Politics: Old and New
Affirm or Critique
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Politics is one of the most difficult and complex issues on which to engage in polite conversation. For many people, politics and religion are so personal that neither topic is deemed appropriate to discuss publicly. While separation of church and state is an important protection for all religions, it doesn’t mean we as people of faith shouldn’t engage in our civic duties and the political process. The idea of “staying out of politics” doesn’t come from God. My sense is that it arises from our egoic, dualistic thinking that has a hard time hearing a different perspective or learning something new. Well, this week’s meditations will invite us to ponder the forbidden together. (If you’re active on social media, we invite you to share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)
In its first two thousand years, Christianity has kept its morality mostly private, personal, interior, fervent, and heaven-bound, with very few direct implications for our collective economic, social, and political life. For most Christians, politics and religion remained in two separate realms, unless religion was uniting with empires. Yes, church leaders looked to Rome and Constantinople for imperial protection, but little did they realize the price we Christians would eventually pay for such a compromise of foundational Gospel values.
This convenient split took the form of either the inner or the outer world. We religious folks were supposed to be the inner people; while the outer world was left to politicians, scientists, and workers. Now this is all catching up with us, as even the inner world has largely been overtaken by psychology, art, literature, and self-help. Fewer and fewer people now expect religion to have anything to say about either the inner or outer worlds!
If we do not go deep and in, we cannot go far and wide. In my opinion, the reason Christianity lost its authority is because we did not talk about the inner world very well. Believing doctrines, practicing rituals, and following requirements are not, in and of themselves, inner or deep. Frankly, Buddhism encouraged the inner life far better than the three monotheistic religions. We Christians did not connect the inner with the outer—which is a consequence of not going in deeply enough. We now have become increasingly irrelevant, often to the very people who want to go both deep and far. We so disconnected from the authentically political—God’s aggregated people, the public forum—that soon we had nothing much to say, except for one or two issues (abortion, homosexuality) where we presumed we had perfect certitude, although Jesus never talked about them.
But you know what? There is no such thing as being non-political. Everything we say or do either affirms or critiques the status quo. To say nothing is to say something: The status quo—even if it is massively unjust and deceitful—is apparently okay. From a contemplative stance we will know what action is ours to do, which words we are called to say, and how our spirituality must be fully embodied in our political choices.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Politics and Religion,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 11-12.