Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Religion and Politics

Like some bloggers more notable than myself, I have been reading Jim Wallis' book God's Politics lately. I'm about three quarters of the way through the book, and I would say I am in enthusiastic agreement with Wallis' positions.

Still, I'm not entirely sure I agree with his approach. Wallis suggests that we should confront politicians in the name of our religion and call them to act in accordance with Biblical principles. The book is full of anecdotes of Wallis himself doing just this.

But I wonder if that doesn't blunt the impact of his message. When a group of religious people present politicians with a mandate based on Biblical revelation, aren't they supplying the box in which the politicians can file away the appeal? That is, by presenting the message in this way, I think they leave the message open to at least these two attacks:

  1. They're just religious people. They don't understand the complications of politics in the real world.

  2. That's just their interpretation of the Bible. Other people of faith have different interpretations.

Wallis has many laudable ideas, not the least of which is the need to present a sound alternative along with our protest, but when he says, "You should do it this way because the Bible says so," I have to think he could do better.

Soren Kierkegaard once told a parable of a fire that broke out backstage in a theater, but the only person who knew about it was a clown already dressed for his performance. The clown ran out on stage to warn people about the fire, but they thought it was just part of his act. The more frantically the clown tried to warn them, the harder they laughed.

I'm afraid this is all too close an analogy to religious leaders calling for action from politicians on a religious basis. The politicians may use the language of religion to garner votes, but are they themselves really pursuaded by such language.

I wonder if it wouldn't be better to present our call to action as being based on self-evident truth.


Tom in Ontario said...

Our synod bishop told the story of meeting our former Prime Minister at a funeral reception. The Prime Minister told him that the voice of the churches (I believe the Canadian Council of Churches) asking that Canada not become involved in the Iraq war played a big part in the government making the decision to stay out of it. It can work.

Now I don't know if stating specifically that governments should do this or shouldn't do that because the Bible says so is such a good idea but I do think that speaking out from a faith perspective is important.


LutheranChik said...

Mel, that is one concern I have with the "religious Left" as well...that if both sides argue "The Bible tells us so," it just becomes a parochial slap-fight that the dominant culture doesn't care about anyway.

Andy said...

I definitely think religious people should be speaking out on political issues, and we shouldn't be ashamed of the fact that we are religious folk. But at the same time, I don't think we should back down from saying that our views are universally true, and that non-religious folk ought to be able to see that.