Religion

“Searching for Direction”

[Here is the substance of an email I received last week. My responses are in the boxed blockquotes.]

First, as I say at the end, I appreciate the courage and courtesy it takes to write an email such as you have written.

Hello. I am probably what would be considered a … conservative, Christian Republican.

I am for marriage between one woman and one man,

The fact that I am “for” it does not mean I believe the state should enforce my (and your) definition of marriage on people’s desire to make commitments to each other, or interfere with their personal lives in this area. This starts to me to look a lot like the church ruling the state, which, you remember, was the whole problem with the Taliban. While some may argue that’s a good idea, it is not really what America has been about, nor do I think it’s a good or safe idea. It leads to oppressive statism, and sometimes to the most bloody kinds of tyranny and/or (un-)civil warfare.

I got an email yesterday from a woman here in town who was quite offended by a survey a Senate candidate’s campaign called her with. To her it reeked of intrusiveness and religious self-righteousness. She is very concerned about the obvious Big Brother tendencies in the Republican party as it is now operating. She is not alone, I promise you!

We have the frustration of checks and balances built into our Constitutional system for a very good reason – the Christian theological truth that no one man or group can be trusted with absolute power. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” Therefore we need a lot of watching of those who hold the power of government. Bush (with many others on the extreme right) has energetically resisted and undermined that watching function at every opportunity.

I am pro-life, I believe that pure capatalism and competition among businesses within America creates a better economy for the people of America, I believe that the roles of government and people have been turned upside down. I believe that we shouldn’t have to rely on the Federal government to bail us out of every financial problem we get into.

I also am pro-life. And the Democratic candidates I know and work with are men I can trust to do a LOT more toward actually reducing abortions in this state and nation than the Republicans I long to see them replace. Although, I have to admit, those Republicans make a lot of noise about it.

“bail us out of every financial problem we get into” is certainly NOT what is happening for the average working person or small entrepreneur in this country. Even less so for the working poor, of whom there are millions. The ‘bail-outs’ come for the wealthy or the huge corporations – and even then not predictably or fairly. That “bail us out” line is classic Limbaugh-type talk and should be seen as the insult it is to the large majority of Americans. We’re not being bailed out. We’re being abandoned unheeded and unaided by our jobs going offshore, by unjust tax policy, by health-care coverage shrinking and disappearing, etc.

Its a government for the people by the people. Although I don’t necessarily believe in a theocratic government, I do believe that we should follow more closely the mandates of scripture.

“The mandates of Scripture” eh? Scripture mentions homosexuality specifically around half a dozen times. But it mentions greed, exploitation, improper accumulation and misuse of wealth etc. almost ad nauseum. Prophet after prophet gets harsh about it. Jesus brings it up repeatedly. And it was Paul who wrote “greed, which is idolatry.”

Why do we hear so much about homosexuality from our church leaders and so very little about economic injustice and “greed, which is idolatry“? I am sure the answer is largely a matter of classic conflict of interest. You don’t preach against what you live by, and what your key supporters live by. You don’t preach against the undergirding theological – philosophical commitment of the whole society – the so-called “free market”.

The “free market” is not free, but is very much a tool of the wealthy for the greater accumulation of wealth. If the market were the place of the common people (“by the people, for the people”) would so many American jobs be going offshore? Would we still be forcing people into bankruptcy over medical crises – and then making it ever more difficult to even opt for bandruptcy? Would credit card interest rates be passing 30%?

The reason I am writing you is because I am truly looking for direction. I am trying to find where I fit in.

I truly appreciate that; it’s a very serious statement. And even if I get a bit worked up I very much understand the tension and confusion that all this brings to those of us who are trying to pay attention and figure things out.

I am still tyring to figure out the whole Iraq pre-emptive strike thing. Do I think we should help people who are being abused by their government? Yes. Do I think, if we have the means, that we should “liberate” such people from a dictator whos sons rape and kill elementary school girls for their own pleasure? Yes. Do I think war is a long-term solution to bringing peace to a nation? ?????? Not sure. It worked with Japan.

1. If we’re going to take down every rapist tyrant in other countries, there is a HUGE agenda awaiting our troops. Personally I don’t want to invest my sons and grandsons (and grand-daughters) in such an unending and unachievable mission.

