My Cartesian Moment: How I Got Repoliticized December 19, 2017

After I became a Christian in 1973, I lost interest in politics for a while.  Partly, I was learning about new dimensions of reality above and below the earthly that were fascinating.  But also, the view that I was getting from the classical Protestant world at the time, through Bill Gothard, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and such, was one that did not inspire interest.  It must be remembered that large parts of Classical Protestantism are heavily oriented to world missions, and in that day mission tended to be oriented to what I call Great Commission Utilitarianism:  get people saved and discipled, and everything else will take care of itself.  Wycliffe’s and SIL International’s view of politics was that every prevailing form of government, from democratic to kleptocratic, was ordained by God and was to be obeyed when it did not command us to sin.  [I still think, reluctantly, given my rebellious nature, that this is true.]  This is a view that has little in common with today’s Religious Right or Religious Left.

As I might have said before, it was the attack on the Santa Ana Rescue Mission in the late 1970s that awoke me to politics again.  It was declared to be ‘blight’ and to be removed from the city.  As Descartes doubted everything but could not doubt that he doubted, I could not doubt that I thought the city government should not, in a just and democratic society, have the right to do that.  And I sort of rebuilt my political convictions from there.  Among them:

1. Justice sometimes requires the limitation of government authority, over property and other things.  As I would put it now, freedom may not be the first Christian value, but it is hard to have justice without a measure of freedom.

2. ‘Big Government’ must be opposed at the local level and not merely in Sacramento and Washington DC.  ‘Local Control’ is a lesser evil, but only because you don’t have to run as far to escape.

3. The interests of the ‘common good’, or at least what gets defined as the ‘common good’, are not always in sync with the interests of those people in whom Jesus took a special interest:  the poor, the crippled, the excluded and marginalized [the tax collectors weren’t poor].  In fact, I’m not sure that Jesus was seen as ministering to the ‘common good’!

This puts me at odds with a lot of political philosophy on the right and on the left.

3 Comments
George 01/09/2018

Now I am thoroughly confused. Are you opposed to all resistance theory, or do you only accept resistance where things like eminent domain from “big” government are involved — and just in democracies? Is it really a democracy if property is routinely taken, or people enslaved? If one’s country is sliding into kleptocracy, it is not a sin to go along with that — or to be a kleptocrat?

Let’s take a specific example: a city of 10 million people, mostly desperately poor native Muslims ruled by a succession of colonists, despots, and foreign non-Muslim, nominally Christian kleptocrats. The city is sinking below sea level. There is no planning, and very little infrastructure — were the rising sea to be walled out fully, the harbor would become a sewage lagoon. Streets and rivers are close to that description. The kleptocrats routinely “evict” poor people and engage in mass “slum clearance” to further their own development plans, including an alternative gated city down the coast. A new Orange County, California they call it. Some of the kleptocrat developers are generous donors to Christian colleges in “old” California. What’s the path to justice there?

Howard Ahmanson 01/28/2018

You’re talking about Jakarta, Indonesia, aren’t you? Mayor Ahok got put out and then under house arrest, unfortunately more on religious issues than what you describe.

George 02/11/2018

Yes Jakarta. I thought I could not have been clearer about the “religious issues” there, which are not compartmentalized away from the material-economic ones.

Jakarta’s government is notorious for using eminent domain against the poor (who are Indonesian Muslims) to the benefit of the rich (Indo-Chinese who are not Muslim) in precisely the ways you found unjust in LA: big government squashing the little people with eminent domain.

So when the Muslim poor increasingly align with a political party that attends to housing and other basic needs where their government has abandoned them, is this not the just outcome of the people seeking the common good and limiting government?

Ahok is not terribly relevant here, but I doubt he would have been charged with blasphemy, not re-elected, and jailed if he was seen as substantially aligned with the basic interests of the people who essentially deposed him. His political opposition didn’t become Islamic nationalists because they just realized he’s not Muslim.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.