Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Politics and the Apocalypse

Some time ago I blogged on “covenant path marking,” which is the use of a specific practice as a litmust test for covenant faithfulness. Politics, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court hearings for Alito, has succumbed to the same practice. It seems fairly evident to most reasonable folks that, for the Democrats, how one stands on the Roe v. Wade decision is determinative of a person’s character and capacity to judge and potential rulings on former decisions spell apocalyptic doom or millennial hope. Now John Kerry claims we’ve got an “ideological coup” about to occur. And all kinds of apocalyptic warnings are being fired through the media. Republicans are quietly waiting for the final vote to announce triumph.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, way back in 1841 when Abe Lincoln was still splitting wood and learning the lawyer’s trade and gearing up for an apocalyptic fight with Stephen Douglas, himself cut a path through these political impasses between what he called the party of “Conservatism” and the party of “Innovation.” He says these two parties “have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made.”
He continues: “On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.”
The Conservative Party, he observes, “clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact.” And: “Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory. Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry.” Emerson’s being poetic here; I think I get what he is saying. Conservatives look to the past; Reformers turn their back on the past.
And Isaiah Berlin, in his classic essay on Leo Tolstoy, who had his own apocalyptic moments, said there are two kinds: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs can concentrate on only one thing; foxes spend their days being divided between hunting and hiding and snooping and snarfing. Berlin said Tolstoy was a fox who dreamed like a hedgehog. Perhaps so. What is so is that our politicians are mostly hedgehogs. Hedgehogs, to combine our ideas, are given to apocalypses because they focus too narrowly on one thing.
Increasingly, I find myself in this dilemma: I love the riposte and the struggle of political debates and the hedgehog clarity is refreshing at times; I try to assess both sides like the fox; but I tire of apocalyptic pronouncements based on hedgehog fidelity to “path markers” of genuine democracy. Just a few years back, the Republicans declared the USA was about to fall into the abyss, and Tim LaHaye’s books started selling to salve the conscience that somehow God would have to straighten it all out. Now the Democrats, who don’t have an apocalyptic prophet to write their stories, are worried we’re all gonna end up with TV cameras in our living and bed rooms while the Big Fella in DC watches our every move. Hooie!
We don’t need fiction. Politics is good enough. Politics has so many passionate moments of real stuff — until it comes to the prophecies.

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Duane Young

posted January 27, 2006 at 6:32 am

Someone somewhere suggested that a fundamentalist is one who takes a partial truth and declares it the complete truth. What a nation of fundamentalists we have become!

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Scott M

posted January 27, 2006 at 8:03 am

Hmmmm. I did notice that so much focus was on Roe v Wade. I don’t believe that particular precedent matters much at all anymore. If the regulation of abortion is returned to the states, the vast majority will still retain legal abortions. In all the loud and ongoing noise and emotion, I think most people trumpeting the loudest have failed to notice that our country has inexorably changed. While most people believe abortions are wrong (who wouldn’t?), they are also not inclined to make them illegal. So instead, we will have a patchwork quilt of rules and regulations with it actually becoming illegal in a relatively few states (all with neighbors where it is readily available). As I listen, it seems as though those who have lived their lives immersed in the evangelical subculture are unaware of how much the country has changed in the past thirty plus years. Whatever happens in the courts and legislatures, I don’t get the sense that political action is the best way to approach the problem of abortion.
The area of concern I have with Alito is in another area that did not receive much attention or exploration. His views on an almost unlimited executive authority, that surfaced here and there and are evident in past opinions, is consistent with that of Scalia and Thomas and possibly of Roberts as well. And that creates the risk of tilting
our checks and balances toward the executive in precisely the way those who framed our constitution feared. And once established, of course, any future executive will assert the same power. It’s important that the principle that the executive must obey the laws of Congress be maintained. The danger to a democracy is mostly not from without, it’s from within.

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Scot McKnight

posted January 27, 2006 at 8:08 am

Scott M,
I’ve heard plenty of fear that Alito will provide the counter-weight to overturn Roe v. Wade often; I’ve also heard the executive leaning.
The first just could happen; the second almost certainly couldn’t and seems to be what I’m calling apocalyptic. My read; but I’m no politician.

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Scott M

posted January 27, 2006 at 8:20 am

I’m not a politician either and I’m not deathly afraid the end of our democracy is near. I just would have preferred less noise on Roe v. Wade and “privacy” (which seems to be a code word for the same thing when it’s used in these settings rather than the broader issues of privacy) and more attention to issues like the proper balance between the courts, Congress, and the executive.