2. If we’re going to take down every rapist tyrant, there are no doubt quite a few American business-people and politicians who need taking down – and I promise you they are not all Democrats. But we tend to call them “great men”, and are eager to have them come speak in our churches (and write checks).

3. As to “rape and kill elementary school girls for their own pleasure” – well, American troops have done the same. And that does matter.

4. Pre-emptive warfare is a war crime. It is immoral. And in this case it was clearly done on false pretenses.

5. “It worked with Japan.” No, war is not what worked. For example, war didn’t “work” with Germany after WWI. What “worked with Japan” was not war; what worked was the way the peace was managed after a war that we did not start. We encouraged democracy AND poured rivers of money into Japan and especially Germany after WWII.

We won the peace. And that is a big, big difference. (And that’s very different from pouring rivers of un-bid, unaccounted for money into Halliburton and Blackwater.) We are not at all doing the same things in Iraq that we did in Japan and Germany after WWII.

What are the mandates of scripture….. to care for orphans and widows. “My peace I bring to you. My peace I give to you… ” Do I believe in a lofty pie in the sky peace movement when dealing with people who want to kill you and anyone who doesn’t believe the way they do? No. But, what do you do? What do we as Christians do? What are we supposed to do?

That “pie in the sky peace movement” is another offensive line to Christians, another line that sounds very Limbaugh-ish or O’Reilly-ish. (Those guys are false prophets, and you know what happens to false prophets and their followers.) Jesus DID say, did He not, “Blessed are the peace MAKERS.” I know we can name our giant bombs “Peacemaker.” But that is a lie. We can say and hope that making war is making peace. But then we have robbed Jesus’ words of any meaning. I have a hunch Jesus intended his words to carry some explicit meaning.

Making peace is hard work. There’s seldom any pie involved. History makes clear that powerful nations are often just not willing to do the work. It’s much easier (in the short run) to pull out the guns. That’s a major theme of history. But Jesus said, in a land under Roman occupation and soon to suffer most brutal massacres of perhaps millions of people, “Blessed are the PEACE makers.”

As a Christian, I desperately want to help the innocent bystanders and familes who have been tragically affected by the war in Iraq. As an American, I want to take out those who pose any threat to me, my family and my country.

Yes. What a mixture of wants, eh? “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your enemies; pray for those who mistreat you” sound sweet and maybe even mushy, but it is a very hard thing.

The irony of it all is that the very government that so many protest is the very government that gives them the right to protest. Try protesting in Iraq or Iran.

But it is also ironic that this argument – that we have the right of protest and they don’t – is used to imply we should stop protesting what we whole-heartedly believe are dishonest and wicked patterns of behavior. If we have the right of protest, it is precisely because situations like the present will arise – times when many do not want to listen to any protests.

I was recently having a conversation with my brother-in-law about the whole “liberal/conservative” debate. One question I posed was, “How can you as a christian, support a party that takes the life of the unborn on one hand yet is pacifist on the other ?” Then I asked myself, “How can I be “pro-war” on one hand yet pro-life on the other?”

EXCELLENT questions! Here’s where Catholics (I’m not Catholic) have an interesting argument. They (some of them) talk about the “seamless garment” of pro-life concerns, and therefore take positions against abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, nuclear weapons, and in some cases against all war. You have to admit there is a certain logic to that (a logic I personally do not follow all the way).

Please note that being against this particular war does not make one a pacifist. War-making – even for those of us who deeply believe in the occasional moral necessity of war – is often obviously the wrong strategy, or is pursued in ways that are utterly counter-productive. Many, many Americans who are not at all pacifist believe that this particular war (with others that Bush wants to start) is radically unjust and unwise. Again it is not wise to follow the right-wing talking point that being against this particular war means one is a mushy-headed pie-in-the-sky idealist pacifist.

I justify my position by the innocence of the unborn being unable to protect themselves versus the choices of free thinking people make to try and take over the world. I honestly don’t believe that Bush is trying to make a bigger America unlike the radical Muslims who are tyring to make the world completlely Muslim. I do believe in Democracy in every country. Muslim, Christian or Atheist.

