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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Meaning

Those of you who know me fairly well know that one of my primary temptations is that of abstraction. When I think, when I work, when I watch movies, I find it easy to drift back into a mindless world of forms, objects, and ideas. Because of this slight proclivity, I appreciate clarity of tone and content, even when I disagree with it.

This means that I am against an overdone spiritualization of religious words. I prefer the word "liberty" to "grace", "allegiance" to a "declaration of faith", etc. This doesn't necessarily mean that I've accepted a primarily political perspective of these words, but simply prefer a meaningful word to ambiguous terminology (of course, this is ironic since I make much of vocabulary ambiguous).

At the same time, I also am concerned that many acquaintances of mine have replaced any sort of religious hole in their lives with political positions and terminology. They have their own creation myths about their party, detailed doctrines of political positions (no doubt accepted on faith), histories of the numerous stories where their party or group stood up to the evil around them, of times of struggle and pain, of victory, of prophetic declarations of doom and gloom, of saviors and salvation, all bathed with that smug religiosity that seems so self-consciously American.

Through it all, NT Wright is right. The gospel is political. But the politics of the gospel begins by revolving around your friends and family, around your work and home, and your church and neighborhood, around your life. Some of our lives are further reaching than others. The life of a President may seem bigger, but if he's missing the permanent things (family and friends, love and liberty, peace and property, etc) then his life is far more impoverished then the smallest man in his charge.

In this time of political hooplah and confusion, try to remember your local life, the one you eat, breath, and touch everyday. For it is the only life you have. As always, democracy is a divine thing, not because there's some special magic to pulling that lever on voting day, nor to making your voice heard from sea to sea, nor any such nonsense. Democracy is about self-rule, about you attempting to find an order to your life and living it out.

Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that I have fewer qualms about making religion political than about making politics religious. The first may have the potential to create an unhealthy attachment to politics, but the second is unhealthy through and through.

What does this mean? Religious principles always say the same things (be humble before your God), but always seem to mean something different (perhaps giving all you own to the poor or perhaps keeping all you have to take care of your own family). Political principles always say different things (do you stand high taxes or low taxes?), but end up meaning the same thing (concentrated power in the hands of the few, either in big government or in big business). To live freely, we should try to be guided by principles bigger than ourselves, while trying to live by actions smaller than ourselves. Think religiously and you will end up living politically (even if that means acting differently in different situations).

Ok. The big problem I can see with what I've just written is that it seems to assume that once you're thinking rightly, you will act rightly. Of course having a rightly ordered reason is important, but we mustn't forget that a rightly ordered will is the root of our lives. Living rightly has more to do with living than it has to do with understanding. The latter is necessary, but certainly not sufficient. A rightly ordered will is both necessary and sufficient.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting...
    Of course, there are all levels of understanding; certainly some right-acting people understand less than some people with evil actions. In fact, it's the people who understand and still act evilly who are the most dangerous.

    I'd rather be a simple child than understand the deep mysteries of Truth and not follow Him.

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  2. I think I agree...as long as I understood you correctly. Acting on the good words is better than just good words. Good actions, though... how does one get there? Good thinking perhaps...aka the Truth. Maybe I'm straying from the topic at hand, though.

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  3. Mark, I'm not even sure that I understand me correctly. I'm afraid that this post was more of a stream of consciousness than any sort of sustained argument or line of thought. My bad.

    Perhaps the way to get where I'm wanting to go is ask how we know the Almighty. We know him by acting appropriately, we know how to act appropriately by people telling us (parents, authorities, church, etc), but we don't always understand. Acting develops the habits that form our characters, whether or not we understand why or how.

    At the same time, I was noticing this disconnect in my thoughts between wanting people to be political and wanting people to stay our of politics. I still think that both of these statements is correct and the post was my attempt to make some sense out of that difference.

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