Narrow Road: A few thoughts on our divided political culture.

I’m tired. I’m so very tired of the anger, hubris and self-righteousness exhibited by both sides of this continual political fracas that we are living in. It makes me sick. I think I see at least a part of the problem so I will try to address it, but that could be my own stupid pride. We shall see.

What I believe to be happening is a breaking apart of Christian Ethics and Philosophy and then assigning those parts to different political viewpoints rather than the holistic, Judeo-Christian worldview which birthed them. Let me start with the whole by breaking down a single New Testament verse: James 1:27

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

First of all, religion is the ‘practice’ of a faith, not faith itself. One thing that the New Testament does that is radical is joining together the idea of internal, personal devotion to God with the external practice of religion. For most of human history the rituals and practice were the important part, belief and internal devotion were secondary. Jesus of Nazareth taught us to put internal devotion and relationship with God first and then practice, in terms of ritual and lifestyle, would follow.  So this verse tells us that the true PRACTICE of our faith (religion), coming from a devoted heart is to do these things:

Looking after orphans: Now, a purely literal interpretation of this verse would limit the meaning to looking out for the needs of ONLY widows and orphans. In light of the rest of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, that’s stupid. Widow’s and orphans represent all those folks who are on the fringes of society. One could argue that James uses only widows and orphans because they have no control over their situation, but a quick reading of Jesus’ own dealings with outcasts who did have control renders any such argument moot. Perhaps because of the New Testament idea of a fallen world, guilt and shame are reserved for the people who understand what they are supposed to do and don’t do it. Jesus is quick to shoot down the popular theology of His day which stated that every bad situation arose from some personal sin.

So, part of a pure and faultless practice of our faith in Christ is to care for the folks on the fringe; the ‘outside’ of the wheel, as Joss Whedon put it. Good. I doubt there will be much argument.

Keep oneself from being polluted by the world: In Christianity, internal devotion and correct thinking needs purity to function. Purity means, ‘of one substance’ so you could use consistency or integrity. To be polluted by the world is to have so much sin, selfishness and sensuality (AHA! Preacher alliteration!) in our minds that we lose track of the Voice of God or become corrupt in our thinking. The Apostle Paul called it carnality.

We can, therefore, talk about the Christian faith in two very important areas: Taking care of the broken and outcast, an expression of our love for our neighbors; and taking care of our personal purity or righteousness on an internal, heart level which is an expression of our love for God. (Both are an expression of our love for God but that’s a whole different study).

I should add that encouraging others towards a purified heart and right living is also considered an act of love. It’s not generally handled that way. Also a whole other subject.

What seems to have happened in recent decades, say since the late seventies is this: These ethical concepts have been broken into three distinctive thoughts and then, gradually, assigned to a different origination point than the teachings of Christ.

The first thought, taking care of the broken and outcast, has been appropriated by the left, progressive, liberal realm of political thought. The idea of righteousness, personal purity, etc., has been appropriated by the right, conservative realm of thought. A third idea, the idea that righteousness is personal and thereby elevating the concept of freedom, is now part and parcel of libertarian thought.  As human Americans, among others, we have taken the part that appeals to us and ignored, explained, justified or just disbelieved in the part we don’t like. We then rabidly follow a partial truth as a new ‘practice’ of faith. Here, O America, are your gods who have brought you out of bondage: The Donkey, The Elephant and even, The Hedgehog! Or worse, our own version of God Himself.

The war on poverty as an example: The Bible on poverty teaches us that the whole person is important. They must be fed. They must be freed from oppression if possible. They must be treated fairly. They must work. Neither side adequately addresses these issues. You can’t justify personal inaction or irresponsible voting choices by claiming it’s not the government’s job. This is a representative democracy, you are the government and it is your job.  And feeding people without freeing them from the situation that put them there, allowing a system of dependence to grow up where freedom and restoration should be taught is a sham, and immoral.  Any actual strategy for helping the poor must involve taking care of immediate needs and look to the freedom, restoration and dignity of the individual. That covers the entirety of the Christian ethic on poverty.

One cannot claim Christ and ignore the plight of the poor and disenfranchised; even if you think that the disenfranchised are sinners! One cannot claim Christ and ignore the directive for personal devotion and internal purity!  One cannot claim Christ and not celebrate personal freedom and moral and intellectual liberty!  So we have divided truth and set up new gods. One of the ugliest stories of the Old Testament for me is when the people at Shechem (Samaria) set up an idol called the Baal of the Covenant, stealing the history and the very promise of the God they had served for so long and splitting apart in the name of politics.

I may return to this subject, but for now, the heart of it is this: We, as a nation, have dismantled the teachings of Christianity. We are trying to lead with incomplete truth. Consequences are sure to follow.



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