Sunday, October 19, 2008

How Not to Vote

It’s a tough decision this election. A lot of the friends I’ve asked still haven’t decided. I’ve shared their frustration. I find my inclinations to be “gut feelings” instead of informed opinions. I wonder if gut feelings are typically the voter’s guide.

There is plenty of discussion about not voting too. Al Hsu reviews a book about it at The Suburban Christian. Dave Fitch is arguing for it at Reclaiming the Mission, but he’s been challenged on it. Stanley Hauerwas entertained the idea in a recent interview with The Other Journal. But others believe voting to be a God-given civic (even sacred) duty.

The Economist published a series of articles on the major election issues, and it seems even-handed and without an obvious bias (i.e., “fair and balanced”). The Economist is a British magazine, so it’s less entrenched in U.S. political biasism. Its conclusion is a good, brief summary. If you don’t read anything else, read that, but each of the articles in the series is also very readable and worthwhile. If you’re like me in the gut feelings predicament, I encourage you to feed your brain from The Economist’s menu.

The Economist neatly layed out for me the major issues of this election: economic plans for the economy, health care, energy and the environment, values, foreign policy (including Iraq and Afghanistan), regulation and trade, education, crime, immigration, and the candidates themselves.

These categories they had given me were, according to them, the most important election issues I should consider. But I realized that I should be receiving my priorities from elsewhere: What priorities does Jesus expect me to vote for, and would his priorities be achieved through these platforms?

Essentially, what I’m saying is, before I can form an opinion about any election issue or political platform, I need to understand what Jesus promotes.

As one example, someone asks Jesus what the most important command is from the Law of Moses. Jesus responds, “Love God. Love people.” Okay, so how does that priority inform my stances on, say, foreign policy or on immigration? Does it at all? Maybe Jesus’ priorities can’t be achieved by a governmental body at all. Can a governing body relate to God or to people and love them? If not, then what does it matter who I vote for or what the government does?

Well, I think most would agree that government action does affect the individual and how the individual relates to others and even to God (consider China). But the translation from “Love God. Love people.” to my stance on tax cuts for the rich versus the poor may not be so clear cut.

Loving God and people is something I can get my arms around and act on. Meanwhile, figuring out how to accomplish it with my vote seems much more complex, and less certain to succeed. Yet, having been bombarded by an election that has lasted nearly 2 years on the 24-hour news stations, it’s easy to misalign my priorities with the pundits and believe that when I exit that polling booth on November 4 I can go home and wait for the results.


Jesse said...

I like.

Anonymous said...

great thoughts! i'm with you all the way. ultimately Jesus' priorities were loving people, not establishing his perfect kingdom here on earth. something to think about. it's been a tough, but very prayerful and thought-provoking election year thus far.

Ben Brandenburg said...

A splendid post Adam!

For about six months this former W. staffer has thought about not voting for President, which I believe can be a very principled position.

For what’s it’s worth I voted (absentee) for BHO because he will practically do more on the abortion issue (Doug Kmiel); he's actually more of a conservative than McCain in a classical sense--think prudence (Andrew Bacevich); and his view of the world as one that happens to be remarkably peaceful is correct, and ultimately the pivotal issue because McCain view of the world as a dangerous place in need of a good dose of American militarism is clearly not in American interest--Christian or otherwise(Fareed Zakaria).

Ben Brandenburg said...

Two quibbles. One minor. One major.

1. The Economist is partisan in an underhanded British way. It's the world's most influential advocate of globalization and free-market economics, and it’s also partial to a world led by Anglo-Americans. So in a global sense, it’s quite conservative. But that is not necessary a criticism of the supermag. I just think it’s worth remembering that even Obama’s policy prescriptions are remarkably conservative in a global sense.

2. I think you forget about the otherworldliness of the Christian faith. You write: "Essentially, what I’m saying is, before I can form an opinion about any election issue or political platform, I need to understand what Jesus promotes." You add some skepticism on that position--"Maybe Jesus’ priorities can’t be achieved by a governmental body at all"--but still, this position suggests that one needs to--in Jim Wallis' morbid words--understand "God's Politics". More and more, I'm convinced that the Bible has nothing to say about government and politics. Christianity, I think, is all about a radically countercultural faith that places its hopes in the resurrection and the return of Christ. To me, it seems, the Bible could care less about the merits of a Monarchy, Communism, Republic, or Democracy—let alone limited or expansive government. I do think the Scriptures give ample warnings about the dangers using religious arguments for political purposes. I say, let politics beget politics and faith beget faith. In other words, I think Christians should attempt to reason out policy positions using secular/temporal reasoning and not adulterate the otherworldly power of the gospel with these mundane matters.

That said, my position, which happens to be a very Augustinian/Lutheran perspective (Christ and Culture in Paradox) has its own set of problems—including that little one about the 1930s German Lutheran’s standing by as Hitler rose to power—but I’ve become really convinced in the last few years in the beauty of an otherworldly faith. As for the politics, it’s worth remembering that we live in a Secular Age—as in Latin for Temporal—so we might as well think about the election on Nov. 4 in that manner as well.

Am I way of base here?

Adam said...

Ben –

You flatter me to assume that I am familiar with the ideas of Kmiel, Bacevich, and Zakaria. I am not so well read but am glad that my reputation would suggest otherwise.

On The Economist, you are correct. I do not doubt that they will endorse BHO. But on the whole they are not unapologetically biased. They attempt a certain objectivity with their reporting, unlike much of the news in the US—but the flack that is generating is finally getting some traction.

On the otherworldliness of the Christian faith, I cannot help but consider your arguments in light of the Incarnation. Even as it was absolutely necessary, God did not see fit for Jesus to only enter the heavenly throne room to sacrifice himself for our sins. He decided that Jesus must live on earth for some reason, and to interject himself in the human struggle.

“The Bible has nothing to say about government or politics” only if Jesus’ life has nothing to say about the human struggle. Every man has a will by which he governs himself (and by which he often tries to govern others). Every man has his own agenda, which makes him a politician. Jesus by being similarly a man speaks directly to our volition and our selfishness, both in his teachings and in his living.

As for Government and Politics (capitalized), perhaps Jesus said nothing direct. But they are not divorced from the volition and power of the individual, though neither are they identical to them. Further, Jesus established an institution of his own, one which governed the relationships between individuals, and the policies governing that institution should not be so quickly segregated in our thinking by calling them “otherworldly.” For it is certainly not that. Its policies may, in fact, apply to our Government more than we have come to believe.