Political participation

Young Mom’s musings about gay rights and how a Christian should act were very interesting, and I found I wanted to comment on them, also on some of my thoughts in reaction to the comments that came up. (She made a couple of inaccurate statements, but they didn’t change the overall thrust of her post, with which I mostly agree.) Plus, as I thought through my own feelings, I found I wanted to add some things. Tangents! the joy of blogs.

So, first, I know how you feel.

When I first read what Young Mom had written, my first thought was an instinctive agreement. Then I read some of the comments, and felt some doubts about my own agreement. I had to think about why for a bit, but this is actually something I have been thinking about, and so some of the answers came fairly quickly. And in some areas, I disagree. But writing them down, well that takes longer.

When I see protesters who profess to be Christian acting in ways that I feel are hateful, I fully understand Young Mom’s uneasiness and distress with political activity. I fully empathize with that emotion, because it is part of my own feelings. I cannot walk in a protest, especially as a Christian, with a group who are professing to act based upon their Christian beliefs, who write things like “You are going to hell because you are gay.” Its truth is not the problem. HOW it is said IS a BIG problem. I think that how a Christian supports something can be just as important as what a Christian supports. When my fellow Christians act in hate and not love, then I cannot walk with them.

But I don’t think that excuses us from ANY political participation. (She wasn’t suggesting that, it is just a reaction I’ve seen in many.) The entire idea of the United States is built upon the fundamental principle that every citizen has both a right and a responsibility to be involved. For some, a minimum level of responsibility is nothing more than voting. For others, it goes all the way to becoming a politician and actively working to change things. For the rest, there are many shades in between. (Actually, there is a large portion who do absolutely nothing, including vote, but they are copping out on their own citizen’s responsibility. I try not to despise them, but it’s hard not to feel negative about them.) Political participation is essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy, so I cannot simply say “I hate politics” and leave it at that. By doing so, you are handing someone else the power to make decisions for you, and I just can’t do it that easily. I can with God, but not with people. So I have to find a way to be involved that doesn’t support those shouting protesters but does fulfill the responsibility to be a good citizen.

When I am tempted to do nothing at all, I do sometimes remind myself of Christ’s admonition to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. While part of that message was to be sure to give him only what is his, there is also the admonition that that a total lack of involvement is not really an option either. The government, especially the US government, needs to have involved participants.

And something that bothers me a lot? We have started acting as if political discussion is as sensitive as religious discussion, with the result that people think it is impolite to bring it up in general conversation. Um, if we don’t talk about it then how can we reach ANY kind of consensus? We need to remember to be civil and self-controlled, not hateful and shouting, but we still need to discuss it.

It is actually rather funny when I think about my own family. My parents were never highly involved in politics as I was growing up, other than voting. But as they’ve grown older and had more time (no kids at home, you know) they have started paying a lot more attention to what is happening in politics and being a lot more verbal about their opinions. My brother and sister are also a lot more intense about it as well. All of them listen to a lot of talk radio, which actually drives me insane, even when I agree. (I find talk radio, especially call-in shows, hugely annoying. Endless repetition. Constant interruption. Really stupid questions. Irritating.) But what concerns me sometimes is that I don’t know that they’ve given it a lot of deep thought. Maybe they have, but I don’t always feel certain of that, and it worries me.

One of the areas where I’ve not been completely sure I agree with my family is the issue of having a law defining marriage. They agree with the idea, but I’m a little more dubious. One: this is, at least in part, a religious issue as much as a legal one, and I do believe in the separation of church and state. (This is one area where I don’t agree with Young Mom’s statements. Marriage is not just a legal issue, it is both religious and legal.) If I remember right, there are countries where people have to have two ceremonies, one civil and one religious. That actually makes a good bit of sense to me. Two: I’m not sure I am as bothered by the insurance, etc. consequences. If a gay couple wants to be sure that their gay “spouse” receives the same benefits as a heterosexual spouse, then I’m pretty much fine with that, even though I believe them to be completely wrong in their homosexual choice. It is their choice. Letting them have the same spousal benefits does not imply approval by me or by a religion that clearly teaches it as wrong. Three: I’m wary of defining homosexuality as illegal, since that has led to a lot of wrongs in the past. How many human beings persecuted others for their sexual choices? LOTS! The homosexual choice was certainly sinful, but so was the persecution.

