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.

political Christianity

Let me open with an if/then statement.  If Christianity is anything more than B.I.B.L.E. (Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth), and I heartily believe it is, then it necessarily has to do with how the wholeness of life is played out in the here and now.  This means Christianity necessarily has a political component to it.  And here’s a yes/but statement.  Yes, there is vastly more to Christianity than politics, but it is not apolitical.

The sweeping Story of Scripture presents a Gospel that cannot be contained by any single political party, even a ‘Christian’ political party.  Indeed, the values and imperatives of Scripture cover pretty much the entire political spectrum.

The ‘right’ end of the spectrum will find its emphasis on personal responsibility affirmed and strengthened by Scripture.  Consider Proverbs 6:6-11 as motivation to as right-wing folk will say, “get off your rear and work as much as you can, and stop relying on the government.”

The left end of the political spectrum, with its convictions about basic rights and freedoms, will find just as much support from Scripture; from the golden rule of treating your neighbour as yourself, through to the more sharp and radical command to love your enemies.  Everything from social welfare, ecological preservation and non-violent pacifism have direct links to Scripture.

Even a controversial issue such as same-gender relationships finds the whole spectrum covered by Scripture.  Conservatives will find their convictions about sex, marriage and gender affirmed by passages which echo through in both the Old and New Testaments.  Progressives will find abundant biblical support for their passionate concern for the protection of the person-hood and identity of all regardless of any of their personal characteristics.

In addition to offering support all along the political spectrum, Scripture also offers subversion and opposition at all points as well.  To the arrogant ‘conservatives’ wanting to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus the ‘liberal’ steps in to defend her basic freedoms with non-condemning, patient love, whilst at the same time pointing a stinging finger at the hypocrisy of those who are more interested in shaming someone else for their sin than they are at humbly acknowledging their own.  To any and all at the progressive ‘left’ who slide into complacent and compromised affirmation of things that go against Scripture, Jesus represents someone who held to the authority of Scripture, even as he sought to direct people past erring traditional interpretations of it.  Jesus was not interested in building a theocracy to manipulate people into obedience, nor was there any ‘moving on’ from fundamental Jewish convictions to make the faith palatable.

In other words, the Gospel of Scripture is always big enough to offer both comfort and challenge to everyone.

domain of discourse (of fear)

I’ve obviously changed a lot since moving to NZ.  I hate how tooting-my-own-horn this sounds, but I like the changes.  Both my theological and political views have been sharpened.

I used to be a cookie-cutter, conservative, two-issue-voter (you know which ones), republican-Christian.  Now I’m a liberal-conservative (in a centred,  rather than fence-sitting way), wide-screen voter (because all issues are ‘moral’, not just two), moderate Christian.

What was involved in the change?  Well, I think I had to breathe different cultural air than I was breathing back in the buckle of the Bible-belt.  Only people without lungs are truly affected by trying to breathe underwater.  You only react to daylight when you suddenly step outside with eyes that have adjusted to the pitch black room you’ve been in.  You can see a lot better where you’ve been when you’re no longer there, but are somewhere along the trail looking back.

I think I was so regularly exposed to certain domains of discourse that I didn’t learn to critique the view I held.  This air I was breathing was hot with fear.   My wife and I tasted the tang of this fear when we visited the US a few years back and ‘ObamaCare’ was being discussed… no… damned… on Christian radio.  Now, I’m under no illusion that Obama or ObamaCare are without fault, but the simplistic and fear-inducing way in which both were demonised was just crazy to hear with fresh ears – having stepped outside the darkroom for a while, the pitch black was startling.  I’m opposed to abortion (save to save the mother, which isn’t really abortion), and wouldn’t like my tax  dollars funding one, but that seemed to be the crack in the system they were clinging to.   That, and the general paranoia about government getting too involved in our lives.  As many other countries can attest to (not least here in NZ), public healthcare can work quite well, and until the age to come, no system will ever be ethically and fiscally perfect.

And ‘government control’ also comes into the current gun control discussion.  It’s another discourse of fear.  I’m amazed at the paranoia of the countless imaginary people who these people have to defend themselves against.

I went for a photo shoot last night alone, and walked down some very dark and a bit spooky pathways.  For whatever reasons, I carry some of my childhood fear of the dark.  I imagine that someone could be laying in wait, under my car, ready to chop my legs off as I approach… etc.  You get the drift.  I caught myself planning out my response to this imaginary attacker.  “Take a camera stand to the face buddy!”  Now, I know that this precise form of attack has actually happened to some unfortunate souls.  But I want to make a point.

There will always be someone who is either more prepared or more equipped or has bigger or more guns or body armour than you.  If you spend your life in fear, ever-preparing yourself for what someone might do to you, then there’s a word for that: paranoia.

Now, some people in some places and times have more reason to be prepared for self-defense than others.  And that is one reason why I’m not for a total ban on all guns for all people.  But whilst a hand gun is a simple, relatively safe way for most to protect themselves, and whilst you can surprise an approaching attacker by pulling out a concealed weapon on them, you only have the element of surprise if you see them first!  Bottom line: as we develop our technology (including guns), the power will always be found in the hand of both criminals and non-criminals, and it often comes down to the element of surprise.  Which is why the whole thing is not about guns, but about paranoia, constant suspicion and fear.

rights and responsibilities

Three recent events, a complaint about a sermon, a movie about Margaret Thatcher and a FB conversation about gun laws, have me reflecting on the tendencies of ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’.  Both left and right folk will express concern for both ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’, but at different times.