I found your site very interesting. I did find it to be a bit more “anti-Bush” than what I would align myself as but I didn’t find a whole lot for “Pro-Peace Republican”. I did, on the other hand, find quite a bit for “Pro-life Democrats”

“anti-Bush” – Yes, that is true.

We watched the movie “Crash” the other night, on the recommendation of a former student of mine. At one point Connie said, “That would never happen!” Wrong. It (gross power-plays, injustice, rampant greed and self-indulgence) happens all the time. That’s why Jesus was such a problem to the powers that be in His day – he would not bow or buy in.

Later one character in the movie says to another, a stranger (two blacks talking), “You are an embarrassment to me. You are an embarrassment to yourself.” And the second character actually experiences at least a little bit of a reformation.

I fear, and believe, that this President and his administration are coming to be very much “an embarrassment” to Christians of all kinds in this country and around the world. They are doing great damage to the long-term influence of the Gospel and the Bible. It’s going to be a very unpleasant experience for you and many others to come to realize just how much this has been and is so. But it is a responsibility we have to not hide from the realities of his behavior. He and they, after all, are doing these things in the public eye (although they are trying to hide much of it, plenty is still public). It is appropriate to call him on it in public.

I guess the bottom line is, I’m caught somewhere in the middle. I truly want to do what God has called us as Christians to do. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. I disagree too much with the Democratic party and don’t entirely agree with the Republican party.

Welcome, maybe, to “the Radical Center.”

There are a few Republicans changing their registrations to Democrat or Independent even out here in deep red Nebraska – not always an easy step to take. There are many more who are going to vote against Bush clones in the voting booth even though still registered as Republicans.

We attended the Nebraska State Democratic Convention recently. As our candidate for Governor said to us once, “Democrats are good, sensible people! It’s a good party to be associated with.” True, and we really enjoyed getting to know a lot of our fellow Nebraska Democrats. But we also experienced this fact: if you get actively involved with politics you will find people in any and every party who will make your head hurt and your stomach feel funny, and some who will make you quite angry. If we are going to be partisan at all, with whatever party, we need to accept that fact.

But, Republicans or Democrats, we do have an obligation to speak up. I personally feel an obligation to take sides in terms of party identification. Others do not. But we do have to take a stand for truth and for justice, against public fraud and lying and against brutality and rapaciousness. If that means a whole lot of Republicans have to hold their noses and vote for Democrats this time around, we encourage that voting-booth testimony. That is a true values-voter. And hopefully those who cannot vote Democratic will still vote – or abstain – on the basis of their deepest and highest values – and if they are Christians, vote or abstain on the basis of true Biblical priorities.

I thought maybe you could be of some help to me. I don’t want any Michael Moore or Cindy Shehan rhetoric. I would like a straight forward biblical approach to politics if you could. I really am struggling. I think that’s one reason, this email seems so scattered and I apologize for that.

Please write back. I would really like to hear your opinion.

__, I very much appreciate the courage and courtesy it takes to write an email like you have written. I was afraid I would write too much, and maybe I have. I hope it has been worth your while. These are not small matters. They reach deep into our guts. And they affect and alter our sense of what the world really looks like and what our place in it really is. May you find wisdom and some peace in your explorations!

And, thanks again for asking!

Sincerely,
__


I (admin) also should respond to the line about “radical Muslims who are tyring to make the world completely Muslim.” (That was written in a discussion of our occupation of Iraq.)

Iraq was a secular state, not a religiously controlled one. It was not at all Iraq’s or Sadaam’s agenda to “make the world completely Muslim.” Another right-wing straw man bites the dust. But it does seem to be the agenda of some in America to “make the world completely Christian” – as if it were possible to do that with guns!

Cross-posted at StreetProphets

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3 Comments

  • Here is a nice quotation, from an article I just read about globalization. The passage deals with the insincerity in the contemporary, now generally polemic and derisive, use of the word ‘protectionism’ (protection against offensive or destructive acts or tendencies should be quite a laudable thing, shouldn’t it – unless, of course, there are overbearing contra-indications, which needs, however, be proven specifically).

    The quotation illustrates my claim that there is arbitrament and exertion of political power even in the (selective) application (or non-application) of the virtually universal principles of the cosmopolitan outlook of the prevailing ‘classical’-liberal school of economics.

