Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus does not endorse your candidate

Earlier this month, columnist Richard Fernandez wrote,
The problem may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive the modern world, but whether the modern world can survive without Christianity. The naive assumption of 19th century Marxists was that after belief was abolished, what was essentially a Christian morality would continue to guide the world though without its religious overtones.

They thought that even without God men would not kill or steal or lie or covet their neighbor's wives. Through the operation of some sort of "decency" things would go on much as before, but with electricity and central planning. They thought this because they had lived in an immersive religious system for so long they were no more aware of it than fish notice water.

But as it turned out "decency" was much more fragile than they thought. If the 20th century showed that man unfettered could create monstrous totalitarian belief systems, the 21st is rapidly demonstrating that rather than accept an inner vacuum millions would rather fill it with strange gods if the gods of their fathers were no longer on offer.

Fish may not notice water when it is there. But they do notice it when it is gone.

Perhaps the major challenge of the 21st century is to reinvent Christianity or something like it. Man does not live by bread alone and if that hunger will not be met by God it will be sated by the spirit of darkness.
And so, in a different context than Richard wrote, we come to this year's presidential election. The problem, to paraphrase Richard a little, may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive modern America, but whether modern America can survive without Christianity. 

There is no "Christian" candidate

The naive assumption of many religionists on both side of the American political aisle seems to be that their only one candidate, but not the other, can sustain Christian morality in the national polity.

It beggars words to describe how foolish - indeed, how un-Christian - this belief is. I find it impossible to affirm even in the smallest way that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care a fig about the Christian religion at all, no matter what they claim, and at least Trump has the forthrightness not to claim any particular religion at all. Trump's religion is Trump. There is almost nothing I have seen about his platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. I am dismayed that so many prominent Christian figures have endorsed his candidacy. It is more than merely distressing to observe what even conservative commentators are calling, "The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party." 

That said, exactly what is the actual evidence, not rhetoric, but evidence, that Hillary Clinton cares a fig about Christian religion herself? Sure, she claims Methodist affiliation, but exactly what does that mean when examining her truly dismal, spectacularly failing record as a public official? Claiming a religious affiliation does not confer competence, and even MSNBC's in-the-tank hosts were forced to admit one day that they could think of nothing of note that she had ever accomplished. This is a woman whom FBI Director James Comey, under oath before a Congressional committee, confirmed repeatedly had lied over and over and over about handling highly classified material but just wasn't "sophisticated enough" to know the severity of her actions. So yeah, sure, that plus Methodism qualifies her for the presidency, of course. Hillary Clinton's religion is Clintonism. There is almost nothing I have seen about her platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. As one commentator said, Hillary's real objective is inauguration day. She has no goal beyond then. 

All that said, I will emphasize that in fact a presidential candidate's religion is a matter of low importance to me. I want a president who is a Constitutional originalist, religious denomination irrelevant. But we pretty much gave that up a century ago when we elected the proto-progressive Woodrow Wilson. And so here we are:

The dens of thieves that run our country

Now that I've got past that rant, let me ask, "What would Jesus do with national American politics?" Probably this:
Jesus at the Republican National Convention, or maybe the Democrat one. 
Hard to tell since they are both dens of thieves.
How bad has political thievery become? James Bessen of Boston University Law School says it is so deep that political lobbying is now the second-largest influence on profits for America's large companies. 

Government gets bigger and more powerful, which lures companies into viewing Washington as a profit center, which then leads to more policies that expand the size and power of the federal government, which leads to further opportunities for rent-seeking behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's 4.5 billion of your dollars and mine. This is why Elon Musk's company, Tesla, never has to sell even one electric car at profit and he still becomes wealthier and wealthier. Our taxes pay his profit. This is crony capitalism at it worst (or best, if your name is Elon Musk). 

What kind of national economic model is this? Tom Wolfe once observed that, "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Yet Wolfe surely knows that before fascism was anything else, it was a national economic regime. Its features were not exactly original; what was novel was the inclusion of Marxism and whole-country integration by its modern originator and premier practitioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State.... ..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
It was further explained in 2010 by the "Classic Liberal" blog
A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life. ...
Feel familiar? It ought to: this has been the economic policy of both parties for at least the last 50 years, with different emphases by one party or the other. American federal polity long ago became centrally located on a less-lethal version of Lenin's question, "Who? Whom?" For Lenin, the question was about who would die and who would live. But for both the Republicans and the Democrats it is about money and power:
  • Who will receive the largess they will use tax dollars to provide?
  • Whom will be the class they plunder to get it? 
  • And how will they spend it to suborn, corrupt or crush so they can keep power?
That is not merely the primary principle of American federal governance today, it is almost the only principle there is. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the American Left is not socialist at all; it is fascist, which began in and never departed from Leftism. (Mussolini had been an active member of the Communist International before resigning to start the Fascisti party.) The Republicans are fascist, too, just not as much. But give them 15-20 years and they'll catch up.

How to vote

So to my fellow Christians who will vote this November I say: Vote for the candidate of your choice. Vote your conscience. Vote your convictions.

But do not pretend for one second that it is even possible to vote the Gospel this November. 

John Wesley had some excellent advice:

Fellow clergy, please: 

Your presidential candidate is not going to inaugurate the eschaton. Not even the Millennium. Not even a decent mimic of anything Jesus imagined the Kingdom of God to be, nor even the faintest shadow. There is no divine endorsement - none whatever - of even a single word in the platforms of either the DNC or RNC.

I am not so dismayed that millions of American, Christian laypersons may think this. I do not think that all do, perhaps not even most, anyway. But I am dismayed that there are a large number of Christian clergy, especially of my own United Methodist denomination, who (to judge by their own online posts) actually seem to think that Christian discipleship actually equates with voting for one party and necessarily excludes ever voting for the other. In fact, one of my UM colleagues told me bluntly before the 2000 election (so this has been going on awhile) that is was not possible for a Christian to vote for any Republican candidate and that voting for a Republican was certain proof that the voter was not Christian.

Whenever someone claims that supporting this candidate or that one is based on Christian imperatives, that person instantly loses credibility with me. Zip, gone, vamoose, nada. Because what is really being said is that corrupted political ideology (which is all of them) suborns Christianity and that the work of Christ necessarily is done through the corrupt organs  (which is all of them) of a corrupt political party (which is all of them). And never is this more so than this year and this year's candidates.

I neither demand nor expect that any American political party will ever base its platform on the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be done anyway. But I long for a day when Americans will awaken again to the supremacy of Christ over the self.

I pray our polity this year is not a bellwether of the years to come. If so, we as a people are too very close to losing our goodness. God help us.