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Politics and the Problems in Our World

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Chuck Chalberg of the Democracy Project carries a review of Jim Wallis’s book God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Just Doesn’t Get It. I heard about this through Andy Jackson’s Smart Christian Blog and it’s also being talked about at Stone’s Cry Out, Mere Comments, and the Seventh Age.

It’s a pretty thorough and even brutal fisking of Wallis and the book as a whole, and let me say up front that I share Chalberg’s views. But, since it comes from a right wing political slant, I’m afraid that Wallis and those on the political left will cry foul. But if they cry foul they will have missed the most important point, and I am afraid that those on the right will miss that same most important point if they get too carried away with high fiving each other after reading this review. The most important point is in the first paragraph, and it applies equally to the political right and left:

Jim Wallis may not like this. He may even be shocked to read this. But here goes. He could benefit by emulating Jerry Falwell less and G.K. Chesterton more. Nearly a century ago G. K. Chesterton asked “what’s wrong with the world?” His answers included the usual suspects among the universal “isms,” especially socialism, feminism, capitalism, and imperialism. But his first and last answer was always the same: “I am.” If only Jim Wallis would be tempted to give a similar answer. Instead he’s busy telling us what’s wrong with everyone and everything else. Apparently things like that befall those who carry the special burden of claiming to know “God’s politics” and believing that they have discovered a third way.

I try to stay out of politics in my blogging for three reasons. Reason number one is that I don’t know enough about modern politics, politicians and political parties to add anything of substance to the debate. Reason two is that of the 11 million weblogs tracked by Technorati, there must be ten and a half million talking politics. For me to write on politics would be like turning on a fan in a hurricane – it wouldn’t matter much. But third, and most importantly, I subscribe to Jacques Ellul’s notion of the political illusion:

At present, the greatest problem is the citizen in the clutches of political power. . . .

To think of everything as political, to conceal everything by using this word (with intellectuals taking the cue from Plato and several others), to place everything in the hands of the state, to appeal to the state in all circumstances, to subordinate the problems of the individual to those of the group, to believe that political affairs are on everybody’s level and everybody is qualified to deal with them—these factors characterize the politicization of modern man and, as such, comprise a myth.

This is where Chalberg hits the nail on the head. Chesterton says the problem with the world today is me – change me and change the world. Falwell and Wallis say the problem with the world is you, or ya’ll. If I can change ya’ll I can change the world. How can I change ya’ll? Politics of course. Ellul says that this is an illusion.

Those on the right will counter by saying Ellul’s words don’t apply, after all, isn’t it the right that is arguing for smaller government? This is true to some extent, but the right is still using the political process to weaken the power of government. I don’t know if you can do that. Ellul doesn’t seem to think this will work:

But, it might be objected, is the politically interested citizen not eager to see power controlled, rather than to see its growth further promoted? This is a great illusion. The more an individual has become politicized, the more he will see and think about all problems as political problems, the more importance will he attach to political action, and consider it the only possible course and, by his attitude, endow that course with a maximum of power and effectiveness. At the same time, the more politicized he is, the more will he be focused on and oriented toward that basic political force and form: the state. The more he takes recourse to the state, the more power he gives it. . . . At each step, state power is increased. The people under the spell of politics seek less and less to control the state; politicizing everything, they consider it normal that the state should constantly expand its area of action and use ever more instruments of power. This is legitimate in their eyes, as they believe that all will be solved by political action.

Ellul is saying it is an illusion to think you can use politics to limit politics. I suppose it’s like trying to stop a big snowball by throwing little snowballs at it.

Still, Ellul’s comments here can be taken too far. Ellul is trying to say that the greatest problems we face don’t have political solutions and that is true and fair enough. But this could be taken to mean that we should have no involvement in politics whatsoever, and that would be a mistake. The greatest problems we face don’t have economic solutions, but that doesn’t mean we quit making and spending money. The greatest problems we face don’t have educational solutions, but that doesn’t mean we tear down the schools and quit educating ourselves and our kids.

Similarly, we shouldn’t abandon politics altogether, we just need to put it in its place. Unfortunately, I don’t know where in the pecking order of priorities in life politics should go, I just no it shouldn’t be at the top.

Both Falwell and Wallis are ministers who proclaim a message that transcends politics. Maybe they need to do a better job of reminding their constituents that the greatest problems in the world are in their hearts, not in the Democratic (if you are Jerry Falwell) or Republican (if you are Jim Wallis) political parties. And maybe they could remind their constituents that the ultimate solutions to these problems aren’t found in the statehouse or in Washington DC.

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About David Wayne

  • SFC SKI

    Good points made here, IMO. Thanks.

  • http://jcb.pentex-net.com John Bambenek

    As soon as those godless communists in the DNC repent their evil ways, the world will be a better place full of happiness, joy, and light.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>This is where Chalberg hits the nail on the head. Chesterton says the problem with the world today is me – change me and change the world.< <

    Damn I wish Chesterton were still around today. We could use him and Lewis and a few other sensible old Christians to set some of the modern churches straight.

