Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is it Possible to be a Christian Politician?

A reader ask me this the other day, or rather seems to have taken exception to my negative assertion.

It admits of a million different senses. So I need to spell out exactly what I mean.

I mean that in today's Canada (but I bet the same thing would obtain in the US (at least its Federal politics) and Europe) one cannot be a true Christian and get elected to office.

By true Christian I mean:

1) Not lie.

2) Only promote causes consistent with Christianity (even more loosely conceived), and fight those not consistent with Christianity.

The first will ensure that you will never be elected, since the system as it is depends upon lies.

I am not saying that a politician can't be more Christian than others. Harper is far more Christian than Chretien or Martin ever were. And he does support things consistent with Christianity, but he also been notable silent on the only two things his supporters ever wanted him to do: defend traditional marriage and defend the rights of the unborn. He has done great at undermining the bureaucracy's push for abortion, etc. But that is not good enough.

I don't really follow the news, I admit, but I would be very surprised if Harper gets through a single day without following even a liberal interpretation of prevarication. Lying is intrinsically evil. It's non-negotiable.

As for number (2) I accept a certain portion of the argument that a politician is suppose to serve the needs of his entire constituency, and not, for instance, just its Christian element. That means that justice might require some sort of distribution of goods towards homosexual couples, for instance. That's just an example, and it's just a perhaps - I really haven't thought it through (maybe I can't?). Nor am I wrapped-up on issues of whether of not Iraq and Afghanistan are just wars. The pope seems to be saying no (at least, JPII did re. Desert Storm). I'm not worried about the greys. My argument doesn't depend upon them. There is no Christian income tax percentage, either, although there are values at stake that Christianity brings to the table.

Nor does my argument depend upon such questions as the facilitation of things like divorce. I think a politician can be involved in a system that permits and even enables such things. Yet will this politician come out and say divorce is wrong? - that is the key question for me.

On the other hand, there are matters on which the Christian politician must take a stand. Glaring objective evils: pornography, abortion, defense of marriage, freedom of religion and speech, defense of children.

Look at it this way, if 50% of Canadians are for abortion, 70% in favour of pornography, 50% in favour of 'gay marriage,' 10% in favour of the most stringent, liberal sense of 'hate crime,' how would an opponent of all those things ever gain even a strong minority to support his candidacy? There is a reason why abortion and marriage are being handled by the courts because it would be political suicide to take a stand on either divisive issue.

Perhaps I'll make a quick reflection on a few prominent thinkers' views of politics.

Plato - Understood that people are stupid; they don't know the good, thus democracy will only ever be a bad system, in his opinion, only better than bad monarchy (called tyranny). For a succinct treatment of this see his Statesman.

Aristotle - Is more interested in the de facto. Less interested than Plato in the way things should be and likes to describe and generally stick to the way things actually are. He has a lot of time for saying that the way things are is good because 'natural' seems to equal for him 'the way things are', more or less.

St. Thomas - Picks up on Aristotle's naturalism to an extent. Sees the actual human community somehow in touch with the good naturally. The community seems to just do things that are good for it. It's an idealism that I don't quite get: he lived in Italy, right, the centre of political instability in his time?

St. Augustine - I end with Augustine because he's the wisest and the one whose political views I actually share. There is a passage in City of God my class and I discovered this spring that just left us aghast. I'd have to look it up, but my copy of C of G is in my office. This passage basically states that the world is evil and in the face of this the good man must do politics, because otherwise he surrenders it to bad men, and that is just worse. (You'd thing Augustine the monk would just say the the world is evil so leave it be.) The clincher is this: because the world is so bad, sometimes the way he must do politics is very bad indeed - he justifies torture, for instance. Keep in mind, of course, that Augustine is not thinking about democracy. His political rule was a de facto thing. He ruled because people turned to him for guidance. Governance was very haphazard at the time in North Africa. Would have Augustine won an election? Good question. I think if any true Christian could have then or now it would have been him. He was simply a spell-binder with his speech. He could sell ice to Eskimos even while telling them they didn't actually need it.

So, Augustine may be the one exception to the rule.

In the end, I'm very pessimistic about the 'Christian politician' thing. I think people who pray and hope for good Christian politicians are praying for square circles - if by this they are understanding the current political context or something anywhere close to it. Bringing Christianity into the public square means demolishing the public square as it is. In a democracy it is the nature of the people that determines the nature of the politics. This people is unChristian therefore its politics must be unChristian. Good luck, western conservatives - you'll always get my vote, but I'll drop you like a hot potato if Peter MacKay takes over. Good luck at trying to make square cirlces. If the Prairies separate, I'll move out there, because that would be to establish a circumstance in which a Christian politician might exist.

You'll have to give me a lot stronger evidence than that 90% of Canadians want to keep 'God' in the national anthem. 90% of Canadians want pornography and contraception and sex-ed in the schools.

Of course, I failed to mention the Christian Heritage Party. I've got say that I endorse nearly everyone of their policies. Check 'em out. But their record in elections just goes to prove my point: Christianity = no election.


  1. Wow.... where to begin my reply?

    First, I'm happy to have the discussion raised. I don't take exception to your question: "Is it possible to be a Christian politician?".

    Second, while he wasn't an elected official, I don't think that we should overlook the example of Thomas More. He never had to face an electorate to win public office; however, had he compromised his conscience, he could have won much more than an election. He could have won a reprieve from execution and retained the great office to which he had been quite deservedly appointed. So, I don't think that the pressure faced by politicians in modern democracies is so unique that More can't serve as an example of a politician who remained true to his Christian faith. Indeed, the motu proprio of JPII on More refers to the "various kinds of psychological pressure" to which More was subjected and I'm sure that many good men and women in political life today can attest to enduring such pressure themselves. Not for nothing did Pope John Paul name him Patron of Statesmen and Politicians. The Church isn't asking those who enter political life to do the impossible (square circles); the Church is, however, asking them to do the heroic.

  2. I just don't believe they'd get elected. I'm in one of the most conservative ridings in the Country - certainly in Ontario - and even here a politician couldn't go around shooting his mouth off about the evils of abortion. There is enough of a majority of pro-lifers here that they will more often than not support the pro-life candidate, but I doubt even then if other issues became important enough - like jobs.

    It is heroic to show up at the Conservative or Liberal party meeting, tell them who you are and what you are all about and that you want to run for the seat in riding X, and have them either laugh you out or belittle you out. I think that's heroic. You will not get to represent them in any riding east of Calgary. And even if you do, you will not get elected. To suffer humiliating defeat for the Faith is heroic, I agree, heroic, but politically practically futile, and least in today's context. Sorry I'm such a downer.

  3. There are a significant number of pro-life MP's in Parliament and you will find them on both sides of the House. Dan McTeague, a Liberal, comes to mind, and Pierre Lemieux, a Conservative, is another. Both are Ontario MP's and McTeague represents a 905 riding (hardly a bastion of conservative, rural Ontario). In fact, McTeague, an MP for at least the last 15 years, was one of three Liberals who broke ranks when the Libs introduced a motion condemning the Tories' G8 maternal healthcare initiative.

  4. I like to hear these things. Under no circumstances will I attempt to undermine the commitment of actual individuals. Who am I to judge? What kind of a Christian am I? Not much of one.

    Shout it from the housetops, boys! Is all I have to say.

  5. As an old friend of mine liked to say: Illegitimi non carborundum.

    And on another note, as this blog is entitled "Theology of Dad" and Father's Day is this Sunday, from one Dad to another: Happy Father's Day, Colin!

  6. Same to you! I will have to have a special post in honour of father's day this weekend.