Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Political Inactivism

I've lost my faith in politics and governments. Truth be told, when confronted with political issues and social controversies, I feel an overwhelming sense of apathy... Perhaps some ignorance -- and I can't deny that this may be a part of the equation... But I must confess that I often feel about as interested and impassioned about politics as I do about WWF wrestling. Sure, some people get into "that sort of thing" and I don't fault them for their interest. But I don't understand it. And I don't share it. And I don't know exactly what to do with this attitude.

Writing these words feels like a bit of a confessional whispered in the dark, oaken closets of a cold, empty cathedral. I strongly suspect that there are good friends -- people whom I respect greatly -- who may read these words and cry out against such soulless, unconscionable apathy. And I grant license for such a reaction. But I'm glad that these words are out there: I am apathetically apolitical. Guilty as charged.

Yet I'm not mindless, and I do care about big-picture issues. I'm not entirely self-centered; in fact, I make it a point to live in a socially responsible way. I vote thoughtfully. And I do recognize the plight of Africa. I mourn the general moral decay of society. I become angered with corporate oppression and with genocide (military or medical). I believe that poverty is a real problem in the world today -- and so is obscene wealth, for all that matters. So please don't get me wrong, when I confess my apolitical apathy. I don't believe that we should just stand around and do nothing.

I just don't think that the government offers us answers for these issues.

Do you really believe that George Bush (or George Clooney) can "Make Poverty History?" Can the G8 overcome the D7 (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth)? I hate the fact that I sound so cynical when I ask these questions... but they're honest questions. Didn't a wise man once say, "the poor you will always have with you" and "in this world you will have trouble?" ...And then -- wait, I'm trying to remember -- did he follow that up by saying that the politically-powerful hold the key to overcoming this world of corruption and injustice? Or was it the wealthy that hold this power? Maybe it was something about the common people uniting together with a petition that will overcome the world...

No, actually I believe Jesus said, "Take heart! I have overcome the world." And he didn't do it through petitions, or money, or political favors, or wars. He didn't march into Rome and demand a hearing with the Caesar. He simply sacrificed his own life -- on a gruesome and dehumanizing cross on the trash heaps outside of Jerusalem -- for the sake of bringing redemption to mankind. Indeed he saw the injustices of the world, yet he rose above band-aid solutions to the problems and operated on a higher level of discourse. And I believe that he genuinely overcame the world -- through love, sacrifice, and showing people the truest and deepest answer to all the problems in the world. And I believe that he still holds the answer to overcoming the world today.

It's true that I've lost my faith in the government. But my faith is resting on something much more secure...


At 4:52 AM, Blogger Jay said...

"...rose above the band-aid solutions..."
Perhaps the irony was intentional: Jesus didn't put on a concert and sing "Feed the world, let them know it's Christmas time" to raise money and show he was a politically-thinking rock star. He was beyond the "Band Aid" solutions.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

I wish I could say that the "band-aid solutions" was an intentional play on words... But honestly, I must claim that it was just a fortuitous coincidence! Your comments are very much in line with what I'm thinking, though...

At 5:26 PM, Blogger seth said...

I would hope that every follower of Christ who is active for social justice puts their faith in Christ and not government. It is that faith that allows one to press forward in the face of the social/political obstacles that resist change.

The government does not offer answers - it offers a means for us to enact change. Do you know of any other way to eliminate the everwhelming debt that most developing countries face than through governmental action? I do think that these celebrities can make a difference for good - they certainly know how to raise money, and the people in Indonesia certainly appreciated that money following the Tsunami. And I think that we can petition our politicians to do good.

I don't think that the solution to the world's problems is found in political activism; I think it is found when we surrender our selfishness, when we allow God's light to expose our ugliness and show us/me that He loves the person I pass on the street every bit as much as he loves me. I think that activism is one way of acting on those realizations. I know that the poor will always be with us, but I also know that to help the least of these...

I think that Jesus was an activist and his activism and direct reproaches of the powers that be led to his crucifiction. He is an activist for everyone at every level.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Todd said...


I admire you expressing your feelings on the topic when it could be easier not to say anything.

I think, overall, it is easy to forget that many of the just laws we have today are because Godly men and woman fought hard for our rights and freedoms. The morality in the Bible has shaped our law and our lifestyle, particularly in the West.

There seems to be inseparability between personal and social transformation as a result of the gospel. Jesus said we are the light of the world and to let our light shine before men. As the redeeming power of the gospel begins to shape our lives, character, and morality, into the image of its creator, there is only one possibility… more light and more love for more people. When our hearts become molded into the heart of Jesus there is little else we can do but fight to love and protect people both in a spiritual and physical way, as Jesus did. One such way to let God’s light shine in this world is through just law and policy. We have a responsibility to care for our neighbor. There are many ways to do this, government is one. It is government that God himself instituted for our protection, and it is man he gave to run government. I believe we (as Christians) have no option but to be involved in ways to protect and care for people, for this is God’s heart and character and we are his children. One such way to protect and care is through law and policy. Just law and policy are not the answer to humanities dilemma, as you so well noted, but they should be the expression of men and woman living out the image of their creator.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Bret said...

Thanks for sharing your heart Eric. It must be difficult working alongside people like me, who do talk openly about their political views on such subjects.

I agree with both Todd and Seth before me - the real heart behind my desire for action is the very thing you talked about. Jesus changed the world through love. There is no other way to see it, no other story to be told.

