Thursday, April 26, 2012

Seeing Politics for What It Is

"Its [the Christian community's] lack of critical distance and reflection about politics is an extension of its failure to critically reflect about the rest of the world they inhabit. In the case of politics and political culture, the Christian community has indeed linked its own future to the success of certain political myths, ideologies, and agendas. Though leaders on the Right and on the Left may plausibly deny that this is a problem for themselves, the realities of this linkage for the movements they lead are sociologically undeniable. To be sure, it would be impossible to completely disentangle the church from any society in which it is found. Christians, like all human beings, are constituted by the particularities of their time and culture, and it is only natural that they should identify with their communities and nation. But on all fronts, the merging of faith and politics/culture is deeply problematic. It is a time for a disentangling.

. . . Politics is always a crude simplification of public life and the common good is always more than its political expression. As we have seen, the expectations that people place on politics are unrealistic for most of the problems we face today are not resolvable through politics. That, however, is not the most serious problem. Far more grave is the way politicization has delimited the imaginative horizon through which the church and Christian believers think about engaging the world and the range of possibilities within which they act. Politics is just one way to engage the world and, arguably, not the highest, best, most effective, nor most humane way to do so. This does not mean that Christians shouldn't 'vote their values' or be active in political affairs. It is essential, however, to demythologize politics, to see politics for what it is and what it can and cannot do and not place on it unrealistic expectations. it cannot realize the various mythic ideals that inspire different Christian communities, it cannot even reduce the tension that exists between the concrete realities of everyday life and the moral and spiritual ideals of the Kingdom of God. At best, politics can make life in this world a little more just and thus a little more bearable.

. . . To decouple the public from the political will open up other options for engaging the world and addressing its problems in ways that do not require the state, the law, or a political party. There are innumerable opportunities not only in art, education, the care for the environment, and the provision of relief for the widow, the orphaned, and sick, but in the market itself to engage the world for the better. Efforts in these directions could entail significant outlays of time, money, and moral commitment, but the consequences for the common good would be extraordinary.

. . . Some argue that what we need is a redefinition of politics, one that is more capacious and capable of absorbing actions, ideas, and initiatives that are independent of the State. The idea here is to reclaim or restore a 'proper' understanding of the political. Such efforts would, in principle, accomplish the same end as I am describing here. This position is certainly worthy of serious debate but as a sociologist who is attentive to the power of institutions, I am inclined to think that all such efforts will be swallowed up by the current ways in which politics is thought of and used. It is why I continue to think that it is important to separate the public from the political and to think of new ways of thinking and speaking and acting in public that are not merely political."

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