    >> Falwell and Wallis say the problem with the world is you, or ya’ll. If I can change ya’ll I can change the world. How can I change ya’ll? < <

    It's spelled "y'all", yankee.

    >>Politics of course. <<

    Or reeducation camps. Those might fit in will as extensions of Liberty Baptist or Bob Jones U.

    Dave

  • http://uncledexterity.blogs.friendster.com/lameass_blog/ Tristan

    “As soon as those godless communists in the DNC repent their evil ways, the world will be a better place full of happiness, joy, and light.”

    Because the only way to enligtenment is for everyone to think the same.

    And to you Mr. Wayne… bravo. It’s nice to see somebody that can refrain from bashing one party or the other. You’ve learned the truth: all politicians are evil. :)

  • http://www.blogherald.com Duncan Riley

    “of the 11 million weblogs tracked by Technorati, there must be ten and a half million talking politics”

    sorry, you’re not even close, look outside your immediate circle and you’ll see the blogosphere is a lot bigger than politcal blogs.

  • Maurice

    A good post and good comments so far. Tristan has discovered a truth in his last sentence. I would like to believe that most politicians start out as idealists and want to make the world a better place. Gradually their goodness and resolve are eroded away leaving only the desire for power. Fortunately our style of government works best when they are all fighting each other and have no time for governing.

  • Nancy

    Do you think they start out idealistic and become tainted by the nature of politics, or do you think they start off tainted to begin with? I admit I have personally known very few politicians, but of the 2 I have known, both were slickies, con men, gladhanders, short-cut-takers, shallow & insincere from the getgo. One is currently a state rep (not where I live now, thank God) who’s thinking of angling for Governor sometime, and the other is a county exec who has his eye likewise on higher office – and I wouldn’t vote for him if he were the last person in my political party left on earth!

  • http://jollyblogger.typepad.com David Wayne

    Um Maurice, that thing about the 10.5 million political blogs was sort of a joke – ha ha – you know – hyperbole.

    Dave – I’ve never been so insulted in my life – how dare you call my southerner credentials into question? 😉

    Maurice and Nancy – I agree, there is something intoxicating about politics that just makes it very hard for people to keep their wits (and their integrity) about them.

  • http://jollyblogger.typepad.com David Wayne

    Oops, sorry Maurice, that was Duncan I meant to direct that little hyperbole comment to. Just funnin with you Duncan!

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Good essay & excellent analysis. Also, it’s nice to see the commentary staying somewhat polite (so far…let’s see if I can change that.)

    I did a post on my blog (and perhaps here) on civility, or the lack thereof, in modern society. Concepts such as citizenship and responsibility have become quaint with both the right and the left using them a clubs to try to beat the other side into submission.

    We’re not just fat as a nation (my latest kick), we’re soft and irresponsible. The “me” vs. “yawl” (take that, Mr. Nalle) distinction is particuarly powerful. Those who are convinced of their infallability scare the bejesus out of me.

    Aside: I’ve known lots of politicos, and the sad thing is that many do enter politics for the right reasons, with high hopes and ideals. But it ain’t just the system that corrupts them, it’s us, folks. If they don’t pander to our narrow little interests, we kick them out and put someone in who will.

    I’ll probably be struck dead for saying something nice about ol’ George the Bush, but at least he’s trying to address social security, even if his remedy’ll kill the patient. But then the AARP–whose members won’t even be affected–launch a massive campaign to shut the whole debate down.

    It’s as if we can’t see the entire person anymore–recognizing that there will always be things about which we disagree–we focus on narrow issues and vote up or down on those regardlss of what else the pol has done.

    You wanna know why government’s in such a mess–look in the mirror.

  • Nancy

    I’ll settle for a politician who actually tells the truth to his/her own constituents.

    I don’t mind saying anything nice about Bush that’s true (or anybody else, for that matter), but I resent and dislike people trying to feed me lies and spin when the truth shows the opposite and is blatantly obvious.

    I don’t know…I think a person actually has to be pretty much of a whore to begin with, to go into politics. It’s not whether or not they’re bought, it’s for how much, etc. That infers a lack of character in the old sense of the word, to begin with.

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    My point, Nancy, is that those politicians who tell the truth usually get mauled by their constituents. Why do you think they call Social Security the “third rail” of politics?

    Sure there are whores who go into politics as in any field, but voters have made it very clear that they can’t handle the truth–unless of course, it’s what they happen to believe in.

    And that’s the truth!

  • Maurice

    I believe the majority of politicians have law degrees. I still have to think kindly of these people and believe that when they signed up for law school they had lofty aspirations. IMO once they have completed law school and begin their careers they gradually get mired in the details of law, and humanity goes out the window. Hence our judgement of law as being devoid of common sense. Take that a step further and once they become beholden to their sponsers (so they can get elected) they have to further compromise any vestiges of integrity.

