Monday, October 15, 2012

Why Righteous People Will Vote Whig This Year

This close to an election, it is probably insane to say anything about politics. 

People constantly tell me it is my responsibility to speak up about political things but I usually resist. The reasons are simple. I actually have political opinions. I am just not certain I got them from the Almighty.  So I don’t think it is right to place the weight of my spiritual office behind private opinions. That's why I try to keep quiet, especially during an election.   

A lady once insisted that I reveal my party affiliation. So I told her I was a Whig. A few days later, she returned to say she had discovered Whigs were extinct. I replied with shock, "that must be the reason it has become so difficult to locate my candidates on the ballot!" "Perhaps," I added, "I should think about becoming a Tory."

On a more practical level, I pastor a diverse congregation. After this blasted election I hope to keep serving all the people in the congregation. Eternal issues are at stake and are far, far more important than who happens to win this election.

Nonetheless, it is important to get under the hood of one’s political passions; to take a look at the spiritual forces that work at a deeper level than the superficial labels we wear or the clever sound bites we repeat. It is an important spiritual exercise to do this if we can. So let's take a shot at it.

Carl Jung, who, as far as I know, is not running for anything this year, said something important that can help us.

One of Jung’s most helpful concepts was that every person (and every society) has a shadow. The shadow is a collection of attributes that a person or a society possesses but does not want to recognize. According to Jung, we make no real progress in our spiritual or psychological growth until we acknowledge the existence of our shadow, until we recognize the reality of the things in our lives that are at odds with our preferred view of self.

People and societies are complex.  Unlike the old Westerns, villains in real life don’t always wear black hats. And, as you may have discovered by now, heroes don’t always wear white hats.  Good hearted and well-intentioned people can do bad things. Wicked and selfish people can do good things. Our real self is also more complicated than the spin we feed to ourselves about ourselves.

Sometimes, our shadow can exert itself so forcefully that we are as surprised as everyone else by its appearance. That is what has happened when we hear someone say, “I don’t know what came over me. That just wasn't me!”

Of course, it was me; the other me; the me I don’t want to acknowledge. But the shadow knows that it belongs to us. It  also knows how to get control over us at crucial times.  If that were not true, none of us would have addictions (or bad habits).

Groups have shadows too.

The people in that group usually don’t see its shadow though. They see only the good and wholesome things the group offers. Church people, for example, usually can’t understand why their unrighteous enemies can’t see all the good that their church does in the world. When they hear outsiders describe their church it just seems crazy.

A group’s enemies on the other hand, see only its shadow. This is why the way people inside a group and the way people outside it sees things so differently  Neither the insiders nor the outsiders are stupid. Its that the shadow, the group's other self, remains invisible to those inside but obscures its better self from outsiders.

For example, when nations are at war few of its citizens can see the crimes committed by his own country. Nor, will he see any goodness in the country with which his nation fights. Patriotism requires a man to deny his nation’s shadow as it leads him to over emphasize the shadow of his enemy.

Sometimes though, individuals and groups do see their shadow and like the groundhog want to run and hide. 

One rarely becomes aware of his shadow during comfortable times. Usually, some life altering event forces us to deal with the shadow.

For example, when someone enters psychotherapy he may come face to face with those traits and behaviors he has been hiding from himself his entire life. This sudden encounter with reality can plunge him into despair. He can go from admiring himself to suddenly loathing himself. This can be a dangerous period in which the patient becomes nearly unhinged, no longer capable of even knowing who he is. If he works through that painful season however, he may learn the truth about human life: that because people's true motives are mixed, we all try to hide unpleasant things about ourselves from ourselves. Emotional healing thus requires a person to acknowledge both his faults and his strengths, so he can then learn to hold his judgment of both those things as lightly as possible. 

Groups can also arrive at such moments of healing.

Immature groups rarely acknowledge their faults, of course. If a person in an immature  group begins to point out its faults, that group will usually move to punish, or even eliminate, the irritating person person from its midst. It is rare for a group to acknowledge that the one speaking may be offering some valuable insight that ought to be considered. Acknowledging the existence of the shadow however, may lead the group to make some great improvement; if only the group is willing to face the momentary pain of self discovery.

This is the role of a prophet: to expose his group’s shadow and motivate it to strengthen the forces of goodness, truth or beauty within it so it can celebrate those things and then share them with the world.

Ok. Enough philosophy.

Here’s what I think about politics.

In America, a conservative tends to think there is nothing wrong with our country except for the continuing presence of liberals, who are bad people trying to take our country in the wrong direction.  A liberal thinks there is nothing much good about our country because the conservatives keep holding back the kinds of progress that would make our country a better place.

