political participation

In the first century, around the time of Jesus and the early Christian moment, there were at least ‘parties’ representing four types of Jewish response to the occupying presence and rule of the Roman empire. Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees and Pharisees.

Zealots and Violent Resistance

The Zealots were an expression of angry resistance to Roman rule. They were the guys with the daggers. This kind of posture gave rise to revolts like the Maccabean revolt and that of Simeon bar Kochba.

Essenes and Pure Isolation

The Essene solution was to distance and isolate. Remain pure and Messiah would come. The community of the Dead Sea Scrolls may well have been Essene.

Sadducees and Compromised Collusion

Sadducees were focused on Temple worship and were involved with political affairs, collecting taxes and seen to be compromised.

Pharisees and Strict Religiosity

Pharisees saw Law observance as everything, so they made sure they didn’t miss a single thing to do with kosher, sabbath or purity. Messiah will come

The Alternative Path of Jesus

The way and teaching of Jesus seems to avoid these violent, isolated, compromised or religious ways. Like the Pharisees, Essenes and Zealots the way of Jesus is opposed to the Roman way of life at many points. But unlike them it does not find the answer in religiosity, separation or violence. Like the Sadducees, Jesus seems to approve of participation in world affairs, but unlike them this is to be done in the context of faithfulness to God’s kingdom.

The Relevance for Contemporary Politics

As Christians who live and vote in countries where Christian influence is not as strong as we would like, and not as accepted as it has been. Elections seem to be a time where this is felt acutely in the Christian community. I reckon there are some interesting parallels with the first century situation.

Our anger may not get as violent as the Zealots, but it’s really evident in the way we attack politicians in media and social media.

Our isolation may not be as physical as the Essenes, but we often disengage – often choosing not to vote or critiquing from a distance.

Our compromise may be different from the Sadducees, but some are far too comfortable supporting certain parties and candidates.

Our religiosity may not be as exacting as the Pharisees, but we do not hesitate to point out how immoral and sinful the culture is.

What would the way of Jesus look like?

Jesus knew it was going to be difficult. So difficult he prayed for us to know his life and sustenance as we strive to be in the world, not out of it, and not of it. Isolation may be the answer in a crisis but not the default posture of the Church. He also gave some really relevant teachings. He said we’d be like sheep among wolves, and told us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. He also knew that if we ‘give’ or ‘cast’ our holy pearls to pigs and dogs, they will not treat us or our pearls with respect. Perhaps we should be cautious in trying to get the nations laws to reflect our values.

We get some glimpses of this balance in Acts and the Epistles. Paul’s posture and language at Athens and before Felix, Festus and Agrippa is markedly different from what he includes in his letters to fellow believers who share his values. We are told to fear God and honour the Emperor. Nowhere do we see the Church clamouring to change Roman law. Rather, in season and out of season, with great political influence or with little or none, the way of Christ seems to be more about word and action than position or status. The Early Church was profoundly affecting society with its care of orphans and widows long before Emperor Constantine converted (and later Christianized the Empire). In fact, you can argue that Constantine’s gift of power actually weakened the Church’s witness. Love and Political power are a tough mix.

So Christians should vote, should discuss issues and should seek to influence the world. But we have to be so careful about political power plays. It is so easy to do more harm than good.

against the flow

another ‘free will’ post came to mind.

Whether or not you believe that ‘free will’ is illusory or not, there seems to be an agreed spectrum from, say, rock to Raymond, when it comes to apparent capacity for self-determination: to determine one’s own action.  Rocks are utterly a slave to physical forces or agents other than themselves; being forced into rock walls or river beds.  Raymond however, though his father’s vocation may affect his choice, determines for himself whether he will be a rock wall builder or a fresh water biologist.

Somewhere in the middle would be plants and animals.  Plants ‘choose’ to grow toward the sunlight, apparently.  And animals can ‘choose’ a mate, etc.  I believe I’ve correctly applied the quote-marks around ‘choose’, because as far as we know, the plant and animals are ‘going with the flow’ of the biological and cultural pressure that presses upon them.

Humans at least appear to be able to swim at or hold their heads above, the surface and breathe the air of self-determination.  Rather than being entirely determined by others, we can choose to reject a religion, a meal, a person, an idea, or life itself ((I don’t think suicide occurs in the animal or plant worlds?)) .  A few observations:

  • As a rock cannot choose to be this or that colour, we cannot choose to, for example, fly or levitate.  So we’re talking about possible choices, not impossible ones.
  • Whilst our heads are above the water, our bodies are under water.  We don’t consciously choose to distribute blood throughout the circulatory system, or say to our toenails, ‘Grow!’
  • We easily (and regularly) slip beneath the surface.  Sleep, for example, takes us under.  By contrast, whilst sleep is a refreshing, re-fuelling, humane subconscious state, getting drunk or taking meth-amphetamines pulls you under in a most dehumanising way.  I’ve been drunk many times in my life (particularly if not entirely between ages 18-20!).  There were periods that I don’t remember at all.  These points I was blurring the line between human and non-human.  My ability for self-determination was decreased to the point of nearly vanishing.
  • In light of the above, some macro-choices seem to set up subsequent micro-choices.  The macro-choice to get drunk (itself preceded by choosing to drink ‘one more’… and ‘just one more’…) will lead to all manner of other, progressively less self-determined (!!) micro-choices – including choosing to drive home sleepy and drunk (as I did at least once!!).
  • Because individual self-determining humans do not exist in a vacuum, there will be all kinds of influence from others (and circumstances) upon this self-determination.  Though a) the mere presence of influence does not determine how the influence will be responded to (the flow of influence may be yielded to or opposed), and b) the mere presence of influence on the chooser does not mean that the choice made is unreal; even an experiment where a subject must ‘choose’ the mathematical equation that is balanced is still a choice, though entirely prescribed.
  • In the same way, I see no reason that the ability to predict a choice means that it is not an actual, real choice.