On the whole, as I’ve thought about it, I decided that if a law came up to define marriage as between one man and one woman, I would probably vote for it, but I am certainly NOT going to campaign for it. But before I vote for it, it has to meet certain criteria for me. It has to be a positive law, meaning it establishes a right, not a negative law, that punishes someone for making the opposite choice. Being a homosexual is as sinful as being a fornicator in God’s eyes, as I understand it, so I’m not going to even ask for a law about either of those, so long as they bring no direct harm to another person. (This was one of Young Mom’s inaccuracies. There have been times when being a fornicator or adulterer has been illegal, in the US as well as pretty much everywhere else. And I believe there are some gays who are attempting to make it religiously acceptable to be homosexually married.) Yes, I understand that there are many cultural, societal consequences to these things that can be/will be mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually harmful, but you can’t legislate everything. You shouldn’t legislate everything. That is not the province of government.

In a way, I suppose thinking about this goes back to my own struggles to understand what is the purpose of government. So much of what a government should do is based on definitions and opinions of what is harmful, what is a natural, human right, and what should be a choice. And this topic is deeply intertwined with my previous post about laws, regulations, and guidelines. What a law dictates and what a society approves are two different things. I am more distressed by the fact that being gay is “approved” by society than the fact that there is no law on the books that defines marriage in favor of a heterosexual couple.

Sigh. This is the kind of confusion you will find inside my head.

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rules or guidelines?

There oughta be a law.

How often have you heard that one?

Human beings have an innate sense of fairness, but they are also lazy and lacking in self-confidence, as well as highly variable life experiences. (There is also the fact that many human beings are actively malicious and want to do those annoying and hurtful things. As much as I believe in the basic goodness of humanity, I fully acknowledge that there are individuals who have chosen the way of evil. Much of the laws that are necessary are a result of those persons.) The result is a desire to have a “rule” or “law” to refer to for authority when dictating something to another person. This is why we have homeowner’s associations that dictate the appearance of your property. This is why we have those lists of really ridiculous old laws still on the books in many towns.

This is why we have laws in the first place. And laws can be a good thing, if used rightly. And using them rightly also means remembering the spirit of the law first and the letter of the law second. But rules can also be hideously dangerous.

Why are laws dangerous?

First of all, there is that letter of the law danger, already mentioned above. Any law that is slavishly followed without understanding its intent can lead to harm. (Perhaps a way to ease that possibility is to include statements of intent into the text of a law so that people can adapt judgment to reality?) But even beyond that is the fact that rules can be manipulated by people to achieve goals wholly unrelated to the true intent of the law when it was created. Unfortunately I’m not sure there is a solution to that problem, since it is inherent to human beings and their faults. Even the solutions I can think of at this moment lead to the same types of problems.

Another danger that I have seen a lot of recently is when laws are created that usurp my right to choose. A vivid example that I am noticing nowadays is the raw milk vs. pasteurized milk laws. As I understand it, many people, especially large corporations that sell pasteurized milk and government agencies that regulate our food and drink here in the US, really want to make selling and drinking raw milk completely illegal. They claim that it is horribly dangerous. Yet the facts, as I understand them, do not support this contention. Is there danger in raw milk? Yes, but there is also danger in pasteurized milk. If appropriate precautions of cleanliness and temperature control are taken, then I would guess that the dangers of raw milk are equal to or less than the dangers of pasteurized milk. Which means that the government and these corporations wish to control my choice about the milk I drink based upon faulty assumptions or selfish desires. (The full discussion of this needs a post of its own.) I object to their limiting of my choices regarding my food and my health when they have no real proof for their desire to limit me. (I will note that more research needs to be done. But it needs to be unbiased. Is that even possible?)

