Friday, May 13, 2022

The politics of being innocuous

This topic could easily be a longer piece or even a book, but let's let this single idea suffice for now.

One thing you are sure to read or be counseled is that it is best to avoid politics. It detracts from your proper emphasis on the Christian journey, it is rife with anger and outrage, and you are likely to be coopted by forces larger than yourself who will include you in their number even when you have no opinion on this or that topic (or even disagree completely with some of their positions).

At the same time you are also sure to read or be counseled that you are called to participate in the Great Commission and evangelize. You are supposed to live a life of faith unashamed of Christ, His Church, your place in it, or your hope for salvation in Heaven. Candles, bushels, so let your light shine... you get the picture. 

If you are wise enough to avoid politics that speak in terms of Left versus Right, but ALSO avoid being actively Christian so as to be inoffensive or simply comfortable, you do no better than the person who allows partisanship to subsume the Way. Fig trees, fruit, withering... again, you get the picture.

In short, I'm saying you can turn your nose up at politics and be in good company, but you cannot abandon the requirements of your faith to be a person of action. It just so happens that some political matters rest on the same topics that a Christian need concern himself with.

"I don't read the paper" is a perfectly fine thing to say inasmuch as it eschews the petty partisanship and thinly veiled editorializing in the journalism of contemporary news media. "I don't live out the Gospel" is not a perfectly fine thing to say, however, and swings the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

It is not uncommon for me to speak with a parishioner and realize that he has equated being thoroughly inoffensive and almost invisible at work, at church, or out and about on weekends with being a good person. If he finished the week and didn't make his wife mad, didn't chime in with a contrary opinion to his coworkers, and didn't cut anyone off in the grocery store parking lot, then he had a good week. And yet there is little merit in living a life wherein the only person who notes you are still alive in any meaningful way is you. He, you, and I are called to more.

Let me finish with this first bit of the Didache. Note that it is actively voiced. There are things for you to do, things to declare, things to defend. The Christian life is one of struggle and not innocuous comfort so there should be no confusion between laudably avoiding the fray of point-scoring politics and avoiding participating in the exacting standards set forth by the commandments of Christ. Citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven expects more out of you in this life than one might see adumbrated under civic duty, not less.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways. 

The way of life is this. First of all, thou shalt love the God that made thee; secondly, thy neighbour as thyself. And all things whatsoever thou wouldest not have befal thyself neither do thou unto another. Now of these words the doctrine is this. Bless them that curse you, and pray for your enemies and fast for them that persecute you ; for what thank is it, if ye love them that love you? Do not even the Gentiles the same? But do ye love them that hate you, and ye shall not have an enemy. Abstain thou from fleshly and bodily lusts. If any man give thee a blow on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also, and thou shalt be perfect; if a man impress thee to go with him one mile, go with him twain ; if a man take away thy cloak, give him thy coat also ; if a man take away from thee that which is thine own, ask it not back, for neither art thou able. To every man that asketh of thee give, and ask not back ; for the Father desireth that gifts be given to all from His own bounties. Blessed is he that giveth according to the commandment; for he is guiltless. Woe to him that receiveth; for, if a man receiveth having need, he is guiltless; but he that hath no need shall give satisfaction why and wherefore he received; and being put in confinement he shall be examined concerning the deeds that he hath done, and he shall not come out thence until he hath given back the last farthing. Yea, as touching this also it is said; Let thine alms sweat into thine hands, until thou shalt have learnt to whom to give.

And this is the second commandment of the teaching. Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not corrupt boys, thou shalt not commit fornication, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not deal in magic, thou shalt do no sorcery, thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods, thou shalt not perjure thyself, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not speak evil, thou shalt not cherish a grudge, thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued; for the double tongue is a snare of death. Thy word shall not be false or empty, but fulfilled by action. Thou shalt not be avaricious nor a plunderer nor a hypocrite nor ill-tempered nor proud. Thou shalt not entertain an evil design against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not hate any man, but some thou shalt reprove, and for others thou shalt pray, and others thou shalt love more than thy life. 


  1. I think its a fairly simple to say we should all be good witnesses to the Faith/Truth in our day to day affairs by living honest lives and speaking/acting at the appropriate times, though the discernment for such things is trickier.

    I more often find the argument to be between those who think we can save the system by remaining in it, that we can "make the world a better place" and those who see that the system is beyond saving and too toxic to remain in.

    The one side says that its defeatist to retreat and that things will only get worse if we do so. The other side points out that keeping our children in Roman schools turns them into Romans, and there's no salvation in politics.

    I think one extreme is thinking in humanist terms and that we can make a paradise on earth, or at least somehow make life comfortable, ignoring the salvific nature of the Cross, and the other extreme is ignoring our neighbors or becoming exclusionary like ethnic enclaves.

    I think there must be some difficult yet subtle balance to be found as usual. For example Fr. Josiah Trenham is far behind enemy lines politically and religiously speaking, but making waves and having great success, while actively engaging with the surrounding culture war. (which has obviously made him controversial, but its hard to argue with the fruit of his labors, so many baptized etc) Though we cant all wage such direct conflicts, clearly we dont all have the same gifts.

    I was also taught that the best way to be a light on a hill is to live the faith, the liturgical/sacramental life of the Church, because when you're living the faith, people notice. No door to door salesmanship needed.

    "Everyone wants to change the world but nobody wants to change themselves". Or as St. Seraphim of Sarov said 'Obtain inner peace and a thousand people around you will be saved'. How many problems would be solved and people saved if we simply worked on ourselves?

    1. Pandering to the "Culture Wars" will certainly find you like-minded dittoheads, but it will also serve to alienate both you and the church from the other half of the population. Priests who engage in such rhetoric will surely find converts, but I have to wonder if the commitment these converts are making is more to a political agenda rather than to the church.