Friday, January 6, 2012

Politics and Justice

School of Athens by Raphael
I find US elections hard. I like politics. I just don't like watching Christians engage in politics. The accuse each other of all sorts of things. They also tend to twist their theology inside out to fit their politics. It is not pleasant to watch. But the election seems to dominate all the talk these days. It is hard to avoid.

I don't think we should avoid it. As Christians we should look to transform politics and make it more Christ-like. The opposite is more the rule. Politics transforms Christianity and makes it more political. What we are to work on as Christians needs to be bigger than one political race or even a political party. We should all read Pope Benedict's' address to the German parliament where he talks about how politics and religion should interact.
Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, as this is what opens up for him the possibility of effective political action. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said . We Germans know from our own experience that these words are no empty spectre. We have seen how power became divorced from right, how power opposed right and crushed it, so that the State became an instrument for destroying right – a highly organized band of robbers, capable of threatening the whole world and driving it to the edge of the abyss.
I could not really find a quote that does it justice. You kind of need to read the whole thing. But he did not talk about one party or one issue. He talked about what is the core motivation. First of all, it must be about justice rather than winning. But then he goes on to ask where your sense of justice comes from. How we need to merge our morality and our reason to get there? Can we bring Athens and Jerusalem together?

Then he did something that reminded me of a CS Lewis quote that can be found in something Mark Shea just linked.
This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all values are rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained.
What the pope sees is that if he can sell Germans on one value he will have sold them on the whole concept of morality. What value did he choose?  Environmentalism. Something Germans have embraced big time. That is one way that people have seen "that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives." If we can see what is natural ought to be preserved ecologically then we have moved from "is" to "ought." That can lead to the same kind of "ought" in preserving what is natural socially. Like the sanctity of life and the integrity of marriage.

The point is that we need to think rationally about what ought to be. We should pick politicians that do that well. Sure you expect them to avoid certain wrong answers. But how do they avoid them? Do they make a political calculation? That is do they decide based on winning rather than justice? If so, then they are worse than those who decide based on a warped view of justice.

I must say the choices all look pretty poor when evaluated on this basis. I don't see any candidates that consistently make choices based on justice rather than winning. I guess that is because they don't win. Santorum seems to do so on social issues but not on issues of national security. There he seems to follow the polls. Paul seems interesting but I don't know enough about him. He seems a little unbalanced but I can't point out exactly why.

People elect the same old type of politician again and again but they always seem to want someone different. It is like we know these guys are not what we need but we don't demand better. Justice gets hard. Politicians mostly fold when anything gets hard. That is the problem with guys who are focused on winning. That is all they will accomplish is winning. But that problem is not just with the candidate. Many of the supporters have the "just win" mentality. They are not concerned with leaving behind a better society. At least not concerned enough to risk their political life for it. It is rare to find candidates like that. Santorum and Paul seem like the only guys out there who believe something strong enough to stick by it no matter the cost. Guys with that kind of courage can do great good or great harm. That is why we need to understand where they get their ideas about right and wrong.


  1. Remember Randy back in 2007 or 2008 we got into a disagreement about Bush and Obama?

    I'll say this: I hope Obama doesn't get re-elected. He's done harm in many ways and will do worse. The Republican contenders all have flaws but not as bad as him.

  2. I do remember. I would agree Obama has done harm. Has he done more harm than Bush? That is not obvious to me. Bush identified himself as an evangelical Christian. For most Americans that is the only kind of Christianity they consider. So every negative about Bush became a negative about Christianity. Bush is irrational. Christianity is irrational. Bush gets us into bad wars. Christianity leads to bad wars.

    For all Obama has done wrong he has not tarred the name of Jesus with his mistakes. I think all western democracies are on the wrong path spiritually. I am not convinces the US Republicans are any less bad. Maybe a bit. If they can actually get Roe v Wade overturned I will be impressed. Until they do something major like that I will remain skeptical that they are any more Christian. I believe it about a few Republicans. I just think many of them are playing political games. Getting Christian votes and giving them nothing in return.