The God-shaped Hole II: Symptoms – a) Politics Without Principle

September 15, 2011

Having considered the diagnosis of a God-shaped Hole in our society, we now ponder some of the symptoms of that diagnosis. If there is something palpable, anxious, angry, and uncertain underneath our current religious, political, and social context in modern American society and that something is that God is felt to be (but not in actuality) absent even if this perception is not always recognized or admitted, what are the manifestations we are now seeing and experiencing that support such a diagnosis?

First up is the rampant persistence of “Politics Without Principle.” Gandhi once identified his own version of the Seven Deadly Sins, and for him they were “social sins” committed collectively to the detriment and sickness of society as a whole. All of his identified social sins are still relevant warnings today (you can read the list here and at many other places) but “Politics Without Principle” is particularly relevant to our present discussion. Here we will also expand it to include “politics without purpose,” since that is how we seem to be experiencing it today in American political hostilities. In the (felt) absence of God, partisan politics have become the religion, often even the God, of a great number of people. We witness this every time a politician in office claims as a stated goal the defeat of another politician in office. If a person’s primary and often only goal as a politician is to impede the efforts of another politician so that their opponent fails to return for an additional term, that person is living “politics without principle” par excellence. This becomes politics for the sake of politics–the goal of defeating the “opponent” at any cost to the country transforms civic political engagement into an unprincipled cold civil war. Yet if politics were really the public and civic manifestation of a person’s spiritual identity–if a politician sought to use the public office to physically live out their most sacred inner ideals in the outer world, to engage in the political realm in an effort to actually aid society, then the ultimate goal would not simply be to do work now in preparation to defeat an opponent in the future; the ultimate goal would be to make society better for all people. If a politician really entered the public square out of a physical manifestation of a sense of duty to her community and people as a whole, the immediate goal would never be to simply sabotage any and every effort made by the “other” side so that they would look bad but instead to work cooperatively with the other side to reach a deal that both sides can live with, to use cooperation to refine a policy that to the best of both parties knowledge would be good for the country and the world. Certainly this conception of politics is idealistic and has likely never been lived out in reality on a widespread scale, but if the average voter saw such ideals as at least being the ideal then perhaps voters wouldn’t engage in such vitriolic politics-without-principle that transform politics from a vehicle for reaching an end through means into the end itself.

I know that what I have stated thus far likely will lead any conservative or Republican friends and readers to conclude that I am throwing the stones at the GOP alone–for figures like senate minority-leader Mitch McConnell (R) have stated since the day President Obama was elected that their primary goal was to ensure he did not get a second term. To that end McConnell and company have sought to ensure that every major effort the President has made is a failure and for whatever lofty or noble goals they may think or pretend to aspire to, what this has resulted in is a complete refusal to actively work, compromise, or strive for any successful communal or societal results. Furthermore, this conservative rancor has birthed the “Tea Party” which pushes refusal-to- compromise and political hostilities to an an almost hitherto unseen level of bile. So yes, I most certainly am labeling most of what the GOP and especially the Tea Party are doing as “politics without principle” and most often “politics without purpose”–politics for the sake of politics. Even if their perceived goals are some highly limited form of small-government and a new wave of libertarian principles and hyper-capitalism which they believe will lead to the best possible society for the largest number of people, those goals are ones which they seek to usher in at a future term and thus in the meantime they are playing politics only to see current failure which hurts all of us who live in this country and those in the rest of the world who are so often affected by our actions. But I do not blame the GOP and Tea Party alone–in our hostile political divide we see many on the Left daily playing politics for its own sake as well. In a way that isn’t as hostile but is just as detrimental to progress we have seen the President himself concede on his principles, stated goals, and even the ideas which earned him the election in the first place in an effort to appease the other side of the political spectrum. Often what the President has sought to pass through or do has been a watered down and ineffectual version of a noble goal or plan and in the game of playing politics he has missed the purpose itself. Certainly he and the democratic party itself have been justifiably on the defensive at many times and any objective viewer likely can empathize that if seeking active compromise has worked as poorly as it has then striving boldly for an unwavering goal would perhaps have done even worse. Regardless, what we are left with at the level of the general populace are two parties who control the entire political spectrum in this country both playing at a game of politics that is proving itself to any with the eyes to see as broken.  As this political game trickles down to the masses we see the rancor and hostility exacerbate, as the lack of political education and knowledge in too many voters becomes manifested as the active seeking of policies by people which violate their best interest and the best interests of society as a whole. Sadly as Dr. King once noted about events in his own time, prejudice is passed on to those who inadvertently support their oppressors out of the blindness caused by their own prejudice; we see the poor work against themselves at the delight of the extremely wealthy.

We’ve seen so many moments in which the moral barrel has been scraped in recent political situations–when the crowd cheered at the prospect of someone in a hospital dying because they didn’t have insurance in a proposed question to Ron Paul, we saw what it looks like when political ideals are held up as more important than human life. Politics without Principle holds up systems–be it Libertarianism, Capitalism, or Communism–as more important than people. Winning the election becomes more important than providing a stable, caring society. Winning a war becomes more important in preserving approval ratings than curbing the violence such wars inflict. Now, certainly there are “purposes” at stake for many up the line and we are all jaded enough to realize the role money (and the great wealth it can provide a select few) plays in influencing political causes, decisions, and opinions. What we see manifest in modern American politics is “politics without principle’ in the form of the never-ending quest to secure vast wealth at the top of many corners of America trickle down as  “politics without purpose” in a great mass of people who argue for the best interests of those seeking that wealth, sometimes without realizing it and sometimes with the vain hope to one day be in that number of elect wealthy. What we too often do not see though, are candidates who seek to implement policies and plans that will help not only the majority of people but especially those with much less–those without the bootstraps to pull themselves up by. What we don’t see too often are the candidates who denounce war and violence as the best option to resolve diplomatic disputes or politicians who make the equality of all citizens their primary concern. When we do see such candidates we do not see a large enough section of the public giving them a proper chance or consideration whether it be because of prejudice, greed, fear, or the misperceptions formed in them through over-exposure to distorted media.

The God-shaped Hole felt in many Americans is one which they seek to fill through various, usually pernicious, means. One large means through which they seek to fill this hole is through Politics. By making the political struggle, the civic debate, the social divide, the water-cooler arguments, and the rancorous political hostilities the liturgy they participate in to walk a path of religiosity, many have transformed partisan politics into their own personal god. This god is not any true God of the sort though, and what inner life it can create for the “politics are God” crowd is a hollow and unsatisfying one and thus it is highly understandable when this god does not “work.”

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3 Responses to “The God-shaped Hole II: Symptoms – a) Politics Without Principle”

  1. […] [This post is the latest in a series; if you would like to read the others you can find them here: "The God-shaped Hole Part I: Diagnosis" ; "The God-shaped Hole II: Symptoms – a) Politics Without Principle"] […]

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