Friday, August 27, 2010

Politics and War

This is a subject I have written about before, but I recently had some more openings about the subject while listening again to Lloyd Lee Wilson's Pendle Hill talk on the subject "Who Do You Say I Am?"

In his talk, LLW says something about how the Kingdom of God is not the same as earthly governments, and that it is not realized by "giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the senate." In the questions that followed, LLW talked about "how easy it is for the Christian vision to be co-opted by political power", and he went on to caution Friends about not letting themselves get co-opted. As I heard this discussion, things arose for me about politics, especially the attitudes found in partisan politics and the attitudes in war.

There's a movie called "Joyeux Noel", about the German, French, and British troops celebrating Christmas together during the first world war. At the beginning of the movie, they show school teachers in each country telling the children almost identical stories how evil the other side is, how they don't have the same value for human life. In times of war, we often hear such demonizing of the other side, often times using extreme examples to characterize the general population. The same thing happens quite frequently in political battles. People have in mind certain characteristics when they hear "right" and "left", and there often seems to be very little middle ground, much less compromise. People like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Al Franken become the caricatures by which others are judged.

When Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, I heard Friends refer to those who questioned the decision as "not getting it". During the health care debate, I heard talk about how the people who opposed the health care bill were just looking out for themselves and didn't care about other people, with little regard to the possibility that the disagreement was about the role of government. It seemed to be framed more as "we are in the right, they are in the wrong", which is also the core of any proposed justification for war.

I am often disappointed at the level of wheeling and dealing that takes place to get legislation passed, and the seeming lack of concern for that on the part of the victors. It seems like we are willing to put up with a lot of behavior that would be otherwise unacceptable as long as it results in the passage of some important piece of legislation. Similarly, in war we often find the people willing to suspend their previously-held standards in order to carry out the war. The PATRIOT act seems a good example of this. Look at the difference in Friends' attitudes with regard to disagreements in business meeting as compared to political issues. Is there a similar lowering of principles?

In his talk, Lloyd Lee said something to the effect of "Who am I to judge how you may be led by God?" I am not writing this with the intent of saying that anyone who engages in politics is wrong, but I think it is very important to be aware of what political battles do to us. The similarity between partisan politics and war with respect to attitudes and behaviors suggests to me that if nothing else, we can find the seeds of war within these political battles.

The final thing I would ask Friends to consider is what it means to experience the Unity of the Spirit. When we sit and commune with God, as we experience the Holy Spirit, do we not find that worldly concerns drop away? When we experience the perfect love that casts out fear, do we not reach a place in which we can commune with one another where our differences and disagreements fade into the background? Are our meetings unified by the experience of this Spirit - is that what we all come for? If so, then why are our meetings so politically homogenous?

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