Sunday, November 11, 2012

Actively Striving For A *Pyrrhic Victory

This is to follow up on some continuing discussions resulting from this post this post and this post. There seems to be a misunderstanding that we believe that Christians should not be politically active. Here I attempt to further clarify the point.

Political discourse and action are important, they just are not the ultimate point.

Ends do justify the means only if the means are fully in line with, might I say derived from, the end. Carrien's and my criticism of the current political discourse comes from the observation that the means employed are not consistent with the proper end.

The end we have in mind is the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this world. "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

Yes, strive for righteousness in government. At the same time, do not fall into unrighteousness in your interactions with others who bear the image of the Most High God.

I hold that the high purpose of government is to limit the evil actions of broken people in a broken society. This is a very conservative position, as I understand conservatism. What I see on the Right is something that the Right has accused the Left of for some time. That is the shifting of the role of government from a role of limiting evil to the role of producing righteousness. This seems to me a significant shift in conservative ideology. The shift is from, "The power should be limited to the basic enforcement of laws to protect the people" to "If we can get the power we should use it. Now we must get the power so that we can use it to make the people righteous (in the way that we define righteousness.)" This is the very thing that the Right has criticized the Left for. This, in my mind, lays too much power in the hands of government.

I do not believe that there is a political solution for the problem of the brokenness of people. I do believe that the government has the responsibility to limit the negative effects of the real brokenness  of the people upon one another.

Yes, get the best people into the government so that we have better policies and laws for the protection of the populace. But our more fundamental goal is to heal the brokenness of the people. The current method of political discourse and action does not move in this direction. Moreover, given the more fundamental goal of healing the brokenness of people our considerations ought to be more circumspect and pragmatic.

For example:

African Americans in inner cities and projects do live in a country where it is possible to rise from there to greatness. And some do. At the same time there are real structural social and psychological hindrances that really do apply to those African Americans. They were slaves of white people. The Democrat party fought to maintain that slavery. The Republican party fought to abolish it. The Republicans won. Then white America utterly failed to treat black folk as fellow humans, shunned them, and relegated the majority to the margins. Living in poverty and on the margin affects cultural horizons, that is, if a group of people get beat down long enough they loose the cultural ability to get back up. The beat-down moves into the psychology of the people and folks loose the ability to think long term and with a sense of self-agency (this is endemic in impoverished cultures globally.) Now, it is true that the larger American culture is built around taking initiative and making something of yourself, but here you have a subculture that the psychological structures that enable that have been abused into regression.

Please, do not misunderstand me. I am in no way asserting any inferiority in African Americans. I am recognizing the reality and the effects of cultural abuse.

That is the situation now. What is done is done. What do we do from here? The dominant position from the Left is to establish social support in the form of handouts while the Right mainly reiterates the refrain of opportunity. The first perpetuates dependance. The second neglects the effects of abuse. Both fail to recognize the complexity of reality.

Our goal should be to maximize the ability of everyone to achieve greatness so that we can together become ever greater. In this case neither the hand-out nor the reiteration of ideals achieves this goal. The actual solution lies elsewhere. The situation calls for a more circumspect and pragmatic solution.

This situation, mutatis mutandis, holds for many sectors of American society and the polarization between the Left and the Right oversimplify the issue.

To hit another hot-button issue, look at abortion. Abortion is horrible. I don't think that anyone except the most callous will disagree with that. Our fundamental goal regards abortion should be to reduce the incidence of abortion. Let us look at it pragmatically. How well have the current tactics of the Right worked to achieve that goal? By analogy, how well did criminalizing alcohol work to limit its damaging effects on society? As horrible as abortion is, in the real world it is in fact a complex issue. It is good and right to be saddened and even angered by the incidence of abortion in America, or anywhere for that matter. We must ask the question, how do we actually, in the real complexity of this real world  achieve the goal of ending abortion? I have no confidence that legislation criminalizing abortion alone will have the desired effect. What is required is a deeper cultural shift, and I'll bet the effective solution to this does not include screaming "baby killer" at people.

The Left defends the rights of the woman. The Right defends the rights of the unborn baby. Both of these are right things when taken together. The real solution is much more along the lines of healing the complexity of the broken situation that results in the opposition of mother to child.

Most issues in the political arena are of this sort.

This rhetorical oversimplification in the hands of, and to the service of, ideology is pervasive in the political arena across many issues. It is a poison that taints the discourse. It is a poison that is strengthened by ideology on all sides. When we swallow and spread this poison we do violence to our fellow humans, all of whom bear the image of God.

(A sideline on Biblical values: Christians on both sides pick and choose what Biblical values they want to stand for and then attack the others for not standing up for the ones they have chosen. Yes, life is sacred and the protection of the weakest is of highest import in Biblical ethics. This applies to unborn babies. It also applies to the widow, orphan, and alien. The Left chooses to not defend the unborn babies while the Right chooses to not defend the widow, orphan, and alien. Everyone should just drop their bloody-minded self-righteousness. )

When we fight for our ideology we fight against those we disagree with. We subsume them within the ideology we oppose. We dehumanize them. Our fight ought to be for their humanity. Show a little humility and strive first and always to heal the brokenness around you. Strive to win those who you disagree with and recognize that they may have something of value to say to you and that yelling at someone really does not bring any sort of healing but rather tears the rift further and sets both of you on your heels. We are doing a good job of working hard at increasing the brokenness of our society. Is that damage worth getting the power into the hands of someone who has told us what we want to hear?

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” (PHOTO: Columbia Pictures)

*A Pyrrhic Victory is when you win a battle at such a high cost that you destroy your ability to achieve your ultimate goal.

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