Are you a good or bad person because of your politics?
It’s been a year since the election and much of the acrimony still seems to linger. I was listening recently to a cultural commentator and convert to Christianity who was asked why he is so consistently joyful despite all the bad news. The trick, he said, is that he understands what politics is for.
He explained that as our society has turned its back on God, it has replaced organized religion with politics. So instead of politics being a tool to achieve the common good, which is what it is, it has become the measure by which we judge each other’s moral rectitude. What does that mean?
It means that too many think they can determine whether or not you’re a good person depending on how you voted last year. It means they decide whether you’re a faithful Christian according to your position on public policy. They don’t need to know your reasoning. They don’t have to engage you in a conversation. All they really need to know is your politics.
Ultimately, what has happened is that we have a culture where practically everything boils down to political thinking. Recently, to honor National Read a Book Day, the first lady fulfilled a tradition of donating children’s books to one high-achieving public school in each state. Among the books Mrs. Trump donated were some Dr. Seuss books. At a New England school, the librarian, who just a couple years before had praised Dr. Seuss, derided the administration by making a public statement about how she rejected the first lady’s donation since Dr. Seuss is so obviously racist. Our imaginations as Americans have become so political that everything is politics, even children’s books.
One of the side effects of our overly active political imaginations has been to judge the church and her bishops accordingly. Again recently, former Trump administration adviser and baptized Catholic Steve Bannon stated that the only reason the Catholic bishops are in favor of immigration reform is because they want immigrants filling our churches and donation baskets. It couldn’t possibly be that the bishops are motivated by Christ’s command to love our neighbor – no matter their legal status. For Mr. Bannon, it’s all politics.
How do we address this sad state of affairs? May I suggest that we first learn more about Catholic social teaching to foster a Catholic imagination instead of a political one? Second, though we need to stay informed about the issues, I would encourage everyone to get their information from more than one ideological source. Third, consider listening – not debating or trying to find common ground – but just listening to what others actually believe. Fourth, if you spend more time in a day reading, watching and listening to political commentary than you do reading Scripture or the lives of the saints or praying, then consider restructuring your media intake.
I have friends in politics. They manage to take their faith seriously and don’t compromise it to win votes. They understand that politics is a tool. We need more of them, and we need to pray for them because, as the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said, the greatest delusion of the 20th century was the idea that the battle between good and evil in our world happens primarily in politics. No, he said, the battle between good and evil ultimately happens in our hearts.
Let’s pray that we all turn our hearts over to Christ Jesus so that, for the sake of the common good, our politics serves our faith and not the other way around.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.