Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Facebook Politics

I have a rule on my blog that I try very hard to avoid discussing or posting about politics. I have the same rule with my parishioners. The fact is not that I do not follow politics or have no personal opinions on the matter. I took quite a few political science classes in college and was a speech writer at the time for the local US representative, parts of which were used in a speech on the floor of the US House. So it is not like I am a political flyweight or, what I call, a politically avoidant personality.

I certainly do have political opinions; I certainly do read a lot of newspapers so I believe I am relativity well informed as Average Joe's go. I'm a registered independent, and I believe I always have been when I have lived in states where you have to list a political party preference when you register. In Tennessee, you do not have to list a party affliation when you register to vote because the primaries are open; so, there is really no point unless you specifically want to.

All that having been said, I reiterate that I do not like discussing politics either on my blog or with parishioners. I do this for two primary reasons (no pun intended). First of all, as a priest, I strongly believe I am misusing my office as priest/minister if I use it to beat my political hobby horse. Jesus was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, nor was he an American for that matter. I know many people who have trouble understanding that to say or believe otherwise is an historical anachronism.

I believe that in my role as priest, I have to be very careful what I say about politics, lest people think that because I as priest hold X political view or am supporting Y political candidate, then that is also how God wants that parishioner to vote. I have visited churches where this is that case, where to be a good Christian, you have to be a staunch Liberal Democrat or an avid member of God's Own Party (GOP).

I know a lot of good Christians who are ardent Democrats and I know a lot of good Christians who are ardent Republicans. I am personally quite fine with that ambiguity of American life, as my cardinal rule about religion and politics is "Salvation cometh not from politicians." I believe we are called to be good citizens, and as such, I believe my job as priest in this area is to get people to look at the moral and ethical implications of this or that policy and make as informed an opinion as possible. As Christians we should not turn out back on the political process nor be so controlled by partisan politics or vote solely on how certain clerical members of the Church say we should vote.

Yes, there are times and situations where the Church needs to step up and give clear moral guidance, but those are big issues. I don't believe the Church should be playing the heavy, so to speak, on petty political issues of which a vast majority of contemporary US politics revolve. (For instance, how many times was the actual number of the massive Federal debt mentioned at either major party convention much less how to solve the problem? Instead, the talking heads and convention reps are getting into a froth over Palin's daughter's illegimate pregnancy and Biden's partial plagarism in a speech some 20 years ago for which he has profusely apologized countless times.)

I believe both major parties have some good ideas, and both major parties have some outright crazy ideas. And having said that, I try very hard to weigh individual issues and individual candidates on their own merits. This is incredibly hard to do these days, due to the other primary reason why I really shy away from getting into political discussions.

That reason is that the culture of partisan rhetoric in this country is most unhealthy. People in both major parties yell and scream, villifying the other party as little more than the incarnate minions carrying out the designs of Satan himself. Most people I run into on a day to day basis simply cannot get into a political debate of any kind without it devolving into name calling and general petulant arrogance. I believe this irrationality and outright hatred of the "political other" is egged on by the talking heads on the 24-hour news channels and talk radio that ironically only find the time to analyze 10-second sound bytes over and over.

Also, I think the way in which many people get news today is a component of this toxic political atmosphere. The plethora of biased blogs and other inbred internet media can basically give people all the news completely slanted to their own political leanings. Objectivity and balance is not a virtue of American culture these days. If I am a rightist or a leftist, I simply read all the news from the rightist or leftist news outlets that are all too happy to villify their opponents, all the while being not bothered in the slightest to have to critically analyze my core assumptions on policy. This is illustrated in the following logical fallacy (and many members of both political parties do this): I am intelligent, therefore, if someone does not agree with me, they must be unintelligent, ill-informed, or both.

The logical outcome of having such a self-centered political worldview is: If they are unintelligent, I can disregard what they say out of hand. If they are ill-informed, I must try to change their mind by whatever means necessary.

