Monday, November 3, 2008

Election day thoughts: Slouching toward hedocracy

I do not, as a priest, tell people whom to vote for. I have no problem, however, with trying to persuade them regarding how to vote. I'm speaking especially to Christians here, who I imagine probably make up the vast majority of my little readership. Here follows something of a sermon, written in the tradition of people like the Prophet Elijah, St. John the Baptist, St. John Chrysostom and St. Theodora the Empress, holy people who had no problem with political involvement when answering attacks against the sacredness of human life and family.

All of the issues at stake in this election are important. Some issues are more important than others, however. It is of course important to try to create good economic conditions to help people who need help. It is also important to try to create good conditions for good health care for everyone. How one chooses to get there depends on one's economic theories. ("Liberals" tend to think government can do it better, while "Conservatives" tend to think that that the government isn't so good at it. The varying parties have varying records on living up to the rhetoric.)

For a Christian with even an ounce of tradition in his blood, however, certain issues at stake in this election are glaringly important. It is absolutely, unconditionally the case that the whole Christian tradition is universally against the all-out assault on human life and on the God-ordained shape of family life that is now represented by certain candidates and party platforms.

I think that much of our culture has embraced a sort of collective blindness and amnesia with regards to some of these issues. How one can look at a tiny infant in the womb and see anything but a human being is really quite beyond me. How anyone can look at so-called same-sex "marriage" and really and truly see marriage is beyond me. It defies logic, even without any religious faith to inform it. We as a culture have somehow been able to convince ourselves that this insanity is sanity.

How can it be sane to say, "Yes, this could possibly 'develop' into a person, has all the genetic characteristics of a person, looks like a tiny person, but there is some sort of voodoo that happens in the few inches of the birth canal that grants personhood"? And worse yet, now even that "voodoo" is being called into question, if one didn't really mean to let it happen! How can people be dedicated to human and civil rights and yet perpetuate the wholesale slaughter of the most innocent and defenseless members of our society? And, even worse, there is a bill being sponsored by one of the presidential candidates which would make it illegal for people to refuse to kill these children on religious grounds. (Where is the "freedom" or "choice" in that?)

And how can it be sane to say, "Yes, all those body parts seem to be dedicated to particular functions and clearly work in a certain way, but that doesn't matter; we think that people should not only be allowed to do whatever they want with those parts (which they are), but we should also require everyone to accept and participate in the legitimization of this parody of the most basic social unit in human history"? It is nihilistic—aimed purely at personal pleasure and the prevention of the creation of life, family and culture. There is no "freedom" being sought after in this push for the mainstreaming of same-sex practice. What is being sought after is limiting the freedom of people whose consciences cannot allow them to give legitimacy to this nihilistic behavior. Yes, this does have an effect on traditional marriage in our whole society to jettison that tradition and force the whole society to call something "marriage" which isn't. (There are already churches, for instance, being persecuted by governments in other countries for refusing, on religious grounds, to participate in this behavior.)

Words like "freedom" and "rights" are often used to try to legitimize these assaults on humanity. The 1960s civil rights movement is often trotted out in defense of these assaults. But the civil rights movement, along with the women's suffrage and abolitionist movements before it, were all based on the Christian tradition. That's right—it was the Christian tradition that was the basis for freeing the slaves, giving women voting rights, and recognizing non-whites as fully human in every way.

This is not theocracy, but it is simply the basic engine of democracy, that moral and religious beliefs are a major and legitimate factor in how people vote. So you can't steal the moral authority of the civil rights movement while jettisoning its whole basis. That's something that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King would not have abided. It's also not "legislating morality"; it's about enacting certain societal restraints against certain major evils, because it's in everyone's best interests, no matter their beliefs.

The Christian tradition is clear not in a supposed "condemnation" or "hatred" of people who want to abort their children or people who want to require others to recognize their choice to engage in self-annihilation—rather, the tradition it is clear that these things are spiritually (and physically!) toxic both personally to the people who do them and also to the society that not only accepts but also promotes such behavior.

One of the great sadnesses of the modern disengagement of serious Christians from public life is that many believe that it is "hateful" to take a strong moral stand. When Hitler gassed people acting on same-sex attraction, that was hateful and evil. But when St. Paul listed such activity among a list of many sins (including many which I believe are worse but are not being touted these days as virtue or "freedom"), he wasn't being hateful—he was being a loving pastor. Your doctor doesn't tell you to quit smoking or quit eating junk food because he hates you or wants to limit your "freedom"—he tells you these things because it's what's best for you.

