Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Religious Conflict

The political activity is heating up, on both sides.  In some quarters, the rhetoric is heating up to the point that I'm beginning to think there are only two things left that could tone it down effectively:  one would be a major religious revival (it would probably have to be bigger than the 1700s Great Awakening and the 1800s Second Great Awakening combined), the other a revival of the practice of dueling.  It would be nice to see a lot of our politicians get religion and turn into nicer people; the redneck in me thinks many of our politicians deserve to be used as targets, and reducing the numbers of the political class might well be beneficial.  Dueling in this country had a long history, and died out relatively recently.  Even Abe Lincoln was once challenged to a duel.  As the challenged party, Abe chose the weapons; and he picked sledgehammers in six feet of water.  His much shorter opponent nearly died of laughter, patched it up with Abe and they became good friends.

But the discussion is getting heated, and I think one of the reasons is that this is in part a religious conflict.  And I am not referring to the Christian Right, but about the Left side of the issues.  Years ago, probably in the early 1990s or possibly in the 1980s, James Dobson, despite his reputation in some circles as an intolerant bigot, had a couple of Orthodox Jews as guests on his program.  One was Dennis Prager, a columnist and talk show host, the other was Rabbi Daniel Lapin.  During their discussion, Lapin was asked why so many Jews were so liberal in their politics.  His response was that when a Jew drifts away from his ancestral religion, often he takes up a new one--liberal politics.  (G.K. Chesterton once remarked that when a man ceases to believe in God he does not believe in nothing, he believes anything.)

In recent years there have been some who commented on the religious frenzy associated with the global warming debate, but I think a case can be made that liberal politics is a type of religious system.  It has its dogmas:  "The poor" are always virtuous, and  "the rich" and "profits" (and those who receive them) are evil...Any problem requires government action to solve it, usually by spending money or passing a new law, or both (which is why the IRS Code is now past 60,000 pages--most Bibles are something like 1,200 pages or so)....  They have their various sorts of clergy:  politicians, academics, media figures, kind of like the various "orders" in the Roman Catholic church....And they have informal systems of penance and atonement, so that people like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates who have made a lot of money can absolve themselves by supporting liberal politicians and causes....And if you look at how they operate, they try to use guilt and shame to control people's actions, just like any other religious system--talking about what's "fair" (without giving any objective definition of "fair"), calling their opponents ugly names, and accusing them of wanting to bring back slavery and lynching and other nasty motives.  And like the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospels, they have their ways of overlooking certain sins of their own and harping on the sins of others.  (There's a local talk-show host who says he will believe in human-caused Global Warming when Al Gore sells his mansions, quits flying by private jet, and starts living like he says we all ought to live.)

Now I am sure someone out there who reads this will be thinking "But many of these people are Christians!"  And my question in return is "Are they Christians or just churchgoers?"  Just going to church is not guaranteed to make a person a Christian.  In my life I have known many people who were Baptists or Roman Catholics first, and Christians second; I have known some who were Christians first and Baptists or Catholics second.  I think some people need to decide whether they are Christians first and liberals second, or liberals first and Christians second.  The Ten Commandments starts out, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."  And Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters."

I do think it is possible for a person to be both a Christian and a liberal.  Back in the Nixon years, there was a Minnesota Congressman named Al Quie, who was a committed Christian.  He was also a liberal.  When he heard the news that Charles Colson had become a Christian in the middle of the Watergate scandal, at first he could not believe it.  But through a mutual friend he met Colson, became convinced his conversion was genuine, and stood by him as a friend through Colson's trial and imprisonment. They were on opposite sides of the political divide, but they became Christian brothers.

It is possible; but that incident was nearly forty years ago, and I'm afraid such things are both harder and rarer now.  There is a passage in C.S. Lewis' "That Hideous Strength" where Professor Dimble is explaining to his wife:  "If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family--anything you like--at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren't quite so sharp;and that there's going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous.  Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse:  the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing.  The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder."  This "sorting out" is still going on, and there are some of us, on both sides of the political divide, who are going to have to choose whether our Christian faith or our political "faith" takes priority.