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Ted Gossard

posted January 27, 2006 at 8:33 am

Senator Byrd expressed strong confidence in Alito because of what Alito told him about executive privilege.
It seems like, instead of straightshooting on an issue, politicians often are speaking and acting with a certain strategy/goal in mind. In doing so they are not that concerned with the facts but more with their spin they can put on them. Something like that. I hope I’m wrong. I hate to give my thoughts here, because in no way do I want to impugn the character of any politician. But I think we do need to look at what they’re doing and give our take, as those part of a democracy. But to do so with respect and prayer. (Not that I’m all that pious. Politicians would be in trouble if they were depending on the likes of me for prayer. But that should be a wakeup call for me. )

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posted January 27, 2006 at 2:41 pm

I find Robert Jensen insightful here:
“If we follow Augustine we will understand politics as the joint moral deliberation of a community, the process of its consenting in justice or at second best a formal simulacrum of justice… The substance of communal morality is a specific discourse, in wihch the agreements and disagreements are between those who assert and those who deny propositions of the form ‘Our community should in the future…’ Politics…is a community’s argument with itself about what to teach in schools, about the proper division of weatth, about what punishment fits what crime, about when if ever to use force with other communities and what force to allow ourselves, and so on.”
Shortly after this Jensen continues, “”Indeed, the specifically modern societies that began in hope for the greatest possible expansion of politics, that is, for democracy, seem now driven to a sort of neotribal existence (here he sites Alisdair MacIntyre, ‘After Virtue,’ p.245), The present near extinction of politics in America, the most structurally modern of nations, is often noted: the multifarious and empowered citizen assemblies of the time before its Civil War, and the citizen amateur representatives and higher officials for which its federal and state constitutions were designed, are scarcely a memory. What Americans are likely now to call politics is in fact the function of an almost entirely depoliticized collectivity and state: the manipulation of a mass of petitioners and their interests by professional managers of affairs. If there is a functioning American polity, it is the very tight oligarchy of the federal judges.”
If this insight accuratly or close to accuratly describes our situation, then the appointment of judges to the federal bench leading up to our Supreme Court becomes a critical decision indeed whether we realize this or not.
Though I still follow the exhoration to pray for our political leaders, I find myself more and more alianated as I find such calls as that sounded in the Jesus Creed forming more clearly in my heart…

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Ron McK

posted January 27, 2006 at 2:48 pm

Americans cannot understand the apocalyptic,
because America is the big beast. :-)

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posted January 27, 2006 at 9:02 pm

I am for any hope at all for our nation to stop murdering our babies! Keep our leaders in our prayers! Our prayers are powerful!

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Ron Fay

posted January 27, 2006 at 9:53 pm

I think giving the Executive Branch more power might be a mitigating influence on the incredible power that the Court holds. Right now, they call unconstitutional anything that goes against their ideals, not the Constitution. They strike down laws with little reason and overrule State’s rights again and again. I thought this was the United States, not the United State.
I think the correct balance is to give the states more power and to give Congress more power. Tilting toward the Executive branch is only good in that it tilts away from the Court.

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posted January 28, 2006 at 7:36 pm

There are times when apocalyptic rhetoric is necessary, but by and large very little of what I hear is actually focused on the very real issues that we face in the post-Christian West. For example, the West is dying, literally. A growing number of European nations have imploding populations because Europeans are not breeding in sufficient numbers to replace themselves. Those same countries will have majority Muslim populations before the end of this century. But nobody in mainstream politics is talking about this, with the exception of the far-right. Instead politicians and elections are focused on what are at best peripheral issues.
Mark Steyn has an excellent article on this issue:
We just had an “election” in New Zealand which pitted a left wing liberal party against a right wing liberal party. According to both parties this election was vitally important, and the left even called it “high noon”. There was a lot of apocalyptic rhetoric used.
The issues being fought over? Whether or not tax should be given back to taxpayers or spent on welfare, and wether or not it was time to abolish the Maori (native) parliamentary seats. Thats it.
For the first time in my life I didnt vote.
There is an apocaplypse coming, the death of the West. And we are sleepwalking towards it while our politicos and citizens fight over the scraps.

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posted January 30, 2006 at 1:00 pm

If the Democrats want to start winning elections and send the Republicans searching, maybe scrambling, for new issues all they have to do is move to the right – and I should say RIGHT with a capital “R” – on the issue of human life. I’m a Republican, but I’m a Pro-Life and Christian first, and I’d love to see the Democrats “steal” this issue. It would make my day even if someone like Hilary Clinton got to be President to see everybody waking up and turning this “devisive” issue into a more settled one thereby saving literally millions of lives.
But I’m not holding my breath.

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