    Truthout:
    Globalization: It Didn’t Just Happen:
    As someone once put it, the difference between an autoworker and an economist is that the autoworker is smart enough to know that she needs protection, but doesn’t have the political power to get it. The economist is too dumb to know that he needs protection, but powerful enough to get it.

    Please go to the article to find these claims are substantiated. There is, however, not settled whether it’s the inconsistency of its application or the liberal theory itself which is to be blamed for ‘globalization’ being a scheme to impoverish a vast majority of the lower income brackets in rich and poor countries alike.

    According to my understanding of the authorities mentioned (Hamilton, List), and from the outlook of political economy, I’d judge that it is the theory which encourages its own incessant misapplication, by means of giving us an idealization in the guise of a general theory. And this guise is none other than the idea (illusion) that ultimately economics and politics can and ought (to) be mutually independent disciplines.

  • Wow Martin! There’s a lot there, and a lot that deserves comment. But I’m just going to quote one line of yours from near the end, about three goals of government:

    the prime duty of all government, which is the furtherance of peace, justice and prosperity.

    Seems to me we at present are being led away from all three.

  • Welcome to the “radical center”!

    Let me give you my opinion of where this center lies, in form of some hints relating to the first two paragraphs of this e-mail to Larry.

    »» I believe that we shouldn’t have to rely on the Federal government to bail us out of every financial problem we get into. ««

    Sorry, but as I now know from the latter parts of the e-mail, this is not intended to be polemic, – therefore, I say, it is a deeply disturbing sign of how radically people may be drawn away from any true center by the very structure of common moral thinking, related to economical affairs. I’ll try to explain a bit, – thereby avowingly employing some degree of polemic myself (which I hope to be justified for the sake of clarity):

    First, nobody believes otherwise. What is insinuated in the above quotation is far too crass an alternative to what is actually taking place, i.e. it’s by no means the only, logical alternative to making government the accomplice of the boundless enrichment of the already wealthy and to the immoral (gradual) inversion of the principle that income should be primarily derived from work, not from having a crucial good (capital, the prevailing principle was called usury, in more lucid times!).

    The writer of this e-mail, however, is not fully responsible for the stark cynicism that gapes behind these words, for what (s)he writes is in sorry accordance with the academic superstition which is effect and core of the currently predominant, even hegemonical, doctrines of economic science, – which, unlike the official name of the science suggests, is NOT a “political economy” anymore, but the essentially imperialist ideology of monetarism and the doctrine of free trade capitalism.

    »» I believe that pure capatalism and competition among businesses within America creates a better economy … ««

    This is an error, and never was more than an illusion (in America, perhaps, interpretable as nostalgia).

    Prosperity comes from a right and lucky, i.e. from a creatively adapted, alloy of the two components freedom and civilization. Mere competition can go completely without civilization. You have the most perfect competition in the jungle, and as soon as the gold scales were invented, you also began to have capitalism, but the astounding rise of the American economy, for example, was related to a deliberate adaptation of the principles of political economy and a creative exertion of state power alongside with private entrepreneurship in the course of the nineteenth century. The assertion of the general welfare MUST go along with the preservation of the conditions of freedom.

    (By the way, as a German I say, our own rise to prosperity and power under Bismarck was likewise due to the adoption of political economy, was an explicit rejection of the unregulated capitalism that formerly prevailed. Bismarck followed such policies as Alexander Hamilton in the early USA, or the German-American theorist Friedrich List represented, and which had already proved successful in America at that time. I see this as a notable positive reference, no matter how basely German power later was exploited for imperial ends.)

    ——————————-

    Second approach to an answer:

    To say that “.. we shouldn’t have to rely on the Federal government …” is about as intelligent as a person stating ‘I believe in the responsibility of every part of my body to perform its proper function, therefore I do not provide any shoes to my feet, they may grow their caluses for themselves. It may be favourable for fitness, but go into the mall and learn from people’s feet that there are limits to that logic!

