Political passions are running high. Hillary supporters tell me to vote for their candidate because, 'A crazy man must not be allowed access to the nuclear codes!' Donald's supporters tell me that if I don't vote for him, 'I'm helping to elect a crook!' Still others are disgusted with both candidates and tell me that to vote for either, is just 'feeding the monster,' empowering the dysfunctional system that gave birth to these two 'rotten candidates.'
Actually, this may be the most sane political season in my lifetime for the simple reason that it causes us to see just how threadbare and tawdry politics, and the politicians who deal in it, really are.
Hillary and Donald are making it more difficult for many Americans to create a savior out of a politician, a party, or a political ideology. The great and powerful Oz is not so great and powerful, when the curtain is pulled back and his inaptitude becomes self evident.
I have always been struck by how little Jesus spoke about grandiose causes or political movements. While the opportunities for extra-personal, political causes were legion, Jesus never signed on in spite of the countless opportunities. Think about it….
The Zealots hated the oppressive and unjust boot of Rome and we're advocating armed revolt, yet Jesus never signed on, but instead was ‘amazed’ by a Roman centurion who demonstrated great empathy for his servant.
The Sadducees were committed to making peace with Caesar and his Roman legions yet when given the opportunity to enlist, Jesus never signed on, reminding them that God is, well.... God. As such, what one owes to God is more comprehensive than what is owed to Caesar.
The Essenes condemned the entire military/political establishment, wanting to be left alone to meditate, to pray and to seek purity. Yet Jesus never signed on. Indeed, having been transformed before their eyes, he rejected his disciples’ attempt to linger in contemplative isolation, leading them down the mountain into the messiness of humanity.
No, Jesus had an uncanny knack or remaining, inter, not extra, personal. He kept it simple, person-to-person, instructing us on how to relate to one's 'neighbor' or the beaten man one happens across 'along the side of the road,' or a prostitute at mid day, or even a 'political traitor' named Zacchaeus.
Why emphasize the inter-personal a in a world that prefers the extra-personal? Why the micro, in a world that is drawn to the macro? Why the relational rather than the political?
For starters, its much more difficult. Causes are, after all, far easier to love than neighbors, or coworkers, or family members, or spouses, or fellow deacons, or classmates, or coaches or parents or teammates, or..... (Sure, I love the world. It's just my neighbor I can't stand!)
According to Jesus, our real oppressor, our actual enemy, is not political, but spiritual/relational, in nature. In St Matthew's account, Jesus was sent to 'save us' not from Caesar, or Stalin, or Mao, or Hillary, or Donald for that matter. He came to save us from 'our sins' which is a fancy way of saying, 'from ourselves,' It's what Muggeridge calls, 'the dark dungeon of the ego.'
I remember reading a fabulous book called, 'The Intellectuals' in which the author, Paul Johnson, speaks about the unvarnished private lives of countless pubic intellectuals who habitually invested themselves in morally lofty political initiatives. However, when the cameras were turned off, these same people were altogether cruel, ruthless and self-centered in their dealings with spouses, friends and colleagues.
It was as if the extra-personal was the fig leaf used to cover, their inter-personal shame. They were, in the words of a friend of mine, 'a public success but a private failure.'
Perhaps that is what GK Chesterton was getting at when he was invited to write an editorial for the New York Times in the topic, 'What's wrong with the world?' Other social critics and scholars wrote at length about ‘systemic injustice,’ ‘weapons of warfare,’ ‘economic marginalization,’ ‘racial animas’ etc.
Chesterton wrote what must be the shortest op ed in history. In response to the question, 'What's wrong with the world?' He replied: 'I am.' Sincerely, GK Chesterton.
All the best,
Note: For those intersted, I'd recommend this article by RJ Neuhaus entitled, 'Against Christian Politics.' Here is the link: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/05/against-christian-politics
"The conflation of Christian faith with a specific political agenda inevitably leads to the distortion of faith. The equally inevitable failure to achieve something worthy of being called “Christian politics” produces a crisis in which people will feel forced to choose between their politics and their faith. Devotion to “God and country” is a fine thing, but when the two are given equal standing “country” will always fall far short of what people hope for and they will then find themselves faced with the prospect of “God or country.”
-RJ Neuhaus, FIRST THINGS