All Other Ground Is Sinking Sand

Whether we are self-aware or not, we all have at least some interest in politics. I have never met a person, and I do not expect to meet any, that did not have a strong interest in politics on some level. Not all of them were self-aware about their political interests, and quite a few of them have loudly denied an interest in politics, despite the proof in their behavior. How is it that people can be so interested in politics while maintaining such a strong (and hypocritical) disdain of politics in their rhetoric? How can people who claim that politics is immoral by definition show themselves to be just as unethical as their political contemporaries in other theaters?

Part of the problem, as might be expected, is definitions. All too often people define politics extremely narrowly, as dealing only with democratic politics in the civic realm. Doing so neglects the fact that politics, or the acquisition of power and resources and the division of spoils (often to cronies), exists in all realms of human activities at all levels of human behavior and that corruption is corruption whether it is engaged in by elected officials, unelected bureaucrats, business leaders, military generals, aristocrats, or crowned monarchs, or anyone else. It is not the participation of ordinary citizens in the electoral process where decisions are made that makes politics corrupt, but rather the behavior of people according to the proper standards of morality, regardless of who they are and what side they are on.

It is impossible to avoid politics. In life, choices must be made. Determining who makes what choices, and what choices to make, which interests to support, which rewards or punishment to mete out, is an inherently political act. If we have two children who got into a fight and we have to decide what punishment we give, that is a political act. Do we punish equally? Do we punish the one who started the fight, whether physically or through antagonizing the other? Do we punish the older one more because they should have been mature enough to have self control? It will depend on the facts of the case as well as our own principles and worldview–and it will be a political decision. It will also be a political decision to determine who has the right to make spending decisions in a household, how much supervision a worker needs, or what side we join in a dispute in our congregation. We will make these decisions based on our worldview, as well as how we interpret the situation and what we see as the “facts” of the case. All of these decisions will be political, whatever our view as to what sort of politics is the right kind.

Why are we not honest that we are engaged in politics almost every day? When we decide what gas station to go to in order to fill up a car, that is a political decision. Sometimes, it may be explicitly so, if we choose to avoid BP because of the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010 or avoid Citgo because of their connection with Chavez’ corrupt regime in Venezuela. If we choose to go to a restaurant because of its friendly service, or low cost, that is a political decision as well. So is the amount we choose to tip someone. Any time we make a decision to support a person, a company, or an institution with our advocacy or funding, that is a political decision. Given our limited resources, we must make choices and decisions, and those choices will be determined by our priorities, and those priorities will be determined by our worldview and philosophy, which cannot help but be political. It would be far better if we could admit such things up front, but all too often the admission that we engage in politics would seem to be unacceptable to many, as if it would drag them down to the level of the lowest pond scum.

If we viewed politics as per its dictionary definitions [1], we would see that a broader definition of politics avoids demonizing a particular aspect of political behavior. Once our focus concedes the legitimacy of political behavior given the importance of the questions that are decided as well as the admission of our political behavior in other spheres of life, then we are left with determining what political positions are morally defensible based on our worldview, and what candidates are to be supported. Again, we are faced with serious problems of consistency, as demanding perfection in one aspect of life while tolerating (and behaving with) a great lack of perfection in other aspects of life presents difficulties. We can deny these difficulties, seek to face them honestly and openly, or whatever else we like, but reality does not conform with our wishes, but it rather provides constraints on our behavior and the results of that behavior.

Granting legitimacy to political behavior does not in any way imply that we can be saved through politics. Rather, it concedes that politics is a realm of human behavior, with all of the limitations that implies. Do we expect politics to save families, churches, or businesses? Do we expect the choice of one college over another, or one candidate for a promotion or another, to lead to salvation for an individual or an institution? It would not be reasonable to do so. Nor is salvation the purpose of politics–the point of politics is to make the best possible choices given the constraints of reality and the options that are available. We may choose wisely or unwisely. Sometimes our choice may make no ultimate difference, if none of the possible options lead to optimal or desired outcomes. Often, what we may want is simply not possible given the constraints of our time and place.

What are the results when we have a skewed view of politics? Often the result is that we fail to recognize the (often savage and corrupt) politics that occurs in our own families, churches, and institutions. If we deny legitimacy to political behavior, we must then deny that any of our own behavior is political. But if we recognize the broader span of politics and focus instead on how that politics is conducted, we are better prepared to critique our own conduct and that of others. And that will allow us both to be more just and more merciful to others, which makes us better at meeting our own responsibilities to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our being, and to love others as ourselves. Why should we condemn someone for doing as we do, or as those we support do, in a different aspect of human behavior? Should we not show mercy to others, so that we might receive it ourselves?

[1] See Bing’s dictionary, which is representative:

activities associated with government: the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government ( takes a singular verb )

political life: political activity as a profession ( takes a singular verb )
“left the law to enter politics”

power relationships in specific field: the interrelationships between the people, groups, or organizations in a particular area of life especially insofar as they involve power and influence or conflict ( takes a singular or plural verb )
“the politics of education”

calculated advancement: the use of tactics and strategy to gain power in a group or organization ( takes a singular or plural verb )

Same as political science ( takes a singular verb )

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s