To Vote or Not to Vote (Part One)

“I think Jesus would have a really hard time voting in America today.” — Anonymous [still voted anyway]

Though elections were a week ago, I still want to discuss something I’ve thought about on-and-off for the last 25-30 months. In a way, discussing whether Christians should vote seems pretty anachronistic in this day and age. 50 or 60 years ago, suggesting Christians stay out of politics would probably not have been a very controversial position. Today, post- Christian Coalition and Moral Majority, this seems a little less popular. I still haven’t made my mind up on this issue either: like the anonymous friend quoted above, I have in the past been loathe to vote and yet done it anyway (Obama, Nov. ’08). This time around I’m not going to tell you whether I did or didn’t, and let you figure it out from reading my pro/con arguments below.

Certain presuppositions: I’m starting from the viewpoint of Christian anarchism, or “Christarchy” if you’re Greg Boyd, and I’m not willing to defend this at the moment. What this means, in this particular context, is roughly this: given that Christianity is about non-power, about solidarity with the marginalized, about opposing the principalities of this world; given that the state is impositional, hierarchical, primarily concerned with consolidating power, and is itself one of the chief principalities of this world; therefore, there can be no relation between Christian & state than that, fundamentally, of conflict. So the “standard” anarchist position, whether confrontational (e.g. Ellul) or quietist (e.g. Eller), almost always recommends not voting. Let’s consider this first.

The most generalized argument against voting is that doing so gives credence to a corrupt, ridiculous game that we play out every few years. Elections — and the ever-lengthening electoral process — are both fetishized & ritualized in ways I want no part in; this I wouldn’t dispute even if I did ultimately vote. I am unsure how any Christian can justify the lying, slandering, gossiping, backstabbing, and greedyass money-grubbing that are part and parcel of all elections. Opting out of this mudpit is simply conceding defeat, plain and simple (see: Russ Feingold). The thing is, virtually everyone admits to all this. The baffling thing is that believers see all this and still decide to participate (a similar paradox attends capitalism itself). It’s not just the process; the outcome, regardless, offers even bleaker options. It is absolutely guaranteed that whatever politicos gain/hold power, violence will be a key, if unspoken, plank in the party platform. It’s true that our present options in America are especially bleak, but our sordid past provides all sorts of examples of warmongers & imperialists from every party and affiliation.

Secondly, non-participation holds enormous symbolic weight. This, in two key ways: politically and theologically. In the former, abstention is a public, visible gesture of the church’s separation from the worldly powers — a distinct people set apart. It’s part of the rejection of nationalism and patriotism (“In Christ there is neither…”); we are not a) citizens of this world, let alone b) of this particular country. As aliens in this land, not voting is a key reminder that this world is not our home — don’t get too attached: to its possession, to its games of power, to its leaders, to its ways of relating to each other. Our approach (and this is just a teaser for another whole essay) ought to be that of missionaries: global missions as paradigm for modes of anarchist being. The error is in thinking that because some government has granted us the legal ability to vote that we then should exercise that option (is/ought fallacy). I mentioned the theological symbolism too. The idea, and I take this to be Eller’s chief reason for not voting, is that it’s akin to a spiritual discipline in which we remind ourselves, as a body, that what the world does is really of no concern to us. Ignore them. “Render unto Caesar” is not simply about taxes: render emotionally and intellectually what is Caesar’s. Stop pretending that true religion is in any way whatsoever dependant on who’s in the White House. It simply does not affect our mission: do good, love mercy, walk humbly with our God; care for the widows, outcasts, poor, downtrodden, the least among us. Your focus is all wrong if you think a 35% tax rate will hinder your chances to live out your faith more than a 25% tax rate will.

[Part Two forthcoming]

Maguindanao Massacre

If you look at a map just right — try squinting or unfocusing — the islands of the Philippines together look like the profile of the head of a donkey. I assure you this is no commentary on the character of the Filipino people. In fact, I was born in a small town in the eye of that ass. Alas, I am not actually a Pinoy, but I still can’t help but share in the highs and lows of that country. Some 10 days ago I rejoiced with them when homeboy Manny Pacquiao once again triumphed; from that high, we now get tragic news of a mass slaying in the South. Monday, right in the mouth of the donkey, 100 armed men slaughtered 52 unarmed civilians, many of them women, in order to prevent their participation in elections.