    Modern society is highly integrated, its economic entitities are dependable on one another, and therefore also on the organization of the whole system, and it’s a thickly romantical notion to imagine (implied in this “everybody fend for himself” thinking from the right) there were some eternally fixed, or at least self-evident principles of determining what is mine and thine in an integrated society, that do not need any government or arbiter to exert the political power that it takes to fashion that ‘organization of the whole system’ in a way guaranteeing the prosperity (not just some grim “impartiality”) of the economic process, –

    .. – just as a sound mind works for the health of the whole body, and its circulation, not just for the one organ brain, where the intelligence is seated, leaving all other parts without their proper access to the benefits of civilization.

    It’s a romantic notion, for these outlooks, – including their academic arm, the (all but hegemonial, yet erroneous) theories of Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say, which obsess all western nations at this date – pander to the pseudo-moral inclinations (or exploit some honest, but gullible ones) of people who are conscious that political power regularly tends to get misused, but who then flee to deal with the problem seriously, constructively, by putting their hands over their eyes, just as a little child may assume to thus make the original problem disappear from reality.

    People imagine the problem of misuse of power could be solved by just preventing its conspicuous agents, i.e. government and state power, from interfering into the private (economic) lives of citizens (and corporations! – no matter how (rogue-)state-like these ‘legal entities’ are), but do not give a thought to the fact that once government withdraws, private, un-authorized entities immediately fill the void, – as is seen on the American and global scale in the practical effects of that longstanding practice of sheer insanity to sell out (‘privatize’) entire sectors of the economy and do not even stop short from government functions – even the military know gets caught into this vortex of disarming the general welfare.

    So, Larry, is right, they do bail out the corporations, not the citizens, for these corporations, and the (fascist!) bankers which are behind them, have managed to instill their ideology (that private wealth is ostensibly the sign and means to positively influence the general welfare) in the brains of politicians and voters. But they have NOT eliminated political power by that sham, and certainly not its tendency to encroach into and thwart romantic notions of “everybody fend for himself”. So, better, have a proper theory – and practice – of the general welfare in the first place.

    —————————

    What’s more, the error expressing itself in this segment of the e-mail, is also behind the idea of “legislating morality” (first paragraph, gay marriage, – which I oppose too, by the way); they have the same root.

    It’s linked to the ascendancy of Calvinist theology – as opposed to the more original and much more personally authentic (in my eyes) Lutheran understanding -, which prevails in American protestantism, as I earlier mentioned and mourned.

    I MOURN IT AGAIN HERE.

    They mistake the functional dichotomy between society and individual, which is rightfully one of legislator and subject, for the (theologically proper) spiritual dichotomy between moral consciousness (conscience, cognition) and obedience. Once this error is introduced, the rest becomes a matter of sheer consequence:

    The bible hinges morality (i.e. theory and willingness of doing good) on obedience (more properly: on willing obedience, i.e. thankfulness), not on cognition or the contents of moral consciousness, but on its power (the contents of cognition and conscience is only a precondition for thankfulness, its growth is the fruit of grace and, to some degree, also of obedience), and commits morality to the heart of the individual (esp. the individual believer), not of society or government.

    But – contrary to bland conclusions from this order -, the way we think about and talk of the actual performance of a government, how willingly we follow or even embrace its actual policies or if we procrastinate or even resist (non-violently, of course, which may be a Christian duty!), is part of the individual morality too.

    And, unlike Calvinism assumes, this (indirect) normativity of the institution of government to be beholden to laud good and punish evil (“indirect”, inasfar as I am focussed here on consciences and morality of those ruled, not of the rulers) is NOT restricted to clarifying and plausibly filling the laws of good and evil (e.g. the ten commandments), but DOES include the (somewhat opposite, but actually complementary) approach of embodying as much love and mercy in the destillation of civil laws from the fix, spiritual core (ten commandments) as are conducive to the prime duty of all government, which is the furtherance of peace, justice and prosperity.

    —————————

    »» The reason I am writing you is because I am truly looking for direction. I am trying to find where I fit in. ««

    ›› I truly appreciate that; it’s a very serious statement. And even if I get a bit worked up I very much understand the tension and confusion that all this brings to those of us who are trying to pay attention and figure things out. ‹‹

    Thanks to the writer of the e-mail for this openness of mind, and I’d like to fall in with Larry nice answer.

    May (s)he respond to my comment if there is a chance I can make myself more understandable or credible at any point. It would be joy if we could greet one another with this word of Larry:

    Welcome, maybe, to “the Radical Center.�

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