No one takes the time to stop and think that maybe this is circular logic upon of which good political theory and policy is not made. For instance, people who hold such logic have trouble fathoming that two reasonally intelligent and informed people can come, quite legitimately, to different political conclusions or philosophies. That does not necessarily make one side "right" and the other side "wrong." That may be the case, but unless one engages any sort of dialogue or debate on any issue with humility and what used to be called Christian charity, you run the risk of becoming a political fundamentalist.

Likewise, few people these days in our culture stop to think that maybe, just maybe, they themselves might be the ones who are wrong. Our culture worships at the altar of rugged individualism, that the individual and individual choice is the end-all-be-all of human existence. If you don't believe me, go sit at a Starbucks or some such place and see what happens if some the store runs out of some bizarrely exotic type of product. Instead of simply ordering something else or taking the time to question if paying $6 for a cup of coffee is something I should be engaging in, reaction will always be something along the lines of "What do you mean you are out of it? I have to have my double mocha java cream latte with cinnamon and caramel sprinkles!" This is also known as "It's my way or the highway, bub!" The same is true in politics. I am right; you are wrong; no exceptions.

I believe that Christians are best serving as citizens and as emissaries of the mission of God to try and be the middle ground in the current polarized political climate in which we find ourselves. Name calling and cheap shots at political opponents simply fan the flames of political partisanship and do not add to constructive political discourse in this country.

I finally come to the point of this blog entry. I offer the following as an observation, please take it as such. I have noticed many friends on Facebook, and to a lesser extent on blogs, posting snide political comments is status updates. I know sarcasm and satire is politically en vogue these days. But, to my Christian readers, I offer some theological points to ponder: Are you really engaging in the Church's mission as emissaries of God's love and grace by engaging in bumper sticker sarcasm to score cheap shots for humor and political points? Is that really behaving constructively as an adult who made in the likeness and image of God?

Food for thought.

5 comments:

Jane Ellen+ said...

Amen, and amen.

luva79 said...

How can you not support and promote the pro-life candidate? I realize you do not want to ruffle feathers, but sometimes sticking up for what is right might take a little sacrifice. If Jesus had to choose a party do you really think he might consider the democratic party? The ones who promote homosexuality & gay marriage, abortion and all sorts of sexual sin? I think you need to stop being so politically correct because that is sending a message to your parish as well - that politics is relative, when in reality God should be the deciding factor especially regarding our leaders.

luva79 said...

How can you not support and promote the pro-life candidate? I realize you do not want to ruffle feathers, but sometimes sticking up for what is right might take a little sacrifice. If Jesus had to choose a party do you really think he might consider the democratic party? The ones who promote homosexuality & gay marriage, abortion and all sorts of sexual sin? I think you need to stop being so politically correct because that is sending a message to your parish as well - that politics is relative, when in reality God should be the deciding factor especially regarding our leaders.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Hmmm...well, that's a new one. I've been called a lot of things in my time, but politically correct has never been one of them. In fact, my seminary classmates would be greatly amused that this.

I've said it before and I will say it again, Salvation cometh not from politicians. I do not endorse the Democratic Party, as I don't whole hearted endorse the Republican Party.

I would ask you to clarify how exactly you think my primary stand for civil civic discord and not snide political bumper sticker sloganism is promoting a message that could interpreted as "politics is relative."

On the contrary, I think politics is very important and not relative at all, but fanning flames of political discord by saying and doing things that undermine Christian charity, even to people with political views different from our own, is neither furthering good public policy nor is it fostering a climate where people might reconsider their political stances.

luva79 said...

You know what? - it's not just you... it's most Christians I know as well. They are too afraid to say who they are voting for and why for fear that they will offend someone... well, look at the fight the liberals are putting up and we aren't saying anything - it's like we're giving up. It might be the choice between 2 imperfect men, but the morality of one of the parties far outweighs the other and the only hope for our country remaining democratic and free is going in the direction of people with moral values. Political relativity is the message you give when you don't take a stand either way - you are leader and thus should lead.