets of the Old Testament often supported the king, but whenever necessary—which was frequently—called the king and people to repentance. The prophets’ commitment was to the Word of the Lord above all, and not unconditionally to a particular political person or position. The Christian Church, and individual Christians as they have opportunity, must do the same. The Church must support Democrats when that party wants to assist the poor; it must support Republicans when that party opposes abortion. The Church, in short, must preach the Gospel to all the political parties. The parties, all of them, sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong.

Commitment to truth, for me, is a top priority in the political system. I learned recently (haven’t verified it) that in the ancient Greek culture (which loved philosophy and debate), whenever two people were going to debate their philosophy, before the debate could begin each person had to give a summary of what his opponent believed and get that person’s agreement that his position had been stated accurately. Only after that had happened, could the debate begin. Without beginning in that fashion, the debate could have no value for the arguments offered could have no foundation. That practice seems to me to be quite sound. Bearing false witness against one’s neighbor, mudslinging, trying to get ahead by denouncing your opponent, twisting facts, attacking others anonymously, hitting below the belt, etc. are all contrary to truth or virtue or both, no matter which party or individual does these things. No one can get to the truth by lying about his opponent.

Because of my convictions, when our parish’s Discernment Committee was working to come to a consensus about what to do in the current Episcopal controversy, at the very first meeting I gave the members axioms from which they were not to deviate as they did their work. These axioms included: no name calling, no crediting any rumors or other unsubstantiated material (i.e. use only first-hand material in its proper context), no violation of Scripture (e.g. admission of lawsuits), listen to those who disagree with you and make sure you understand what they believe before reacting to it, act always in full charity. The Committee followed these principles and did a marvelous job.

I believe that those in the political process must do the same. Of course, I know that they won’t—or won’t very often. But still, any party or individual acting for a party that violates these same principles will have no credibility for me. I believe that any political assertion must honor every individual by telling the truth and allowing each person to speak for himself. Only in such a circumstance will I have the best chance to learn what someone really stands for. Truth, honor, love, virtue, etc. are principles that must guide our contacts with other people at all times, including in the political process. I fault nearly every political party and process for failing to uphold these principles consistently.

I admire Barack Obama because he seems to be enacting the American dream (and therefore is a testimony to the greatness of many American strengths), and for some of his convictions. I admire John McCain for his perseverance and some of his convictions. Both men have greatness in them, both are patriots, and both have failings.

Frankly, I usually tend to vote as a one-issue person: where a candidate stands on abortion tells me a great deal about his understanding of life’s central issues. I know that the realities of the world and what faces the nation are much more complex than any single issue, but that one issue of abortion is the most important for me because in it millions of lives are at stake. Related to it are issues of tobacco, the death penalty, and gun control. No one candidate I know of, or party, has a clean or consistent position on these issues, which are all about the value of life.

I know I am idealistic in these convictions; maybe more than a few would say I am naïve. I am willing to be educated but I won’t compromise my ideals no matter how few people might agree with them, how many people believe them to be unrealistic, or consider me to be naïve because of them. I believe that holding these convictions and applying them is part of living and proclaiming the Gospel, and the Gospel is the only solid and reliable foundation for truth, love, life, and action. Without such a foundation, one is left completely at the whim of fads, fancies, fallacies, opportunism, money-motivated goals, and the like.

Consider, for example, Jacob Weisberg’s column “The Big Idea” in the September 15, 2008 issue of Newsweek (page 41). The title of his column is, “What Happened to Family Values?” In that column the author attacks Sarah Palin’s pro-life position, which he describes as “extreme”. He states, “The availability of legal abortion actually supports the kind of family structure that conservatives once felt so strongly about: two parents raising children in a stable relationship, without government assistance.” This shocking absurdity is the central message of his column. That message, as I read it, is: Give people the right to terminate the lives of the unborn they don’t want, and what will be left are lives that are wanted, and wanted lives make for happy, committed parents. (It didn’t pass me by that he used the term “stable relationship” rather than “marriage”.) This assertion is utterly devoid of any values or standards other than convenience or preference. I haven’t heard or read such a dispassionate proposal of appalling and brutal utilitarian eugenics seriously put forward since the Nazi philosophy sought, by mass murder and genocide of undesirables, to create the Aryan society of the blond and blue-eyed. Work is freedom. Abortion is a family value. Death is life. Black is white. Hell.

What is always at stake in every human encounter, small or large, including the political system, are Gospel truth and love. I choose these without compromise.


Aristocles said...


I enjoyed reading your foray into a political arena. I also appreciate your frank appreciation of the complexities of politics and of each candidate in our coming election. I, too, sympathize with your 'one-issue' voting policy.

In fact, in recently commenting on my facebook account, I stated that for this election, I will be a one-issue voter. Senator Obama, for all there is to admire, has a radical view on the personhood of fetuses. His view, in fact, can be justly described as 'like infanticide' at best, if not, straightforwardly infanticide. His protection of Roe v. Wade implies his belief that if a doctor and mother choose to abort and that abortion is botched, resulting in the birth of a child, that child is nevertheless protected by Roe v. Wade (where other laws have not specifically delimited it's application). In Illinois, before Obama's involvement there, there was a law that said viable infants born from botched abortions must be given medical assistance; in other words, Roe v. Wade didn't extend to a viable (that is, post-22 week old) infant. I'm sure you've heard of Obama's involvement in voting against an ammendment that will extend medical protection to even 'pre-viable' infants born via botched abortion. He said this bill threatened Roe v. Wade. That reason seems to make sense only supposing a radical view on the personhood of pre-viable infants that are born via botched abortions. I discuss this on my blog

I also believe that reasonable reflection upon the following conditional will motivate more pro-lifers to think twice about abandoning the one-issue voting in all cases.

If personhood begins far before birth, most reasonably at conception, then the abortions having occurred and those continuing, are not only equivalent to the horrors of the Holocaust but far far worse.

It's all too easy to insulate ourselves from horrendous evil, by distance, ignorance, busy-ness, fear, weakness, hygenic concerns, etc. There's a knife edge to balance on: on one side is an anesthesized conscience, on the other is a fanatacism that disallows an understanding of an individuals perspective vis-a-vis abortion.

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Tiberian said...

"Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion." Mother Teresa

Well done Padre' :> G