Spiritual-Political Hazards – Part I

The United States considers itself a secular democracy, and we turn our politics over to a technocracy that runs on pragmatic principles, but that is far from the complete truth. We are unable to treat politics pragmatically, because three extraneous forces distort our thinking: (1) Doctrinaire thinking about what is politically fair puts us at the mercy of self-appointed prophets. (2) Interested parties farm marginalized people as constituencies. (3) We positively deny the spiritual roots of our traditions, so authentic theological hopes get foreshortened and turn into idolatries. When these things happen, it begins to seem that this world is the only one we have in which to work out our salvation; then no cruelty is too much to conquer the existential dread that ensues. Religion, in a baleful sense of the word, then indeed becomes an underlying source of conflict, up to and including the disasters of war. Each of these hazards is spiritual in nature. Each in its own way supplants authentic faith and cuts sinners off from the mercy of God, which we have decided we don’t need.

1. Doctrinaire Prophets

From the beginning, our politics has been driven by the hope of perfection. The noble experiment of 1620 still informs our thought. From Christian pulpits we still hear, “In the richest country in the world, it is shameful that we still have . . . ” —fill in the blank: children without health insurance, homelessness, whatever offends the speaker’s sense of the best sort of person, and of our country as an example to the world. The homily makes no sense unless we of all people, we if nobody else, strive for perfection.

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