Political dynamo

Things have been a bit political round here lately, with the last fortnight or so seeing eight posts tagged as “Politics” and five as “Anarchy and Christianity”.

This reflects my ongoing uncertainty about my own political position. The Political Compass places me firmly in the “economic left, social libertarian” quadrant (though I appear to have moved somewhat to the right, economically, since I last took the test back in 2005). But I don’t feel particularly comfortable with any of the standard labels associated with this position (“left-libertarian”? “socialist”? “social democrat”? “liberal”?). And I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as an anarchist, despite sharing much of Jacques Ellul’s sympathy with the anarchist critique of political power.

The most I can offer at the moment is two verses from the Bible which between them define, if not a political philosophy, then at least a certain dynamic, a general approach to politics with which I can claim some affinity at the moment.

The first of these is Psalm 146:3, which expresses something of the “Christian anarchist” scepticism of all political power as a means for achieving even “good” ends:

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.

The second verse is Proverbs 31:8,9, being part of the advice given to King Lemuel by his mother, concerning how a wise king should govern:

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The point being that, in a democracy, all of us share in some degree the obligations of “kingship”, and so are bound to promote “the rights of the poor and needy” in our voting and other participation. And please note that I am not about to say, “And that means the Bible calls us to be socialists”. It is perfectly legitimate to take a “conservative” political position if you believe that conservatism is the best way to advance the rights of the poor and needy.

So that is the dynamic created by these two verses (and others like them): Psalm 146:3 pulls us away from political utopianism to a realistic scepticism about political power, with its limitations and inevitable abuses. But then Proverbs 31:8,9 pulls us away from the potential cynicism and indifferentism that could otherwise arise, and to exercise what influence we do have for the benefit of all rather than just our own self-interest, while recognising (Psalm 146:3 again) the dangers and limitations of using even democratic political means for these purposes. And so on.

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6 Responses to Political dynamo

  1. Jeremy says:

    Looks like we’re fairly similar here, with you being slightly more left and libertarian.

  2. The Scylding says:

    John,

    I appreciate your post a lot. I find myself in the same general area as you on the plot, Economic Left/Right: -5.38
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.90. in a world, especially here in North America, where Christians, especially Protestants, tend to be Economic right, and Authoritarian socially, a person’s political leanings can isolate you somewhat. Therefore your 2 texts are very comforting.

  3. I fully agree with your comment here: “The point being that, in a democracy, all of us share in some degree the obligations of ‘kingship’, and so are bound to promote ‘the rights of the poor and needy’ in our voting and other participation.” I think it also goes hand in hand with the priesthood of all believers: we are called to minister to all those outside the church, to stand in the gap between them and God. And that includes standing up for the rights of the powerless and calling our society’s leaders to a more godly stance.

  4. Phil Walker says:

    The point being that, in a democracy, all of us share in some degree the obligations of “kingship”, and so are bound to promote “the rights of the poor and needy” in our voting and other participation.

    Absolutely (and of course, we all share in some degree the benefits of “kingship”, too).

    Scylding: your point about being the odd on out isn’t just true of North America! I’ve spent my life in the UK, and for most of it I’ve been on the political left of any congregation I’ve been in, as well as being considerably more liberal than most on social issues. It may be less isolating over here, I wouldn’t know for sure, although come election time I’ll probably find myself having to defend a socially liberal viewpoint once again.

  5. Pingback: Wandering back « The Wandering Hedgehog

  6. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Who are you voting for?

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