Saturday, 21 July 2012

False Gods of Our Time 2: Politics

Politics is essential, of course.  As man is made to live in community, we must have ways to organise and govern ourselves, and that is the essence of politics. In particular, it is the art of recruiting people to a particular point of view or programme of action, in order to advance it.  
It is potentially a noble art, and has indeed had many noble exponents. It is also, when corrupted, potentially very evil, but that is not the aspect I wish to focus on here.

Rather, as with my previous post on Choice, I wish to consider the problems that arise when we elevate politics from being something important to being the only important thing.

I think there are at least three types of problem that arise from this:

One is that people start to see everything through political lenses.  Thus we read of issues in the Church being of the right or of the left.  That is usually a flawed analysis, which not only oversimplifies ecclesiastical issues, but also reduces theological discussion to politics.  The C of E’s current discussions around ‘women bishops’ are enmired in politics, for example.  Likewise social issues are debated at an incredibly superficial level along almost tribal political lines: private education is ‘bad’ if you are on the left, and ‘good’ if you are on the right - often with no pause to consider what education is meant to be, what the Church teaches us about it, and what kinds of private and state education we are actually comparing.  Further, any idea proposed by political opponents is automatically seen through a prejudicial mist of suspicion, with an eye to making political capital out of presenting it in as unsympathetic light as possible, regardless of any real merit it may have.  That then leads to all the dishonesty of spinning that has helped bring politics into serious disrepute.

A second is that people start to behave from political motives when spiritual motives are required.  I have come across a number of instances recently, particularly in discussions re abortion and euthanasia, where some things are deemed unsayable or undiscussable for fear of the way in which those with a different agenda might manipulate the debate.  I would rather that the criterion we use is truth. If some truths are open to misunderstanding, there is a second-level question about how to put them across, but to say we should not say something we know to be true because it may be used against us strikes me as wrong-headed.

The third is that people get so attached to political theories and indeed political causes or alignments that they treat religious and moral issues as secondary, where they should be primary.  Thus they end up doing all sorts of harm in the pursuit of political goods: they attach themselves to (and justify themselves by) the notion that a mandate from the people justifies a whole programme of action, when it is just as likely to be an expression of fed-upness with the other scoundrels.  So we get disastrous policies for the most vulnerable in society, such as children in need of adoption, in pursuit of some sort of political ideology; we are witnessing the progressive destruction of the institution of marriage as a result of a number of policies, each seemingly benign in intent, and so on - because the big moral questions have been obscured by the political questions.

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