July 1, 2018
I had lunch the other day with a non-Catholic friend; I had a hard time keeping up with the news he wanted me to catch up on. He is a certified and proud ‘bleeding heart liberal’ who loudly bemoans and grouse’s about what he sees as a tendency in the USA toward isolationism, and privilege. You can imagine the details.
Ironically, he has dropped his former religious affiliation with a ‘hierarchical’, centrally organized denomination in order to join a small community of like-minded individuals committed to accepting everyone, without reference to creed, code or commitment to the group.
I asked him if he had shoes with two sets of toes so that he could face both directions at the same time. He did not see the humor in that! I think that we are still friends; I paid for lunch.
At the same time, I have to reflect on my own choices – political and religious. My own situation mirrors the irony I find in his; I incline to libertarianism in politics but a very firm centralization in religion. I like having a hierarchy, a book of laws and a body of doctrine. Now you know why I am such a mess!
Lest this become too much about me, let me ask: Do you recognize this same ‘duality’ in yourself? If not, why not?
To practice religion from a different stance than one’s political one may seem like hypocrisy. May be it is. But it may also be a humble endorsement of the truth that the rugged individualist’s self –reliance, -satisfaction, -directedness are as wrong as is a ‘religious’ totalitarianism.
With that proposition in mind, could it be that the best religion is the one that encourages personal responsibility and accountability, while the best political philosophy is the one that places the common good above every individual good? Could it be that a religion that allows a ‘silent majority’ to grow complacent in its silence and apathy has failed at its job? Could it be that a political party that considers it a victory when it wins with a bare 50+% of less than thirty percent of the electorate has actually become an oligarchy (plutocracy?) in a failed exercise in representative government? Or what of the vocal minorities who seek vindication in a 5/4 split in a court in a matter on which a whole community cannot find common ground?
I am not suggesting that plebiscites are what we need in Churches or that it is right that governments rise and fall with real minority endorsement at the polls. There is a level and a kind of participation that is appropriate to each of these human endeavors. The thought that they are in competition with each other arises from a ‘creedal’ approach to politics and an ‘activist’ understanding of religion. But pure religion or pure politics will ill serve a thriving pluralistic society. Religious abstention form voting dooms a nation to polarization and voting alone creates a ‘tyranny of the majority’ under which individual freedoms (especially the freedoms of assembly, speech and religion) wither.
Really and truly and bi-facially yours,
To be full participants in the life of the world we must seek the unity that religion encourages and encourage the responsible individualism that becomes a democracy. Not all will be happy, but all will be secure in their place in the world and their right to ‘live to fight another day”.