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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Faith and Practicing Politics

Martin K has had a few interesting posts lately about the mixing of Quakerism and politics. The quotes from nineteenth-century Friends make for an interesting juxtaposition with twenty-first century Friends Twittering during the debates. I haven’t caught up to the Twitter phenomenon myself yet, but I know enough to suspect it’s a sign of how different our world is from that of those Friends who tried so hard to separate themselves from it. Yet, a few things haven’t changed. There is still a considerable gap between our ideals and the values of our culture. For instance, there is no one left in the race who opposes all war, and it is unlikely that the United States will elect someone who takes that position in my lifetime. There is also still a struggle to know how much of our energy to give the world’s concerns. One big difference in the times is that we can now broadcast our struggles widely and quickly, and get almost immediate comments, unlike earlier Quaker writers who published journals, rather than conversations.

I’ve gone back and forth on how much to discuss the election on this blog, partly because, like Martin, I know I have the potential to get “snarky,” and that’s not the purpose of this forum. Partly it’s because I am so ready for this election to be over so that, among other things, my email inbox will become manageable again. I know I’m not the only one. A friend recently confessed her frustration with a work colleague who hasn’t kept up with important paid work because of an election-news obsession. I think people of any century would agree that obsession is unhealthy. Friends would say it takes us away from our focus on God, which was the original idea of simplicity, after all.

With that said, I have to mention a book my husband just lent me, Religion as Poetryby Andrew Greeley, a Catholic priest and prolific writer. Greeley discusses people’s differing images of God and how having a more loving, compassionate image of the Divine makes people more likely to vote Democratic, even after adjusting for other factors, like age, gender, and education level. I haven’t read too much of it yet, but the part I have confirms things I wrote in The Wisdom to Know the Difference about how our image of God affects how we see life. It’s a point also made in George Lakoff’s book on differing political ideologies, and it seems to me part of what is so difficult about discussing these issues across world views. Sometimes when I am speaking to someone who seems to view compassion as a liberal weakness, rather than a fundamental value of Christianity, I just get stuck and don’t know what to say.

We had a town hall meeting for Barack Obama in our mostly white and traditionally Catholic neighborhood last week with the hope of drawing undecided or ambivalent voters. One such older woman raised her hand and asked if it was true that Obama was “mixed up with the Muslims.” Many people rolled their eyes at the question, but the speaker said simply that, no, Obama was a Christian. As the moderator, I tried to add something about it not mattering, but I didn’t feel very articulate, and it just gave the woman the chance to say, “Some of those Muslims are not very nice people,” as if this couldn’t also be said of some Christians, Jews, or Hindus. I’ve been thinking of Colin Powell’s courageous comments on this, and the fact that for me it is also a matter of faith to respect people of other faiths, who after all, were created by the same God, whether they use a different word for God or not. Certainly some of us people of faith are not very nice, and all of us have parts of our history in direct contradiction to the principles we espouse, but I still come out on the side of God’s goodness and human goodness, as well. According to Greeley, my theology is more Catholic than Protestant (though he doesn’t include Quakers in his study) and more Democratic than Republican. I guess it goes to show that faith and politics are not so easy to disentangle, at least not for me in this election cycle.


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