Now, I understand that a secular person might not believe me when I say that these things are bad for all of us. (Mind you, I think even bare logic shows this, but since all logic is informed by belief, I can see where an atheistic or non-Christian religious belief might lead one away from this point of view.) But for Christians, they should easily be aware that the whole 2000-year tradition has been clear—not in hatred, not in bigotry, not in enacting violence against people who sin, because we are all sinners—rather, Christianity has always said that abortion is evil, that it is is the murder of a human being, and that acting on same-sex attraction is nihilistic, that it is a violence against the beauty of God's creation and against the dignity of the magnificence of the human person created according to God's image. (These things are well-documented not only in the Scripture but in the centuries of tradition that follow.)

I can also see how certain kinds of Christianity are so anti-traditional that they feel free to ignore all of this. (Mind you, I don't regard such groups as really Christian, since they seem to want the label but don't want the faith that goes with it.) But there should be no question whatsoever for at least two groups of Christians on any of this, because our traditions are solid and clear on these questions: Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. We have centuries of Church Fathers and official statements on all these things.

There are, of course, a lot of sins and a lot of sinners. I know, because I'm one of them. Even St. Paul called himself the "chief of sinners." But sin is real, and it really does destroy people, families and nations, not because it's a "violation" of a "law," but because it's a distortion of humanity, a severance of the person from the Source of all life. And some wounds are more serious than others.

That's why no one, especially not Christians, should be ashamed of being "single-issue" or "dual-issue" voters (or whatever). If there were a major candidate saying that we should kill off all people over the age of 80 who take up more than $10,000 in health care per year, no one would complain if his opponents were "single-issue voters." (He would engender horror if he said that he wanted to make sure that "killing Grandma is safe, legal and rare.") Some issues, whether they are one or one hundred, are so important that it's worth setting other priorities lower.

I'm fully aware of all the arguments and "exceptions" and hypothetical scenarios that are usually brought out for these questions. What I'm talking about, though, is doing what's right, no matter what it costs. I'm talking about saving innocent human life and saving the basic social unit of universal human history. These are profound, universal human questions, and future generations will judge us based on what we did with them.

No matter what happens in this election, we must love and pray for even our enemies, even those who participate in some of the horrors being proposed and promoted. And we must do all we can to help the suffering we see right in front of us. We must offer those works of mercy, those words of comfort, those steps we take outside of ourselves which may even mean our discomfort in order for good to be done for others.

While we take strong stances on major moral issues and vote based on those vital matters of conscience, we must also be willing to sacrifice ourselves even for people who hate us and work against us.

Remember that when you step into the voting booth and ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?" Because even while He told the scribes and Pharisees that they were hypocrites, vipers and white-washed tombs for their distortions of spiritual life, He also willingly suffered in their behalf and died and rose again that their sins might be forgiven and they be welcomed into the Kingdom.


Arielle said...

Great post - sending it to family :)

I've been singing all day (including under my breath as I walk around Philly - there's enough crazy ladies that talk to themselves around here that I don't stick out) "O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance, granting victory to the Orthodox Christians over their adversaries, and by virtue of Thy cross, preserve Thy habitation." Seems fitting for today.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Father Bless!
Are you alright? Recovered from election shock and the coming of the new Messiah?
Not so much as a word so I hope you are well.
Pray hard,pray very hard!

Fr. Andrew said...

Alas, it was no shock at all. But we do what we can.

I've been putting a lot of effort lately toward a big project here at the cathedral -- seven weeks of lectures on the differences between Orthodoxy and other religions.

auocc said...

It is about time that the laity of the Orthodox Church (be they modernist or traditionalists) to unite together to provide a new voice in the public square.

It is our hope that all throughout this great but ailing nation locals and chapters of The American Union of Orthodox Christian Citizens will organize and stand up to their state capitols as well as Washington DC.

AUOCC is conservative i.e., Orthodox in its socio-moral issues while liberal i.e., Orthodox in its socio-economics and social justice.
We live in times of political "gray-matter" (a step before national nihilism) we must bring the Light of Christ to all and for all.

Fr. Andrew said...

Dear friend from the AOUCC,

Are you familiar with the American Orthodox Institute?