  • http://uncledexterity.blogs.friendster.com/lameass_blog/ Tristan

    The problem with politics is to some extent what Mark brings up. We boo people in office when they tell us something we don’t want to hear and we applaud those who lie to us when the lie is something that’s easy on the ears. However, I don’t think it’s the everyday citizen that’s entirely to blame. The main culprit is the current system we employ to elect our government officials. Whether you go into politics for the right or wrong reasons, it is impossible to get elected for higher office without selling out to special interests. In this country each political party spends massive amounts of money to advertise their candidate. There is no limit to how much can be raised. Even the campaign finance reform laws still allow 527 groups to raise all the money in the world and spend it as they wish, usually in favor of one politician or the other. The problem then is that all of this money has to come from somewhere. And undoubtedly, it’s not coming from John Q. Taxpayer. It’s coming from corporations and special interests that are very narrowly defined. This includes the NRA, the AARP, and a plethora of others.

    The problem then becomes this. At the higher levels of government, politicians are backed by their respective parties. In order to be backed by your party, you usually have to adhere to strict party lines unless you are in a swing state, in which case you try to go both ways in order to get as many votes as you can and therefore still have a vast majority of the party’s ideals represented in government. Now, since the politician is indirectly supported by these special interest groups, they are forced to do what is right for the interest group, regardless of what’s morally or logically right. If a politician doesn’t do this, they are out of a job because the funds will dry up. If the funds dry up, then there is no room for advertising and no news organization is going to cover some unknown candidate, unless he already has name recognition. Ross Perot was able to run independently only because he had enough money himself to compete with the big political machines. Even so, without their support and without anyone in the media taking him too seriously, he was unable to make a serious bid for the presidency. Part of the reason independents don’t typically do well is that people, more often than not, blindly vote along party lines rather than taking the time to actually look at the issues being addressed.

    Were there some sort of reasonable cap on spending for campaigns in this country, politicians might actually be able to stray from the party and actually represent the best interests of the citizens they represent. This of course includes these same businesses, but only as it relates to whether jobs will be affected and how many people might be dissatisfied with your leadership.

    It’s still possible that politicians would sell out some of their principles in order to keep their constituents happy. However, at least this would be something the politician could work out for himself. If he believes in a particular issue strongly, maybe he can support that position and his constituents will let it slide because of all the benefits they are getting on other issues. If it’s not something are willing to stand for, then the won’t vote for him. This is similar to the current system in that one has to pick and choose which issues are most important to them. However, as long as what’s being done benefits the most without adversely affecting people in the minority, then the system is working. With the cash flow the way it is currently though, the few are far overrepresented to the misfortune of the many.

  • Nancy

    The special interests will never allow congress to put caps on election spending. It would completely blow their ability to buy influence/ dvertising. So…that’s it: requiem for what passes for democracy. There is no reson to vote, then.

  • http://parodieslost.typepad.com Mark Schannon

    Tristan, you bring up an excellent point about the special interests–they are powerful, but that doesn’t let us (the not so special interests) off the hook. There’s plenty of blame to be spread around.

    But Nancy, you have to get over your cynicism! Turn to sarcasm, irony & parody. Cynics age and grow wrinkles and talk in growly voices. Sarcasts (hey, there’s no noun for a person who’s sarcastic), ironists, and prodists, (whew, same problem) stay young, look good, laugh a lot, and find that nothing’s so serious that you can’t make it better by making fun of it.

    Here endeths the lecture.

  • http://uncledexterity.blogs.friendster.com/lameass_blog/ Tristan

    It might not let us off the hook entirely, but if you really think about it, there are no candidates we can vote for other than some democrat or some republican (I’m thinking President here; Maine and Minnesota come to mind as independent-tolerant states for lesser offices). The only candidates presented to us on a daily basis are from these two parties.

    Theoretically we could vote some independent into office and maybe someday things will get bad enough and people will get fed up enough to vote for someone outside of the mainstream parties. But let’s be reasonable. I can pretty much guarantee that it won’t happen in my lifetime or probably even the lifetime of anyone currently on the planet.

    But at the same time, if people really got angry enough about the way things are in the political sphere, they could protest and write to their congressman. Or even vote them out of office. But since the only people we know about are the ones the political machines churn out for us, those are the only ones we’ll truly be able to vote for with the hope of them winning.

    Basically, it’s possible to change it, but people just don’t care. Plain and simple.

  • Nancy

    What’s the difference between cynicism and anything else? Why is it so bad?

  • noel fowles

    Perhaps the agnostic Bertrand Russell was more precise
    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

  • http://Freddy Freddy

    I think that politics have made a whole in our history. The outcome of fights are devastating, causing our enviorment to panic and shrink the number of political events are growing as we speak many of them coming from what i am saying right now.

  • http://freddy freddy

    Coming to a conclusion about our world I think that if I were a newcomer i would be surprised about how many political problems we have in our nation