On the topic of social welfare:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the poor/unemployed
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the poor/unemployed

On the topic of gun laws:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of gun owners
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of gun ownership/use

On the topic of war:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of all humans to have peace
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of defending peace

On the topic of abortion:
the left emphasise the ‘rights’ of the woman
the right emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of the man and woman

On the topic of ‘the environment’:
the right emphasise the ‘rights’ of individuals and businesses
the left emphasise the ‘responsibilities’ of individuals and businesses

In all of these scenarios, I am interested in embracing the tension between BOTH rights AND responsibilities.  I’m interested in BOTH short-term practicalities, AND long-term wisdom.

I’m interested in social policy that is both generous and sustainable – that avoids the extremes of too much or too little assistance, which (ironically) both end up cementing the poor in their poverty.

I’m interested in gun laws that are both practical and wise – that avoid the foolish extremes of taking guns away or assuming that no regulation is needed at all – both of which will end up causing harm.

I’m interested in a military policy that is both prepared to use force, and seeks to be accountable to human rights – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic and passive pacifism on one hand, and a short-sighted/arrogant agression on the other.

I’m interested in an abortion policy that is committed to the quality and quantity of life for both the pre-born human and the mother (and father, family…) – avoiding the extremes of an idealistic, legislate-heaven-to-earth, fantasy on one hand, and a careless, inhumane, abortion-as-contraception nightmare on the other.

I’m interested in environmental policy that uses both legislation and education to motivate people and businesses to care for creation – avoiding the extremes of avoidance and assumptions that all is OK on one hand, and aggressive, undemocratic pushing through of eco-laws on the other.

theory & practice

They’re meant to reinforce one another.

I just had lunch with a friend, and we talked about how much fun it was learning the 5 different fretboard patterns of pentatonic (five-tone) scales on the guitar.  When his practice was less developed, music theory had seemed boring and irrelevant to him, but now it was exciting and directly relevant.

It’s like this with just about anything you do, isn’t it?  There is a theoretical side to just about everything you can do.  Advanced mathematical formulae will help you do all kinds of science, but can seem irrelevant for the amateur lover of the natural world.  The study of history will aid healthy analysis of political swings and round-a-bouts, but can seem tedious to the armchair politician.  Etymology will help one choose the choicest words in your literary endeavors, but sound high-browed and lofty.  Analytic philosophy will help one to interact with ideas more efficiently, but sound like a pedantic waste of time.  Systematic theology will shape and enrich a life of worshipful obedience, but seem like detached speculation.

teleology & ethics

The word ‘teleology’ (from Greek τελος ‘telos’ – meaning ‘goal’, ‘end’, ‘purpose’ or ‘that toward which things tend’) is not a street-level term.  However, the concept of a purpose, goal, function or ‘end’ to things most certainly is.  It’s a common as anything.  Teleology is blindingly relevant.

Continue reading “teleology & ethics”

american millionaire stimulus?

Recent US stimulus package = nearly a trillion US dollars.

Compare that with a comment I randomly saw on this post:

10% of 10 million US millionaires’ funds = a trillion US dollars.

American millionaires investing in the American economy?  A novel concept indeed.

Full comment quote:

1 trillion is taking 10% of the net worth of ten million millionaires and yes 10 million millionaire households is about what we have in the United States as of 2009.

Oh my gosh, have we accidentally through the magic of math discovered how to stimulate the entire economy without increasing the debt to the tax payer? A one time flat tax, ooops I mean millionaire stimulus to invest in America, the wealthiest are known to spend the least hence lets re-allocate that money where it matters…

lol – now that is a joke, American millionaires investing in America.

((note: the comment below this one links to an article saying there are only 3 million millionaires in the US – but it’s still an interesting thought!))

stinking stimulus

Anyone who has a knee jerk (i.e. less than critical) reaction to political events in general and the recent U.S. stimulus package in particular, should shut up and think before ranting.

That said, I just don’t like the thought (much less the passing) of the new stimulus package (and I’m not at all anti-Obama – to be crystal clear).  $US838 BILLION – on what I can’t help but see as a kind of massively over-sized whallop to a horse that is eventually going to die.  Yes, I’m aware of the complexity to all this, and No, I don’t think there are any quick fixes.  But I still cannot understand or begin to support spending nearly a trillion dollars on trying to preserve the “American Way of Life” ™.

What kind of precedent are we setting for future generations?  What are we saying to the rest of the world – much of which is living in some mild or severe form of poverty; a different kind of poverty indeed to the ‘poverty’ some are facing in ‘developed’ nations around the world.

Some may think, “Oh, but financial prosperity for the ‘rich west’ will enable them to be generous to the ‘poor rest’…”  That kind of capitalistic mentality (a.k.a. ‘the rising tide will lift many small boats’) is utter Bull.  Greed does not engender generosity.

Instead of our bank account levels needing to go ‘up’, we need our standard of living to go ‘down’ to a realistic and sustainable place.  And as long as ‘going out and spending money to stimulate the economy’ is part of doing your ‘patriotic duty’, then I think I want to be unpatriotic.