Monday, April 11, 2011

Politics and the Devil

Wherever you stand on politics this essay is worth reading. "Politics and the Devil" by Charles J. Chaput over at Public Discourse. It is helpful for thinking about the issues of power and standing up for ethical pro-life issues. For those who believe that the kingdom of God should determine our ethics, and therefore govern our use of power, one often finds a reticence for any use of power. The danger of over realizing our eschatology in our ethics is that it can make us unwilling or unable to stand in anyway. While we should not use power in the way the world does, we should not confuse the effects of the gospel (standing for right and wrong, loving the poor and weak made in the image of God) with the gospel itself. Sometimes the effects of the gospel are to use power responsibly (like the king or centurion who becomes a Christian) in distinction from the gospel's power itself (which never spreads through human means; in this area our weapons are not the weapons of the world). While the essay itself does not delve into all of these issues in the way I have framed them, I think it is an essay worthy of reading and reflection particularly as it relates to our activity as citizens of the kingdom of God but citizens still living in the kingdom of this world.

Some excerpts I liked:

Politics often works like a virus. The simpler a political slogan is, the faster people absorb it, the faster they transmit it, and the less likely they are to really think about it—which means they don’t develop an immunity to its content.
All law in some sense teaches and forms us, while also regulating our behavior. The same applies to our public policies, including the ones that govern our scientific research. There is no such thing as morally neutral legislation or morally neutral public policy. Every law is the public expression of what somebody thinks we “ought” to do. The question that matters is this: Which moral convictions of which somebodies are going to shape our country’s political and cultural future—including the way we do our science? 
The answer is pretty obvious: if you and I as citizens don’t do the shaping, then somebody else will. That is the nature of a democracy. A healthy democracy depends on people of conviction working hard to advance their ideas in the public square—respectfully and peacefully, but vigorously and without apologies. Politics always involves the exercise of power in the pursuit of somebody’s idea of the common good. And politics always and naturally involves the imposition of somebody’s values on the public at large. So if a citizen fails to bring his moral beliefs into our country’s political conversation, if he fails to work for them publicly and energetically, then the only thing he ensures is the defeat of his own beliefs.  
We also need to remember that most people—not everyone, of course, but most of us—root our moral convictions in our religious beliefs. What we believe about God shapes what we think about the nature of men and women, the structure of good human relationships, and our idea of a just society. This has very practical consequences, including the political kind. We act on what we really believe. If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them.
The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us. 
In Europe and the United States, our knowledge classes like to tell us that we live in an age of declining religious belief. But that isn’t quite true. A culture that rejects God always invents another, lesser godling to take His place. As a result, in the words of the great Jewish bioethicist Leon Kass, we live in an age of “salvific science.” In the place of the God who became man, “we have man become as god.” And in place “of a God who—it is said—sent his son who would, through his own suffering, take away the sins of the world, we have a scientific savior who would take away the sin of suffering altogether.” 
The irony is this: the search for human perfection implied in modern science—or at least, the kind of science accountable to no moral authority outside of itself—leads all too easily to a hatred of imperfection in the real human persons who embody it with their disabilities. The simplest way to deal with imperfections is to eliminate the imperfect. In our daily lives, Kass warns, “the eugenic mentality is taking root, and we are subtly learning with the help of science to believe that there really are certain lives unworthy of being born. . . . [T]he most pernicious result of our technological progress . . . [is] the erosion, perhaps the final erosion, of the idea of man as noble, dignified, precious or godlike, and its replacement with a view of man [as] mere raw material for manipulation and homogenization.” 
Politics is the exercise of power; and power—as Jesus himself saw when Satan tempted him in the desert—can very easily pervert itself by doing evil in the name of pursuing good ends. But this fact is never an excuse for cowardice or paralysis. Christ never absolved us from defending the weak, or resisting evil in the world, or from solidarity with people who suffer. Our fidelity as Christians is finally to God, but it implies a faithfulness to the needs of God’s creation. That means we’re involved—intimately—in the life of the world, and that we need to act on what we believe: always with humility, always with charity, and always with prudence—but also always with courage. We need to fight for what we believe. As Kolakowski wrote, “Our destiny is decided on the field on which we run.” 
[emphasis all original] 

His example of the meme: "return science to its rightful place" is spot on. I won't reproduce it here so that you will read the essay. The discussion of biotechnology is helpful: science and technology is not an end in itself. Those who want to argue morals and technology are ends in and of themselves and these disciplines have the ability in themselves to pronounce moral ends grasp neither the complexity of the issue, the philosophical roots of the question nor the limits of said disciplines. It is "idiotic" in the classical sense of barbaric and uncivilized (see the essay).

The essay is a good reminder of the actually state of things when you hear people say things like laws should impose morality or that beliefs on certain moral issues should not form our public policy. I agree that Christian have a responsibility in the public square to use the gifts of common grace and natural law to make are arguments--but we cannot set aside a regenerated conscience when it comes to moral claims.

On the issue of separation of church and state:
"As a result, the idea that the “separation of Church and state” should force us to exclude our religious beliefs from guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, even superficially. If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves. Because God certainly isn’t fooled. He sees who and what we are. God sees that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice, and our lack of courage does a lot more damage than simply wounding our own integrity. It also saps the courage of other good people who really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that compounds a sin of dishonesty with a sin of injustice." [emphasis original]

The essay ends with the unofficial model of the Texas Rangers and extols the important of virtue in defending all.

Setting aside the issue of Roman Catholicism as a support for the ethics in the article, this is a well articulated essay that is worth a read. Read the whole thing.

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