How interesting that as I logged on to post this, my first thoughts for 2018, a friend should share a BBC article entitled “How Western Civilization Could Collapse.” We don’t talk about politics much at all here, so let’s get our one political post out of the way for 2018. I’m still in process on some of this, but I wanted to share what expectations I feel I’ve come to embrace and why.
I’ve always been conservative – politically and socially. A big part of that no doubt was due to my early conversion to faith. And there’s still a conservative tendency in me toward political and social restraint. I think it’s generally true that Republicans do a better job at championing “personal responsibility” than Democrats and that Democrats are better at championing “social responsibility.” I actually think the country does better when these two strike a balance and give us a broadly sensible set of laws and policies.
However, the increasing polarization of views (which I suppose is a natural tendency but which has irreversibly exceeded our ability to manage) has made constructive compromise between the two impossible. Personally I think our Republic is in an irreversible decline to political and cultural fragmentation and ultimate dissolution which will amount to nothing less than the end of America as we know it; a kind of sociocultural Malthusian catastrophe. I know that sounds alarmist, but it seems to me to follow, with little alarm, from the conditions we have created for ourselves. And if history means anything, then we can expect our final dissolution to involve widespread violence. No surprises there.
It seems to me that Democratic and Republican platforms are now, despite their legitimate differences on more optimistic days, merely the stern and bow of a Titanic racing toward the ocean floor. If there was a day when Christian participation in the political process might have made a difference to America’s becoming a “lasting and enduring” nation (brighter days ahead, the American dream, a bastion of freedom and morality, etc. – if that was ever the Church’s call in Christ, I doubt it), it appears obvious to me such participation for such reasons is today impossible. Christian faith tends toward other ends. We are called to an urgent and singularly prophetic form of faith, subversive and cruciform, that speaks up and cares for the poor and the marginalized in Jesus’ name and that embodies within the relations that constitute its life and worship values and freedoms which human government can neither grant nor deny – to believe, to serve, to love, to speak truthfully, to honor one’s neighbor, and to suffer like Christ.
What about politics? What about exercising my civil duty to vote? What about believing in and working toward America’s being the nation God wants her to be? Like I said, at this point I think the Titanic has struck its iceberg. And fatally striking an iceberg relativizes one’s perspectives and plans. There’s no saving the ship per se. There is only saving lives – an in form consistent with the sinking of the ship. So hows that translate into participating in the political process here and now? To the extent I do participate, I think there’s a switch in me from Republican political and social sentiments to Democratic ones (and I can hardly believe I’m writing the words myself). The post-Trump GOP isn’t the same party I grew up with. Or if it is, then I’m not the same person. Do I think a thoughtful, principled vote for Trump was ever possible? Actually, yes. As hard as it is to imagine, I can imagine it, but that’s another post. What grieved me is not that somebody happened to believe that Trump – overall – could secure America’s best interests better than Hillary. The line in the sand for me was the evangelical insistence upon the choice being a matter of faith, of defending the faith, of bringing the Kingdom, of Trump as God’s anointed one, of reversing the erosion of freedoms many believe to be essential to their continuing to be the Church in the world, and most grievously, doing so for a candidate who embodied vices Evangelicals have long decried as antithetical to their faith.
At this point I simply want to support systems (as fallen as they all are) that at least contribute to our caring for the poor and the marginalized (i.e., that “social responsibility” that I always thought Dems did better at) as we race toward inevitable political and social dissolution. In other words, fighting for tax-exempt status, for the right not to serve gay customers, for boycotting coffee brewers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — the whole sordid mess of collapsing our moral vision of what God suffered in Christ into the fortunes of an American Republic believed to have been raised by God to mediate Messianic blessing to the world — all amounts to squabbles over how to arrange chairs on our sinking Titanic. Throughout the past year I seemed to conclude that while the State sinks, I’d simply rather us be as immediately compassionate to folks on board than advertise future cruise destinations and invest in improvements when we pull into New York – ’cause that ain’t happening.
As I enter 2018 I’m thankful for so much, but I see a storm gathering on the horizon. As it gathers, I’m contemplating what faith will mean without America as we know it, not what America must remain because faith requires it.