Confessions of a Political Agnostic

Well, yesterday’s post wasn’t suppposed to be about politics, but it ended up that way, I guess. So, instead of making a huge reply, I thought I’d reply via a new post. I finally did watch the video Juanito linked to in the comments. I’d intended to watch it before that, …just hadn’t yet. And then I started thinking about the whole reason I’m sometimes a bit hesitant to check out opposing viewpoints. It’s not that I don’t want to –it’s just that it takes so much energy to finally sort out exactly where I do stand on things. I’m a detail person. When I go to a museum, I don’t always look at the whole picture. I want to get up close, observe the brushstrokes and see how the artist put together the painting. I’m realizing as of late, though, that I’m really missing out on things that way. To loosely quote Gandalf, he who has to take something apart to learn the meaning of it has left the path of wisdom. Sometimes my analytic nature gets me so overwhelmed that if I’d just stood back and taken in the big picture, I’d have been less confused and better off. I’m starting to see that now with politics.

I like to listen to people. In my experience, listening and reading opposing viewpoints has been a great way to learn. What I’m realizing is that although I’ve been listening, many of my viewpoints have been firmly “in the box.” Instead of doing what I hoped to do, taking the wisdom from both viewpoints, it’s been more convenient to tally the pros and cons and take the whole package I agree with more, and reject the other that doesn’t completely measure up. It’s hard when you don’t identify with a group. One of the hardest things I’ve done politically was to change my party affiliation to Independent. It was as if I was turning my back on my heritage, the Christian Right. It was as if I no longer had a place to stand. I couldn’t depend on a party line to tell me what to agree with any more.

So, now I’m figuring out what that all means, because, although my voter registration may be Independent, my mind isn’t there yet. I’ve been listening more lately to people who seem to think that the best answer to our problems today lies in the answers that worked for the previous generations. If I got one thing out of listening to Obama’s speech, it’s that although those old solutions might be better than the ones we have today, that doesn’t mean that we can’t come up with an even better new solution for the problems we’re faced with now. Maybe we can do better. Maybe not. But, we’ll never know until we think it through and try it. In short, I’m starting to realize that being a cynic isn’t something I really want to be proud of any more.

The other thing that I’m struggling with politically is whether it really matters who it is that is doing the work of caring for the poor. My old line of thinking would answer that it does –it shouldn’t be the government because the government is incapable of doing that by Christian principles (separation of church and state and all…). When I unfold that idea, though, what I come to is the fact that I have to admit that America is not a Christian nation. It’s lots of religions, and I only happen to agree with only one of them. I am severely uncomfortable with someone of another religion determining welfare policy. I want the “right people” to get the credit for it. I want to have the choice to send my children to a school that agrees with my philosophies. I don’t want to be forced into having to deprogram them from a day of compulsory public education. That scares me. When it comes down to it, I believe the root of what that belief means is that there are areas of life that I don’t want an amalgamated “religion-free” government responsible for.

But, can we really separate religion from government? I hope not. I think that the separation of church and state cuts both ways here. I want a President who follows Christ, but I’m not so sure about having a President who lives out his religious beliefs if they differ from mine. And, what that comes down to is that I really don’t want religious freedom at all (yeesh…). I think that is what makes me (or, has made me in the past) such a fan of a small government; a government that is a necessary evil. If we’re going to have religious freedom, then we need to make sure that we don’t get muddied up by the results of someone else’s religious beliefs. Separation of church and state really requires a small government to work. (Keep reading, I’m not done ruminating yet…)

So, say we don’t work with separation of church and state as the prime directive. What if we threw that aside? What if we started over, with just the constitution, and with a whole new thinking of how to run a country with religious freedom? Obama pointed out in his speech that most religions preach the idea of doing unto others as we’d have done to ourselves. That’s congruent with Christianity (shrug). Maybe there are more things where there’s a common thread of grace and good.

It obviously hasn’t come out enough, but for the record, I completely understand why people support Obama. I’ve never been of the belief that a Christian Democrat is an oxymoron. I admire what I’ve seen of Obama’s vision for where he wants America to go. It just doesn’t fit with the box from which I curently see politics. The thing that keeps sticking in my head, though, is this idea that maybe we need a new solution to our problems –one that won’t fit with the old way of seeing things. I’m willing to work with that. Of all the candidates, he seems the one that most embraces Christ-like character and compassion for the poor. I do think we miss way too much that Jesus was a champion of the poor. He didn’t place blame or engineer programs. He healed people and solved their problems.

This has also hit home a lot lately, this question of who is responsible for caring for the poor. Just two months after we’d triumphantly (and, I must admit, pridefully) reached the point of being totally debt-free, we’re sitting here with an empty checking account and an incredibly huge electric bill yet to be paid. Sam checked the stats for fun last night –and we’re officially below the poverty line! We are the poor. Doesn’t feel like it –we have a roof over our heads, food to eat for the foreseeable future, gas and a vehicle to get us to work, and clothes. We have what we need. We just don’t have extra, but we do have enough to give others from time to time…

But this unpaid electric bill eats at me. I spent most of last evening trying to figure out why I feel guilty facing the possibility of having to ask for help. Yes, guilty. We’ve already gotten so much help. We were on food stamps until the end of February, and our health insurance is paid for by Medicaid. So why is needing aid so embarassing to admit? Because we aren’t working hard enough. Are we? I’m starting to wonder if our presupposition of the Protestant Work Ethic is really all that congruent with Scripture. Yes, the Bible does say that if we don’t work, we shouldn’t eat; but I don’t remember Peter or John assuming that the lame beggar asking for alms was a deadbeat. Jesus condemned the Pharisees who assumed that the man with the withered hand wound up that way as a result of someone’s specific sin. And that’s why I feel guilty. When I ask for help, I expect to face that question. “Who sinned here, you or your family? Why else would you not be able to feed your family yourself or pay to heat your home?” Need hurts. It’s one of those things you really can’t understand until you’ve been there. We are working hard –I still work a couple nights part-time, and Sam works about all the overtime he can get (usually that means 50 hours a week, including half a Saturday every other week). So, I ask myself, “He has a master’s degree –why are you living under the poverty line? Why not just get a better job?” Because in order to get another teaching job, he’d have to go back to school to be certified. That’d mean more debt, and less income. Next question? “Why not move, then?” Because a) we can’t afford another move, and b) unless you want to add psychological care to our monthly budget, we’ve already moved too many times to foster stability in our home. What I come down to is that we’ve done what I previously thought was impossible –we are in a situation where we can’t always help ourselves, and it is not of our own doing. I didn’t believe this sort of thing happened. Really. That’s how out of touch I was. But I’m here now, and I can see God’s provision. I no longer see a job or a husband as my provider. God is my Provider, and he isn’t moving anywhere. If he sees fit to provide by aid from others –well, that’s His provision. If he sees fit to provide by giving us work, we’ll do it joyfully, and we are.

You’re right, Juanito –the government is “of the people and for the people.” That thought actually tripped through the back of my brain as I was typing out my reply. I guess it just doesn’t seem like that much when everything is so far away and buried in bureaucracy. But, someone’s got to do it. And, if I am the government, it means choosing a leader that is a servant and that is concerned for the poor and those in need. It means choosing someone to represent me that is working for solutions, not bringing out the old laundry list of problems caused by the opposing political party. So, I get it. I’m just going to have to completely restructure the way I think about politics, I guess. I’m listening.