One party refuses to see the nation’s shadow.

The other one refuses to see anything in the nation except for its shadow.

The difference often becomes visible in discussions about American history.

Conservatives may get upset at the suggestion that four hundred years of slavery is still affecting our culture or that our state sponsored genocide effectively eliminated entire groups of native people from the continent. To many conservatives, acknowledging such evils seems unpatriotic, perhaps even unchristian. 

Liberals, on the other hand, get upset with any emotional affirmation of the miracle of American democracy; with the fact that no other nation in history has done so much good for so many of its people in so short a time. To many liberals, acknowledging our country's goodness betrays those who have suffered or who continue to suffer from the nation’s shadow.   

One side refuses to acknowledge the brutal nature of life on the bottom of society, that there are societal obstacles that seriously hinder people born there from ever rising up, or that there are things the nation could do to help improve that situation.

The other side refuses to acknowledge that opportunities for social lift abound in our country and that numerous private forces in American culture are constantly at work to help people find and utilize those opportunities.

These differences arise from each party’s refusal to acknowledge the contributions of the other, or in some cases, even the patriotism of the other.

As a pastor, I have watched this polarization hardened over the years into something akin to a test of religious orthodoxy. Left leaning churches make it clear that a vote for a conservative is a vote against compassion and the nation’s common good. Right leaning churches make it clear that a vote for liberalism is collusion with the Antichrist and a failure to take a stand for righteousness.

But can this polarization be right?

Is there nothing good in American society that we ought to conserve?

Are there no improvements that we ought to make to our traditional way of life?

You know by now that I am one of those awful people both parties have come to despise – a moderate. I am not a moderate because I have no convictions.  I am a moderate because I have one very strong conviction: that neither side of our cultural war has it all figured out.

In the end of course, we have a two party system, not a multiparty one. So, I get to make one of two choices. That means I will not get all I want, whoever wins. And, I will have to live with many things that I do not want, whoever wins. That causes me considerable anxiety every time I prepare to cast my vote.

As I listen to the other side, I am convinced that our country would be a much better place if my party were not too proud to sometimes doubt itself; if it had even the slightest inclination to look at its shadow.

But some anxiety over political life is spiritually healthy, I think. It is the result of resisting groupthink – of not falling into the trap of “my side is right, utterly right; the other side is wrong, utterly wrong.” Healthy anxiety can lead me to pray, to read, to listen to the other side, to seriously evaluate things before casting my vote. Then I can do my best to vote what I believe is the best course but without hostility or judgment toward my fellow citizens who have come to different conclusions.

The spiritual word for what this kind of anxiety can produce in us is repentance, the acknowledgment of one’s shadow and a plea for human and divine help to deal with it.

Once we see our shadow, we stop praying like the old Pharisee, “I thank Thee I am not as other men.”

We start praying like the Publican, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Mature people must, sooner or later, come to that point.

So must a mature nation.

But if you get stuck this year, please consider voting Whig. It really is the party of purity and grace. Just look at how far we have slipped since we abandoned it. But perhaps this is finally our year, the year the good old days finally return -- to us righteous Whigs.


peabuddie said...

This would be all well and good and I would agree that there is "some" truth in what you argue, but for the tidal wave of innocent blood, through the unfettered, celebrated slaughter of our unborn children that cries out day and night to heaven. One party is more inclined to protect the image of God found in these little vessels than the other, and their ruthless deaths mimic the sacrifices on the high places. To me this is a no brainer and no amount of fancy philosophy and "let's" be fair and humble can neutralize that one dominant factor. We as a nation can and will be judged for this sin. Though I am not a one issue voter, this one issue is at the heart of our crumbling society.

Dan Scott said...
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American said...

One of the partys had a voice vote at their convention to eliminate God out of their platform. God passed, but just because they cheated on the voice vote. There was no doubt that the voice vote against God won and they had to do it 3 times for the speaker to claim that God won. To me that is a good reason to be against this particular party.

Dan Scott said...

As I said in the blog, there are real reasons for voting for or against a particular party or a particular candidate. However, even when we seriously object to a particular candidate or party it is very unlikely that they offer nothing of value or no opinion worthy of our consideration. If our world seems so black and white that we believe everything good lies on one side and everything bad on the other it is possible that we lack the sort of objectivity and seasoned judgment required to govern ourselves within a healthy democracy.

Brandon said...

As each day passes, I find the path stones of life, having once been clearly black or white, interspersed with ever increasing stones of gray. There will always be a time and place for a passionate stand for righteousness, but we do not have to sacrifice respect. Furthermore, no healthy debate/argument has ever been diminished by trying to understand the reasoning of the other side.