Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The One Solution to the Political Problem

This election morning I am rereading a great article by Msgr. Albacete written for the 2004 election titled "Faith, Politics and the Scandal of Christ". In this piece he dissects our Christian problem of faith and politics and shows a way out. The whole piece is well worth some study today, especially if you feel at all queasy about your vote. Here I will highlight some sections, but better to skip this and read the whole thing.

First, the religious sense is what gives rise to politics.

The religious sense is our conviction—our experience—of whatever it is that ties this moment in our lives with the whole show, with existence, with our final destiny. It's the mystery of how and why we are here. It's what to do with the world that surrounds us. It's how to obtain satisfaction of the needs that we all experience, and for which there seems to be a world out there to satisfy those needs. How to deal with all of that is the religious sense.

The religious sense is what leads to politics. Politics, in that sense, is a manifestation of the religious sense. It's an attempt to make sense of life and to satisfy our needs. You cannot separate politics from the religious sense. And, in that way, there'll be many religious senses around. The religions of the world are all different ways of carrying out this search, of expressing this need, and politics is the art of making sure that all of them make a contribution, and don't wipe each other out.

What would you expect from a politics that is a response to the religious perspective? You would expect a politics that doesn't crush, a politics that will not provoke, or bring about, the silencing of the religious search. In that sense, all that religious people would need from the world of politics is, at the very least, religious liberty. That's so there can be this openness to the search, and then the ability to make a contribution to the society based on this opening to infinity.

In that sense, the most important requirement to be made of politics or any government is religious freedom. Without this, we cannot proceed. At the level of religion that is all one needs to ask. Already that presents a problem in many areas of the world. It might even present a problem in our own society, one that is dedicated to religious freedom. At an elementary level, you want to see how that is being lived in our society today. And you would obviously favor those political proposals that respect and promote this religious freedom. Those that do not already show an inhumanity.
Albacete goes on to explain the problem of the competing interests of time and eternity, or of religion and politics. Secularism focuses on the present to the exclusion of a higher purpose; theocracy denies the worldly situation in favor of eternal interests. There is no solution to this problem, thus we have to compromise:

Now, perhaps we don't want to use the word compromise. But sometimes there will be a relation between the two that will be the best that can be expected. It will be something that will be redefined every time, every election time, every time that the question arises. At those times we have to sit around and figure it out, and that's that.
Now usually this is the point where we get dropped. Compromise and deal with it. The lesser of two evils. Albacete doesn't leave us there with our desire mangled. He acknowledges the impossibility of this dilemma:

The problem with compromise is that it's impossible. The religious sense always wants to move towards infinity, and the desire to do that makes it dangerous to the political world. And the political world also wants to move in the same direction, to want to embrace everything, and so you have this conflict, and the question is: Are we resigned to this conflict? Must we say that religion and politics will always be in conflict? How do we design a situation that is not in conflict?

My answer to that is that it's not possible. Two sides, with one exception, are in conflict. And at the end, a compromise is the best that we can do. I am prepared to say that between the religious sense, and earthly politics, there is a conflict, and the experience of that conflict will not go away, except for one case. The efforts to solve the problem of religion and politics—not to mention that the problem is worsened when you move from religion to faith, which I will get to in a moment—are useless. We can't solve them.

The answer, as Christians, to the problem is in front of us:

The only solution to the problem of time and eternity, limited and unlimited, finite and infinite, the only "solution" to that problem is Jesus Christ. That is the statement that we must be prepared to make. Only the knowledge, the experience, the encounter with Christ, can resolve the problem between time and eternity, and therefore between religion and politics, which is a manifestation of this original problem.

Are we prepared to make that statement? This is the first problem. This is where all our claims begin to fall to the ground. We hesitate to say that only Christ is the solution of this conflict. In our own hearts we hesitate to say this. What are we afraid of? We are afraid—of what? Why would I hesitate to say that this is only solution to the human problem?
The pretense of solving this problem of faith and politics leads to a betrayal of the ideal.

Let me make this point: We do not have the problem, or the mission, to construct a bridge between faith and politics. We do not have this problem. To have this problem and to attempt to solve it, already violates our humanity. Every single attempt to build this bridge has been a weakening of faith, or a betrayal of the Incarnation. And historically, there have been many attempts.
Faith and politics, Albacete maintains, is a branch of Christology. That is because it was in understanding the person of Christ as divine and human that the Church discovered the human person.
...the very existence of personhood as a unique and unreplaceable individual—a "who" which is not exhausted by a "what"—that insight is the result of the Christological debate that led to the Council of Chalcedon. It was there that the Church was finally able to find a way of expressing this conviction about who Christ is. Until then it could not be understood because the concept of person that existed was insufficient. The Church had to invent the concept of personhood, perhaps its greatest contribution. But it did not invent it developing a political philosophy. It invented it through trying to understand who Christ is.
Albacete reviews the three possible ways of encountering Christ as Fr. Giussani outlined them in Why the Church? The first is rationalism, the second individual inspiriation, and the third, the Catholic way, by encounter with the living Body of Christ.

We even use the word society, a people. Peoplehood is at the origin, for it is a peoplehood expressed as a society, and structured as an institution. It is a recognizable reality, just as Jesus was recognizable as a particular human being. If the particularity of the Church offends us, given its universal claims, then why aren't we offended by the particularity of Jesus? It was even worse. He was just one guy. The Church at least can put on an impressive show. Jesus was one man who was killed.
Christ, who is the answer to the problem of time and eternity, is encountered today in the Church. "[T]he presence of Christ today, of his victory, is a form of coming together. This is what the Church is. An assembly is a bringing together." Therefore what we ask from politics is the following is freedom and unity for the Church.

Two fundamental values immediately become absolutely clear. We will favor that which promotes the liberty of the Church to carry on its work. And we oppose, no matter what—no matter what—anything that threatens the unity of the Church. Anything from any politician, any party, in domestic politics, or foreign policy, or whatever it is, anything that tries to create division within the Church, we must oppose, because unity and its compatibility with our freedom, this is the victory of Christ! Because if that is gone then Christ is not victorious, and we have no solution to the problem of faith and politics, and the only solution to religion and politics is just an unsatisfactory compromise. Those two are fundamental values.

The statement talks about the reality that will help the Church live out its freedom. Freedom is the experience of the fact that I am, in that moment, and in that location, walking towards the satisfaction—the real satisfaction—of all the desires of my life. It is what makes me free. This is the freedom we propose.

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