How Faith Impacts My Politics

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Philosophy

This is the every-four-year political process of selecting the next president of the United States.  This year, it seems more partisan than usual.  After a grueling primary contest among Republican candidates, we now enter the season of high politics.  One of the interesting things to me is the impact of religious belief on both ends of the spectrum, liberal and conservative.  It has led me to reflect on how my faith impacts or colors my particular views.

First, let me identify the biases I am aware of.  I attend a protestant Christian church regularly.  I have belonged to several different protestant denominations in the course of my life. Christian (Disciples of Christ), Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, and Methodist.  I have worked closely on civic projects with Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.  I grew up close friends with two other kids, one Jewish, the other active in an Independent Southern Baptist church.  I have worked closely with professional staff I supervised that are from India, Vietnam, China, Egypt, as well as  Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans and European Americans.  Among my work associates were gay men and lesbian women.  I have also worked with wealthy as well as the poor.  With the poor, I have worked through service agencies as well as personally as a Social Security Payee, helping a person who needed assistance managing their money.  I spent the first eleven years of my working career as a high school mathematics teacher of mostly advantaged young people and the rest of my working career as a manager in computer related activities.

This exposure to the diversity of cultures, beliefs, practices, sexual orientations, wealth and poverty form an experience based model I have of the various world views.  While I may not feel compelled to act based on reference to scriptural commandments, I never the less find value in the stories, good and bad, that reflect on the nature of what it means to be human,  including how as humans we can be corrupted by greed, and lust.  We can also be corrupted  by a belief in the scriptures of one’s faith even in the face of other scriptures that are also supposed to be “God’s word”.  This indeed creates complexity.  Even in those who claim to be Christian, who claim to read from close approximations of the same scripture, we come away from that experience, with the helpful guidance of “professionals”, with different interpretations.

So, although I am not a literalist with regard to any scripture, I never the less see scripture as reflections of humans who struggle with understanding moral values.  It is just that I don’t think that process is over.  I believe we are still in the process of discovering what it means to be human.  Slavery is one example, once acceptable, but now almost universally condemned.  Today we see a changing understanding of sexual orientation and the conflict this change in understanding creates tension in relationship between the new and the old.

All scriptures that I am aware of call on human beings to be compassionate, to care for the poor, for the widows and orphans.   This forms the basis or my political leanings as well.   I come from a belief that it is in personal relationships, and in community that we thrive.  I look at society and see that it is all interwoven.  There may have been a time when a person or family could live in isolation from all other humans and be completely self sufficient, depending on no one. The Western American frontier comes to mind, but even those at the remote edge of modern civilization were dependent on others for survival.  I think it is an illusion that one can be independent of others, especially today.  I see us living in a highly interdependent society where no one can rightfully claim to be “self made”.  There are factors such as dumb luck, fortunate timing, family support, inherited financial resources or genetics  that give advantage to some.  I bristle when I hear someone claim their success was all their doing and that the lack of success of others was simply the result of their poor decisions.

This is not to say that some people aren’t naturally talented, mentally advantaged, lucky in their birth and support as children growing up.  I believe that when life deals you advantage that responsibility comes with it.  I don’t believe in social Darwinism, that those who are disadvantaged just need to accept their place in a social structure in which they are destined to be a part of a lower class.  I believe that society depends on there being systems that encourage us all to seek an equitable society, not one in which some experience great advantage while others languish without those advantages.

This grounds me in a judgement about extreme wealth, whether it be of corporations or people/families.  That judgement tells me that extreme wealth can breed corrupting influence on society as a whole.  For that reason, I support initiatives that result in greater equity in the distribution of wealth, in policies that make it difficult for greed to gain advantage.  I look for influences that encourage the responsibility of those with advantage toward those who are disadvantaged.  I object to systems that by their nature restrict the masses from being able to live without the health robbing stresses caused by lack of adequate food, housing, education, leisure, hope and fair opportunities for personal improvement.

When I look at today’s political parties, I see them both corrupted by the influence of unreasonable financial demands of our current electoral process.  I recoil at the idea that a corporation, potentially immortal, having the same advantage of a living person but without the consequences.  I object to the trend of our capitalistic system to create wealth on the back of people’s personal suffering and debt, whether it be in housing, credit cards, or student loans.  The concept of “too big to fail” is repulsive.  No organization should be so large powerful and wealthy that they are risk free because our government will bail them out if they screw up.  And as a people, we are negligent when we are willing to bail out our corporations, but not many innocent people who were not as directly responsible for the collapse of our financial systems.

I see our problems through the lens of equity.  We have lost our way.  We have allowed money and greed by us (even me) all to attack the foundations of a healthy community, to make a society where wealth makes right.  It is probably obvious that I am liberal in my views, but I also have serious doubts the political process makes decisions on that basis, more on the basis of who has the money to keep them in office.  I don’t think it makes any difference who the next president will be.  Who ever it is, they will most likely be beholding to wealthy supporters.  I think it will take an American Spring kind of uprising before anything gets back into better balance and we live in a more civil and equitable society.  I just hope it can be a non-violent kind of uprising.  That takes hard work.  I hope we are up to it.

  1. Alex Jones says:

    Its a shame with your two party system that you only get a limited choice of two people, that is the two who will ever likely get in, and they generally are little different from each other when in office.

  2. […] How Faith Impacts My Politics ( […]

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