Your politics is not Christianity

No matter what you think; no matter what your favorite pundit tells you; no matter what the majority of your friends believe; no matter if you are Right, Left, Center, or Other:
Any word you can tack “ism” to the end of is a potential idol. Anytime you add a hyphen to the word “Christian” (Christian-hyphen-whatever, or Christian-slash-Whatever) you nibble away from the significance of “Christian.”

Whether election season or not, this wonderful insight from Thomas Merton remains relevant:

…on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the “opium of the people.” And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system – when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate…his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything, [his] God is the status quo.

Taken from Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, available cheap, used or on Kindle. Merton was, by the way, strongly in favor of political activism, as am I; but not religion as the appendage of a political ideology.

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  1. Thanks SO much, Gary. It’s so rare (unfortunately so) that I see such a solidly articulated Christian blog that has not fallen alongside such earthly matters that have led so many believers to the wide, easy path which leads to destruction.

    • You’re very kind, brother, may God help us all! Gary

  2. I’m quite agree with this post, I think that political-religion union distorts the will of God until the point of occurrence manipulation, intolerance, and injustices.
    That’s the spirit of Constantine the Great, the roman catholic church, and even some suppossed reformers.
    Therefore the inquisitions were the result of the unión of goverments and Rome and they create a monster that devored men and women.

    • Thanks Felix. I have a blog post on Constantine the Great by the way, in which I deal with what is true and what is legendary about him.

      • Mr Shogren, It’s sensible trust in some politicians that called themselves o they are call christians?
        It is intelligent to put our trust in flesh or dust?
        Don’t you believe that some politicians use the deception to win the favor of the people?
        Thank you for your atention,and God bless you!

        • Yes, some politicians are deceptive about their Christian faith. Gary

  3. Thomas Merton authored “The Seven Storey Mountain”, an autobiography of Faith. In Part Two- The Waters Of Contradiction he opens with a fascinating statement about believers – God called to Himself and to the promised land which is participation in His own Life-that lovely and fertile country which is the life of grace and glory, the interior life, the mythical life. Good words for those who hear and obey but what about for those who hear them without understanding or response? Enter another Frenchman like Merton- Baron de Montesquieu who assisted in the writing of the US Constitution and wanted freedom and tolerance. He knew that man is an intelligent being created by an intelligent God. The difficulty we have as Christians concerning politics in modern day America, is that our US Constitution was meant for a wholly moral nation. We could argue that our morals are being diluted and forgotten particularly by enemies of the Church as well as by our own sinful nature. What to do? Should we be quiet, pay our tax and subject ourselves to the authority of Country and institutions of the world? No I think not-not totally, for evil to prevail- a good moral man simply needs to do nothing. By the way-Lincoln and Eisenhower were Godly men put in position by God in such a time as to best direct and preserve this great country. If this is a true statement: then why should churchman be silent on Spiritual, intellectual or political matters today?

    • Hi Barry, greetings.

      I must say, I think you completely misunderstand my point. Churchmen should by no means be silent on any issue of the day. That was Merton’s firm belief as well, as I point out.

      I find the idea that Lincoln was a godly man an interesting claim. I respect the spirituality of any person, but reserve “godly” to those who know God through the atonement of Christ. And redemption through Christ is, I believe, reserved to those who believe in the Redeemer Christ, not simply those who admire the ethics of Jesus. Perhaps you disagree with me on that.

      My impression is that Lincoln may have (indeed probably) become a Christian in the closing days of his life, but he was clearly not up until then. The problem is that Christians pick and choose the national leaders they like – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, even Trump – and then put the “Christian” label on them, despite plenary evidence to the contrary (less skeptical Deist, more skeptical Deist, deeply skeptical, and sui generis, respectively). As I said, this cheapens the meaning of the adjective “Christian” and dilutes what effect we might have on political life.

      Christians also tend to believe that politicians they like were put there by God, but politicians they don’t like, well, were not apparently. I find that a difficult theological position to maintain.

      Thanks for visiting! Gary

  4. I think that the contemporary U.S. has not known or has forgotten an axiom which the founding fathers knew and understood, and that is that the whole of life is religious in nature. Politics is merely an out working of one’s religious view(s). We may call it a worldview. When human government is elevated to the place which belongs to God, the Creator, man always creates a tyrannical ruling culture. In my studies, I have not found any of the founders who discouraged people from discussing religion and politics. I think this was because of their understanding that religion controlled one’s actions to a large degree. We have bought into the idea that religion pertains somehow to thinking which involves God and is personal but government is always and should always be devoid of any religious content. This is simply not the case. Government endeavors to establish a morality. Morality was recognized by the founders as being established by God, the Creator.

    • Ron, hi!

      I would never say we shouldn’t discuss religion and its relationship to politics. I certainly hope that’s not the impression I have given. The Thomas Merton quote in fact is taken from an argument in which he strongly presses for politics that reflect the faith.

      Nor am I displeased in the least – far from it – by those whose politics is a careful reflection of their religion. That doesn’t mean I agree with their religion – Protestant Evangelical Christianity is not the only one! – or their politics. I think Hillary Clinton’s politics is closely aligned with her mainline Methodist faith, for example. Thomas Jefferson’s politics too were aligned with his “religion” – meaning he fought for disestablishment of the Protestant church and rights for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, atheists that equaled those of Protestants. Slave owners and segregationists argued that their views were not only consistent with, but mandated by, their faith; and also argued that federal governments (Lincoln, Eisenhower) were “tyrannical” and usurping the place of God by opposing their politico-religious viewpoints. There are people whose version of Islam does include violent jihad, and people whose version of Islam does not. Again, one has to recognize their inner consistency, if not agree with their specific opinions. All to say that “religion in the public sphere” is not definitely, or even likely, going to lead to results that you and I would be happy with.

      I object to when a person’s evangelical faith is a mere echo or aspect of their politics, the tail wagging the dog. And that’s what I think has done serious damage to Christianity in America.

      As far as American political history goes, I don’t find that religion is divorced from politics in 2016 more than it has been in the 45 years or so in which I have listened to political discourse. Who articulated how their faith affected their politics in JFK v. Nixon? LBJ v. Goldwater? Nixon v. McGovern? Bush pere v. Dukakis? I can’t recall anything, apart from JFK saying his faith would not affect his policies; this is my subjective impression, of course. But I do remember faith claims as a factor in 2000, 2008, 2016, to name the three elections where something specific comes to mind. Both Trump (http://religionnews.com/2016/06/08/trump-tackles-who-is-jesus/) and Clinton (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/30/politics/clinton-faith-private/), let alone all the also-rans, spoke of how their faith would affect their policies.


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