In the midst of this, God set up a system - a social structure if you will - that structure is somewhere between individualism and holism. It is based on relationships. The individual does not act alone independent of society and societal structures are not above the actions of the individual. They are forever linked to one another.

Thus, when we make choices as individuals we are in fact, making choices that affect others. Likewise, when government, political parties, and other structures of society make decisions, they affect individuals. Jesus taught us to above all else love God and then your neighbor. We are playing the game. And the game is played on a field we have been born into, but that we can also change for the better or for the worse. I'm convinced we can make a difference for the better.

I believe that you are taking action in your own way. You may feel disenchanted with the social justice movement, but you are a Christian. And as so, you are part of a community. The community you belong to matters and so does the action it takes. Thus, I'm afraid you too are in the game.

Thanks for sharing your heart. We are blessed to have a caring and open friend who believes in Jesus as the foundation, the way, the truth and the life.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Just to clarify... I'm not saying that social justice is worthless or meaningless. In fact, apart from the title of my post (which is really just a literary device), I'm not advocating inaction at all. I'm a strong believer in voting. I sign petitions (in fact, I'm "one" of the millions of voices who has signed the petition to "make poverty history," and I would encourage others to consider doing the same). I believe it's absolutely our responsibility to fight for the poor and disadvantaged in society. And I would be foolish to say that our national citizenship, our economic choices, and our political action are not a part of the way that God can use us as redemptive agents in this world. I believe they are indubitably a part of the process.

But my main point is that political and social programs are not end solutions. Nowhere close. Too many people have simply bought into some kind of "party line" (be it right or left) without considering the real reasons behind it, or without seeking to understand the deeper underlying issues that cause such injustice in the world. Too many people have simply bought into the new consumerism: send in your $10 (or €10) donation, buy the T-shirt, wear the wristband, attend the concert -- and be proud because you've done your part. I'm not assuming that this is the case with any of the people who might happen to read my thoughts in this space, but I do think that it's a real and present issue in Western society. As I see it, we're not escaping the issues at all. In fact, the focus of consumerism and social status is simply transferred (albeit in a more attractive packaging). And this is why I feel a sense of apolitical apathy -- although I am very conscious that we all need to do our best to keep this from becoming cynicism or inaction.

For the record, with the "One"/"Making Poverty History" campaign (since the issue definitely seems to be in focus these days), I think that the campaign deals with many noble causes that are worthy to be championed -- and we have a special opportunity to take advantage of the current groundswell in popular support. So I lend my support, because the positives of the campaign definitely outweigh the negatives. But I feel that we need to be careful about toeing the party line, even on something like this. I'm not fully comfortable with all of the opinions toward globalization that are associated with this campaign, and I seriously question how much national debt relief is really going to accomplish for the common man in need. And I think it's genuinely naïve to think that such political efforts can really "make poverty history" (although I realize that it presents more of a PR challenge to rally support for the "make a dent in world poverty" campaign). Again, we're dealing with issues that are much deeper and much more complex than any political or social campaign can overcome, independent of genuine change in the hearts of people.

Perhaps Seth said it best in his comment, when he said that the solutions to the world's problems are found when we surrender our selfishness. Some of this includes petitions, demonstrations, voting, buying fair trade coffee... but it also includes more practical care for your neighbor, prayer, sharing the story of Christ with others, discipleship, learning about and visiting other cultures... We miss the boat when we may anything too simplistic. Ultimately, I believe that the answer to the world's problems is found through Christ, and through the extension of Christ's body in the world today: the Church. And if we lose sight of this, we're missing the point.

There's a great section of the Bible that I read today, dealing with this whole theme, in Psalm 72: "(The righteous king) will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight... Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen."

Thanks for everyone's interaction on this subject. I enjoy the dialogue.

At 3:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand and have felt the same lately... especially since my Minnesotan government is on some sort of partial shutdown which apparently is costing more money than it is saving for some reason that no one can seem to explain. Politics are just so frustrating and it just takes so much energy to learn all that is going on to even be able to, with some degree of real knowledge (not what the mainstream media is showing us), engage with the current topics.


At 5:46 PM, Blogger seth said...

I'm going to skip over most of your reply b/c I generally agree with it and point out only one thing. I often hear, usually in opposition to government programs for the poor/needy, that such things are not the responsibility of the gov't but of the church - which is what I roughly interpret you as saying toward the end of your comment. While I don't disagree with the premise I do disagree with how many Christians would apply that directive. Churches should be pressuring elected officials to properly implement and run programs not telling them to scrap them and let churches start their own programs. In other words, the Church being Christ's 'arm' in the world does not preclude said arm from acting in concert with government and insist that it 'does it alone'. Government programs et. al. are the best things we have going for the needy here in the States and I highly doubt that the fractured Church as it exists could take over those tasks - we don't even do a good job of supporting those who slip through the cracks in the gov't systems. It sounds great, and it would be great, for the Church to assume care for all those in need - but we know it will not/can not happen b/c of our brokeness.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Good point, Seth. I agree that a utopian view of what the Church can do for the world is not fully constructive (sad though that may be). But much of what I'm trying to say is that attention to material needs without corresponding attention to greater spiritual and emotional needs will always be just a temporary and imperfect fix. This seems to especially be the case in the Western world (NL and USA, at least)...


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