Thursday, September 22, 2005

God's Politics

Over the summer I read a book by Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners (see link on the right) called God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it. It's a good book about how religion is treated by the different political sides, and as you can tell from the title, about how neither side gives religion a fair shake. I wanna talk about this book in some detail, so I'll be doing several posts on it. I'm gonna start today with the introduction and basic premise.

True and honest faith challenges both the left and right at various points to become better than they are. Thus, both sides react to it differently: one twists it, the other ignores it.

The right has hijacked Christianity by constricting the dialogue to a handful of "hot button" issues, particularly abortion and gay marriage, thus narrowing and distorting the biblical agenda. It makes Christians, who should be concerned about a tremendous number of political issues, into single-issue voters. Furthermore, it infuses religion with a kind of hyper-nationalism, claiming that "God is on our side." This is bad religion and dangerous theology. It leads to militarism and a theology of finger-pointing. Right wing Christianity is about judging others for doing things that conservatives typically don't do (or so they convince themselves), which is divisive and prideful (cf. Matt. 6:33, Proverbs 8:12-13).

The left, on the other hand, buries their head in the sand when it comes to religion. They don't talk about it, instead preferring to try to keep religion out of politics, as if that option were a) possible and b) preferable, considering the progressive nature of biblical values. Particularly, Wallis lambasts secular fundamentalists, who, like religious fundamentalists, want to restrict conversation and inhibit other viewpoints. The desire to banish religion from political debate leads to a weak spirituality of ad hoc wish fulfillment and little self-help techniques to make us feel better about our materialistic, self-centered lives. What the left fails to understand most is that, in matters of policy, an honest conversation about religion behooves them even more than the right.

The answer, says Wallis, is not to create a Christian Left. The whole problem with the Christian Right is the manipulation of religion by politics; to do the same on the Left leaves us in no better condition. Rather, we need a "third way," to appropriate Buddhist terminology: a political stance informed and shaped by prophetic religion. We need to let the Bible hit us head-on with an introspective faith that calls us to be critical of ourselves and truly compassionate toward others, especially "the least among us." The quest for social justice is an act of worship.

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