Thursday, October 09, 2008

On Voting

On Theolog Christopher Benson reflects upon whether or not a Christian should vote. He draws upon Nietzsche who had such a poor view of politics that he wrote suggesting that one should simply, could simply not participate. I quote Benson below...
I face an existential dilemma: endure the “great frescoes of stupidity” painted by the political parties or vacate the voting booth. As this presidential campaign draws closer to Election Day, with sludge flying, I am seriously considering Nietzsche’s proposal “to keep out of politics and stand aside a little,” as he did.
When too many people are speaking, as in our bloviating 24-hour cable news and blogosphere, Nietzsche advises silence. He says that for the few conscientious objectors, “seriousness lies elsewhere; they have embraced a different concept of happiness; their goal cannot be embraced by any clumsy hand with just five fingers.”
G. Scott Becker concurs in an essay in Electing Not to Vote, saying there will be circumstances when “a sudden, widespread Christian abstention from the electoral process could serve to expose the hypocrisy that has seeped in it.”
Which is the great dilemma is it not? Paul spoke of it when he wrote that Christians should live in the world but not be of the world. But how is it exactly that we think about the world we live in? Is it good as Genesis tells us, or, is it fallen as is also told? As Christians are we to tend toward the ascetic, as Benson seems to suggest, monastics set apart from the electoral process which Benson accurately sees is fraught with problems? Or are we to engage fully in the process, knowing the danger that Paul suggests, that by being in, we become of... instead of influencing we become influenced?
Although I find myself sympathetic to Benson's dilemma about participating in the electoral process and agreeing with the reason's for this dilemma, I cannot agree with his answer to the dilemma, which is simply to abstain.
The issue is that whether or not I vote, I receive the benefit of the policies set by the President, Congress etc. As a pastor I depend upon the members of the church to tithe, so that I can provide for my wife and children. But in turn, these members depend upon their employers, who depend upon the demand of customers, all of which is tied, in greater complexity that I can fully understand, to the economic policies set by the President and the President's economic advisors. Whether I like the electoral process all the time or not, I depend on it, it affects me, and it affects Benson and Becker too. Although infrastructure such as paved roads, oil to heat my home, police to quiet my neighbors or search for my children when they are missing (God forbid), are largely provided by local and state government, still, federal government provides policies, guidelines, and finances indirectly that make these things possible. My education, which enables me to work is in large part due to federal loans. The taxes I pay fund many programs, some I like, such as relief and assistance programs and some I don't like, such as funding weapons for war. My point being that my tax money contributes to a greater good, and also in some cases to that which is not in keeping with my faith. But I cannot simply choose not to pay, not simply because the IRS would imprison me, but because there are people who depend on federal dollars, that I provide.
So in the end I find the idea that I can get a paycheck, call the police, get loans for an education, buy oil, and then either naively or condescendingly choose not to participate in the system that provides so much, well, frankly foolish. I then become a leech on society. Oh so elite because I can criticize the establishment, but still tied to it in so many ways and dependent upon it for many benefits that I would miss should I move to Central America or Africa for instance.
As to exposing the hypocrisy of the system, well, that is a bit optimistic. To think that if Christians stopped voting that suddenly Congress would collectively sit up and slap their foreheads in sudden epiphany is laughable. Nietzsche may describe eloquently the problem, but his solution simply sounds elitist and offers no solution. A bit like my two-year-old holding his breath so as to get his way.
Having said all that, what would the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels say to us about Christian voting. Voting obviously wasn't even an option in his culture and society. Jesus did overturn the tables in the temple which N.T. Wright has suggested was an implicit suggestion that the system of connection between humanity and God that the Temple both symbolized and offered was broken beyond repair and replaced by his presence. Should this be our example when dealing with the electoral process? It is a broken system promising what it cannot deliver? We replace the electoral system by abstaining until it is 'overturned?'
On the other hand, would it be reasonable to present the preaching, teaching and miracle working of Jesus was both a criticism of the exercise of power by the elites and the creation of alternative communities which would embody power in service, sacrifice, generosity, honesty, and forgiveness? Could we then say that Jesus didn't simply abstain from the a culture and society that was broken, but stayed engaged so as to be critical with the intention of creating Kingdom. Is is possible to see Jesus' ministry not as asceticism, but the kind of 'in but not of' that Paul speaks of. Is that not the point of incarnation, that creation can only be returned to the goodness that God initially intended only when God engages with what is broken, instead of remaining separated?
Should we not then stay engaged in the process as Christians, in the world, incarnating our hope and faith in the Kingdom as we vote. But not of the world, placing our trust completely in this electoral system, voting to be critical of its weaknesses, but also grateful for its strengths?