The Spirituality of Politics and the Politics of Spirituality

Posted by on 10.23.08 | 5 Comments
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Beth’s recent blog inspired me to offer a few thoughts of my own on the connection between spirituality and politics. Here they are.

These days most of us can see the difference between religion and spirituality. Some of us, like me, believe the two can be distinguished but not completely separated, while others think they are both distinct and separate from one another. That question is for another time. For now it is enough to note that they are not the same thing. I begin in this rather tedious fashion because I need a context in which to say that while I do believe religion has no good place in politics, but rather too often exerts a pernicious influence, spirituality is another matter altogether, and ought properly to guide us as we decide how to vote both on candidates and issues.

The development of my spirituality has led me to see a genuinely tragic component in human nature. On the one hand Shakespeare was right – or rather Hamlet was – we are wonderful creatures, “noble in reason,” “infinite in faculties,” “in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god.” And yet these faculties, reason, admirable form and movement, angelic actions and godlike apprehension do not prevent from acting in the most beastly manner when our fears, ambitions, lusts and so forth evoke our basest natures. We can see the good, we really can, but we can’t quite bring it about. This is so, not because we are inherently evil, awful creatures, but because we are so mixed, so tragic. If we were truly awful we would feel no internal conflict whatsoever, but the fact that we can see a better self than we are, both individually and corporately, demonstrates that we are not just awful, but rather have this tragic dimension to us which leads us close to true greatness, true beauty but then causes us to self destruct. I got this view not just from reading Sophocles, or Shakespeare; I got it first from the Book of Common Prayer.

So, this sense I have of humanity is at the very core of my spirituality, and it dictates how I vote just about every time. I don’t trust the broad public to protect minorities, to respect them as we ourselves want to be respected, and so I vote for people who will work hard to protect the rights of minorities. My politics follows my spirituality as I vote for those who will create enforceable protections. I don’t trust “The Market” that idol we have been worshipping the past thirty years, to take care of all Americans. Therefore I vote for people who believe in regulating the Market, in enforcing discipline on it so that its worst excesses can be moderated. Again, my politics follows my spirituality. I do believe that peace through justice is a more durable foundation for social stability than peace through conquest, and so I vote for people who are very reluctant to use our armed forces, and who believe that cooperation with others is better than co-opting them. Yet again, my politics follows my spirituality.

My spirituality never tells me to vote for “The Christian.” On the contrary, when I see people running as “Christians” I generally run the other way. My spirituality does tell me that people need restraint, that power needs to be divided and shared. I suppose that if my spirituality assured me that people could always be trusted, that they were inherently good, I might well happily vote for the most libertarian types all the time. But my spirituality doesn’t tell me that. I look at the world through a different spiritual lens than that, and because of that lens I tend to vote for the people who believe in oversight, restraint and accountability.

Whether we are “religious” or not, all of us have values and convictions about the world that emerge from our spiritual perspective. Those values influence us in pretty deep and profound ways. When it comes to voting I think they ought to influence us. Look what happened when America ignored its spiritual heritage, forgot the legacy of Lincoln and his second Inagural address with its powerful spirituality, and voted for the guy they would most like to have a beer with. Twice. Let us get away from elections influenced by trite relationships and facile sloganeering, and get back to elections influenced by genuine spirituality. We will all be better off for it.




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