An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
I knew it would happen eventually. Everyone thinks Jesus is the prime motivator and architect of their political opinions. But generally I think they are all wrong and I am right. Arrogant sounding I know...but I am unquestionably right, I think, that God has little interest in the government forcing people into obeying all the moral teachings of God. My position is rather the same as St. John Chrysostom when he said:
For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force...it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.
Now I realize I have said this sort of thing numerous times here on this blog, but I guess I cannot resist saying it again. I don't care if you consider yourself left or right, when you start expecting the government to maintain your values and press them upon others you have extended far beyond the mandate of Christian morality as taught by Jesus. Worse still, if you readily number yourself amongst the left or right leaning folk, odds are that the process of voting your personal morality is somewhat of a struggle. In fact, it ought to be a heart rending process since there is NO party out there (surely not the big two) that will not have you compromising the teachings of Christ – again, assuming you believe your federal government is supposed to be the great arbiter of Jesus' teachings.
So, some are going to market the current “health care reform” bill as a sort of answer to “What would Jesus do?” Shall we assume then that all 1000+ pages of that bill have been read and thus we are assured that God's stamp of approval is upon it? Ummm...well what about abortion funding? Is that in there somewhere? Euthanasia? Embryonic stem cell therapies? What else might we find in that vast complex of legalese that might not quite fit with traditional Christian morality? How about this: forcing people to be charitable?
Yes, I hate to bring out that old rug and beat on it, but alas it is true. My support for this bill on Christian principles would demand that I believe Jesus would not have been content to just let the “rich young man” walk away disappointed, He would have sent Peter and John after him with swords and forced him to give what he owned to the poor. For you see, my voting is not some great act of ascetic sacrifice, there is no holiness in it...I'm simply asking the government to forcefully take money from one person and give it to another. Whether it be for their healthcare, food, shelter, clothes, or an iPOD doesn't seem to matter in my mind, unless of course I am the one giving the money away. We cannot really expect political systems to be holy, can we? I do have a monarchist friend who would likely suggest that that we certainly can, but it wouldn’t be in the context of a mob-rule democracy.
Anyway, in the context of government providing for our needs/services, we are in essence saying to everyone (over a certain income level) that they ought to provide more of their money for those wih less...well, actually, more than that: we are saying they WILL provide it or they will face jail time for tax evasion. We do this in the name of Jesus? Really? I, for one, do not see how digging into someone's wallet in Jesus' name is all that different than digging into their bedroom habits in Jesus' name. If you wander about dreaming of “The Kingdom” and it being established through government enacted social justice policies, please keep in mind the whole spectrum of Christian morality and the full moral implications of the particular pet projects you may wish to focus on. Not to mention you may actually be a heretic for believing that “the Kingdom” is something we bring to fruition through governments.
For my part, I see both sides of the political battle being waged in a spirit of fear. Fear that Christian moralists will impose their values on everyone through government mandate (unless of course that tends to involve all the pop social justice issues, in which case all such government imposed values are welcomed) and then also fear of secular egalitarians imposing their version of enlightenment on the less enlightened homes of the traditionally religious. Some Christians think they are nuanced by aligning themselves with the issues of those in the former camp, while others entrench themselves in the latter and fight to save society from becoming further corrupted to the point that it will bring forth a government they must fear. I've made no secret of the fact that I am sympathetic to the fears of egalitarians imposing their enlightened views upon me or my family, but this is largely because I think I can see this great political battle happening before us and I see that they are fighting over who will have control. And this grand prize of control ought to worry us all. Not just that one side will win, but that from the beginning they perceive legitimate value in the object they fight over! If that object had no real value, in other words: if there were no reality to the belief that government needs to oversee every aspect of our lives (what we eat, what we drink, how we raise our kids, what sort of healthcare we provide for ourselves, what sorts of cars we drive, who we marry) then there would be no point to this great political/culture war at all! Of course there would still be fights on a smaller scale, but I don't think it would be this seemingly unending apocalyptic battle that has left public debate and campaigns in such a comedic state that I wonder why anyone bothers to follow elections anymore! I know I’m largely done watching them.
If nothing else, let's not bring Jesus into this – except to the same degree that we are willing to do more than put out a yard sign and vote. If you want to effect change (such as helping the poor) get off your duff and volunteer for a charity, or write your own check. But don't tell me that Jesus wants me to have the government force other people to provide for the poor, because next I'll expect you to tell me He also wants a definitive governmental ban on gay marriage, He wants murder charges against abortion doctors, He wants divorce laws tightened up BIG TIME, He wants porn made illegal, he wants lust made illegal, and for certain He wants mandatory prayer in schools...etc etc. It never ends…so stop picking and choosing.
You are, of course, welcome to believe that government's ought to provide a vast array of services to people...just don't label it Christian, please?
UPDATE: Obama says: "We are God's partners in matters of life and death" to a group of Rabbis with regard to the health care reform bill. I fear that "god talk" on this has only just begun.
Mr. President you are right, we are God's partners in matters of life and death...just not at all in the way that you think.
FWIW, I have long been opposed to "faith-based initiatives," on the grounds that that's *not* what faith is about. Your own faith can stimulate you to one side or the other, or to neither, but to serve at the local soup kitchen and say, "That's what faith is all about" -- uh, nope.