In general I would like to change the overall tenor of my blog away from the more polemical, reflections on the news-of-the-day, culture war sort, but something Mark Steyn recently wrote about Edward Kennedy summed up a lot of things for me. Steyn is acerbic, clever and hilarious, the closest living writer we have to a Twain (in his journalism and travelogues (not fiction)). I have debated with myself for years if an H.L. Mencken (whom I love though I don’t share his worldview) style of rhetoric and writing is appropriate for a Christian. At one time I read a lot about Muggeridge, though I have only dipped into him, and have the sense that he may have pulled it off.
Steyn wrote: “If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular?” While I really do find that I tend to adopt mediating political and theological positions, though that does not make me a moderate, I am a thorough orthodox Nicene Christian with strongly held beliefs, and though I dislike hubris on either side, I tend to believe political conservatism (for all its faults, failures and excesses) tends to do less harm to humanity. Basically it’s a slower descent on the road to hell.
Steyn’s quote above nails it for me. Progressives care deeply about the Poor, and less about the poor. They are more concerned with Environmentalism than they are the environment. They love Humanity and hate man. Jesus Christ was the opposite. His life and ministry showed an unparalleled concern for concrete humans, and His death showed that that deep care was extended to all Humanity. This is the arrow of love–it moves from the particular to the general–and without that focus on the concrete, historical person before you; that is, our neighbor, we can not truly exhibit compassion for humanity.
We see this in 1 Timothy 3. An overseer should be gentle, temperate, faithful, self-controlled and hospitable, among others, all qualities that relate to specific, real, tangible human beings we are in family or community with. We find an awful lot in Scripture about how to treat persons and not so much about how to treat peoples. We find almost exclusively teachings on how individuals should relate to individuals and how communities of faith should relate to individuals (e.g. Matthew 18:15-17). I can not think of a teaching off-hand that deals with our responsibility to our neighbor, family or community mediated through the government, unless it’s Jesus’s teaching to reconcile with another before it lands in court, suggesting, at least, that judicial intervention is a valid and necessary, if undesired, process.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus, Paul and Peter all addressed our obligations to the government, especially when the government they were referring to would be intolerable to us today, as long as it wasn’t in conflict with our obligations to God. Nowhere I am aware of do they delineate the obligations of government to the individual or the individual’s obligation to other individuals through the government.
Don’t get me wrong; I cherish representative democracy even if it is “the worst form of government except all those others” (Churchill) which contains the “seeds of its own destruction” (Robert Welch), and ours is sliding into an insidious individualism with a destructive bent towards self-gratification and consumerism. However, nothing we can do will remove the consequences of original sin. When we try to “fix” problems, especially on a grand scale, we tend to make them worse–the more grand the proposed solution the less grand the outcome.
So, I tend to be generally more conservative politically and more radical (in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount, not French Revolution) personally. Conservatism should be about conservation (and I should say I tend to an older pre-Reagan conservatism, one that at one time would have embraced thinkers like Wendell Berry), and the best way to conserve is to plant. If democracy does indeed contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as all human Babels must, then at least it takes longer for the weeds to flourish because there are just so many vibrant, beautiful plants growing.
Governments do indeed have positive roles to play; some problems (e.g. toxic waste, highways, defense, education) need resources, regulations and direct intervention, but governments deal with people in the aggregate and abstract, and this leads to care for Humanity and carelessness towards humans. It creates a situation in which people can advocate for health care as a positive right while denying life to millions. Medical treatment guaranteed to the sick by governmental legislation is not as legitimate a function of government, if at all, than protecting the innocent or defending those who can not defend themselves. Because the unborn have been abstracted to fetuses, we have decided they are not human and have no rights. The first right a government should protect is the right to life. Even liberty itself comes after that!
It is not progress to medically treat a person with the flu in the same hospital where an unborn baby is deprived of her life and where another baby is born and another is operated on in the womb. (While most abortions are done in specialty “clinics,” there are still hundreds of hospitals that perform them, and even if they were not, it’s not progress to treat those who were born while killing others. The hospital was a useful, but unnecessary, comparison.) Yes, of course, I think the conditions which drive some women to abortion need to be addressed. That’s why we adopted two older, special needs children out of the public adoption system after they were removed from their mother.
Desipte what Obama said in his address before Congress on September 9th, don’t be fooled into thinking that if we get a national public option we won’t eventually get tax-payer funded abortions. They already have them in Canada.
Render unto Caesar, but love your neighbor.