Yet this usurpation of choice is not of itself the fundamental danger. What truly underlies this attitude is a blind trust in the “authorities” of our government, which is really a “Big Brother” type problem. Yet the sad truth is that that selfsame government that we are trusting is made up on human beings. And once again that is related to the inherent problems of being human, which includes character traits such as selfishness and laziness. How many ordinary people truly want to bother researching whether or not the risks of raw milk are better or worse than pasteurized milk? How many truly want to bother changing an entrenched situation when the longterm effects are not clear? Truth is, very few people care enough about the same things to make changes when there is an easy way out.

What laws and regulations are necessary?

These days I am discovering that, once you get past the clearcut dangers that do require laws and the rules that help deal with annoyances, the answer really shouldn’t be a law. There should be guidelines and regulations, but flexibility is better than rigidity and free choice is often preferable to restriction.

Of course, always, always there is a problem with deciding what is truly a danger and therefore requires a law, what is simply an annoyance and therefore needs just a rule, what is a reflection of choice and therefore should have just guidelines.

Really, this kind of thing is what lies behind the desire of so many to go and build a utopia on the edge of the wilderness, where the choices are clearcut and the shades of gray are few. The utopians think that if they just start afresh, they won’t make the same mistakes over again. I regret to inform them that humanity bears its own mistakes inside its own character. All they are doing is starting the cycle all over again.

In a way, this kind of confusion is why I am a Christian.

What is the purpose of government?

What is the purpose of government? it’s a question the occurs and recurs as election debates go on, as political discussions pop up, as I undertake the serious job of being a well-informed citizen. And truthfully, I don’t really think many people have truly thought their way through this. It’s a thought that I am going to return to as I come up with more ideas, but here is the first one.

The job of the government is to protect its citizens from direct harm by the actions of others, whether it be by other citizens or other countries. What does this mean? Well, right off the top, it means that we truly do need people like the police and the armed forces.

Note: I haven’t gotten into accidental harm (firefighters and other emergency services), education (schools!), or health care. Or how we pay for these things. This is just the first thought, and I’m going to stop with that one thought. But when I think of a group of people living together, the very first thought that occurs to me as a need is the need for protection, first internally and then externally. Why? Because these are two things that a person cannot truly provide for herself. Things like providing for basic needs, for education, for health care, are in a sense things that one provides for one’s self. Kind of. Mostly. In an ideal situation. But protection against a group cannot be provided for by the one person. That needs a group response. So, I think that protection is the very first duty of government.

After that, it gets a lot fuzzier.

And of course, there comes the question of how. Which is a completely different topic. But at least I’ve settled that first duty in my own mind. It helps me understand what I should focus on first when I listen to the politicians argue.

It’s amazing what triggers my thoughts

This morning I was working away on a book, based on the pictorial exhibition of the life of a political activist who believed in Communism.

The thought that followed was not a new one: any political system like communism, that are based on utopian socialistic ideals, is bound to fail in the real world.

Why? Because people are people, and far too many of them lie, cheat, and steal. Any political system that depends on people always doing what’s right, what’s best for all, etc. simply will not work.

Of course, that led me to the question: am I a cynic?

The answer is: yes and no. I am a cynic about groups of people, and optimistic about individuals.

Of course, within the next day or so, I read a blog comment that talked about assumptions about socialism. And it made a valid point — do I really know what I’m talking about?

The answer is, not really.

Too many people here in America don’t know enough about political theory and ideas to make truly informed judgments. Even the people in charge don’t know that much either.

But I’m not one who can rest easy with a lack of knowledge. I promptly checked out a book from the library on the history of socialism. Maybe I can figure out what it really means. And maybe I can figure out what I think government is really for. (I may be more of a Libertarian than I think.)