The political extremes in the Philippines are astounding. On the one hand, it is a nation that endured decades under an oppressive (CIA-backed) dictatorship, then promptly embraced democracy by electing a woman, a womanizer, and a born-again believer. This is the nation which has had two non-violent coup d’tats, both successful, and one of which I personally participated in. Their peaceful revolutions, and the attendant concept of alay dangal, have motivated pacifists worldwide. On the other hand, it’s a country still rife with political corruption from top to bottom, usually of a form more overt than what we know in the US. The beauty of People Power is unfortunately starkly contrasted with the deep ugliness that can also characterize Filipino politics, an ugliness made violently manifest on Monday in Maguindanao. GMA, a major media outlet, echoed my thoughts:

The crime that occurred in Ampatuan was uniquely savage, but it was also an extreme example of the violent tendency in our politics. At the other extreme are the many citizens who are bravely committed to the difficult and complex process of peacefully deciding who our leaders should be, such as those souls who perished on Monday. It is this tension between savagery and peaceful process that has marked our electoral history.

I wish I felt much hope for the capture and prosecution of those responsible, but I don’t really, especially since the alleged perpetrators appear to have tentacles reaching across vast swaths of power. Tomorrow, Thursday, is a National Day of Mourning.

God’s Word Has a Liberal Bias

The Conservative Bible Project is a tragi-comic effort by some politically conservative Christians to produce a translation paraphrase of the Bible that removes/edits anything that can even remotely be considered “liberal.” It’s not worth writing much about this because the problems with this approach should be so LOLobvious that I won’t waste my time. I will say, however, that I continue to wonder if my alma mater is ever going to repudiate this type of stupidity and permanently sever ties with the batshit-crazy wing — ie WorldNetDaily, Worldview Weekend, et al — of conservative Christianity.

I’m also amused because I, too, started a conservative paraphrase of the Bible. A little over 12 months ago I wrote a draft entitled “A Practical Guide to Waging a Just War: by Jesus of Nazareth” but never put it online until now. Inspired by the CBP, here’s my conservative rendering of Matthew 5:1-13:

Now when I saw your military bases, I immediately went to the mess tent and sat down. Many of your troops came to me, and I began to teach, saying:

Blessed are the poor, for they are easily persuaded to join the armed forces.

Blessed are they that mourn when a buddy is killed, for they shall then have the motivation to kick more ass.

Blessed are the badasses, for they shall conquer the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteous wars, for they will certainly invent them.

Blessed are the merciful, for they lull the enemy into complacency while we find more grenades.

Blessed are the pure in eyesight, for they shall see their enemy clearly and snipe him unscoped.

Blessed are the warmakers, for they are peacemakers in disguise.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for freedom, because our enemies hate our freedom.

Blessed are you when pacifists confront you, and march in your streets, and say all manner of untruth about you. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Washington.

You are the asskickers of the earth. But if the asskickers stop kicking ass, how will the world get democracy? Former asskickers who conscientiously object are no longer good for anything, excepted to be relentlessly hazed and dishonorably discharged.

Terrorists and Torture

Give Me Liberty is an underground student newspaper here at Cedarville University designed to give voice to, apparently, the extremely marginalized conservative voice. It’s an outlet for Republicans & Libertarians to join forces and decry the U.S.A.’s obvious devolution into the U.S.S.R. (this was seriously an article). Also in this April edition, there was an article entitled “Terrorists and Torture” by Nathan Dollison, a junior. Here is that essay as printed (ie, unedited by me):

In today’s world, the issue of torture is at the forefront of the struggle against terrorism, and the debate has been only deepened by President Obama’s closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center and the uproar surrounding what has gone on behind its doors since the beginning of the Global War on Terror.

On the face of the issue, it would seem that the Christian standing on the debate would be clear, that torture is wrong and that as a Christian, one should not be involved or support such measures. But when one delves deeper into the debate, the lines become much grayer. (more…)

Look Ma, I’m makin’ friends!

Some people were apparently less than amused with my last Cedars article:

This was mailed to me on Wednesday. The unsigned note says “Do You have eany Idea how Many Good Men Died for your freedom of speech. This is how you honor Their Memory. I bet you Feel Proud.”
College-level reasoning at its best! Come on kids, $25k a year can give you the same stellar education!