October 28 2008
Recently I was asked the following:
“Fears about the economy. Anger on the campaign trail. Which concerns you most? How should we respond?”
Most of us should resolutely mind our own business in this crisis, act charitably toward neighbors in need, comfort the fearful, and resolutely vote against those who would use this crisis to expand their power. The temptation to respond to every trouble brought to our attention by the media is a snare and a delusion.
It is a snare, because it traps us in fear and wastes time better spent solving problems actually under our control. This is dangerous because fear mongers can con the unwary into accepting tyrants through alarmist rhetoric.
The fear of failure often convinces those who have not yet failed to fail on the best terms they can get from a tyrannical state that promises to save them from imagined terrors.
False historical analogies abound to feed our panic, but these are not the 1930’s. Stalin and Hitler do not stand across the Atlantic, unemployment is not at one-quarter to one-third of the population, and the real wealth of the last eighty years will not suddenly vanish.
Oddly, it is the delusion behind our response to this national crisis that also affords us some comfort. We don’t even know the scope of the crisis or what caused it, let alone how to solve it, but facile responses from rhetorically gifted politicians allow us the joy of feeling that someone is in control when we are not.
If we are not very careful, then we will be whipped into rage by political operatives to their own benefit. They will play the dangerous game of blaming our problems on someone else. If we listen, then we will avoid the more mundane, but vital task of knowing self and changing what we can actually change in ourselves.
Many of us are taught to worry globally, and behave parochially, so we can avoid meaningful change locally. By worrying about the global economy, I can ignore my own wasteful use of personal resources. I rage against Wall Street, when in reality I should go cut up my credit cards.
The deepest problem is that by worrying about someone who is not my neighbor, I can avoid concern for my actual neighbor. I have students who panic about poverty in the Sudan, but who are disinterested in the poor of our hometown.
In a crisis of this sort, my grandfather gave me some good advice: we should mind our own business. Our actual neighbor who wants and needs our help is our business, but our culture makes it easier to know the troubles of someone else’s neighbor (across the world), than our physical compatriot. If we are not careful our compassion will be drained by images of all the suffering of mankind in general to the point that we have nothing left to give the particular unemployed fellow in the apartment across the way.
It is more than enough for most of us to do our duty to our family and local community. Occasionally we will have national duties so it is important to know the times. To keep living well locally we will have to pay some attention to national and global issues.
One of those occasional national duties is voting for President and Vice-President in times that pundits assure us are troubled. We shouldn’t make too much of the troubles, however, because the times are pretty nearly always troubled. Politicians generally think every election is the most important of our lifetime, because for them it is.
Voting out of fear and anger seems unlikely to produce a wise and prudent decision. Instead, the traditional Christian should vote out of his best experience, philosophy, and best hopes for the culture.
My best hope is that government will protect our right to life, our absolute liberty to do good deeds, and our pursuit of happiness.
Government cannot create real rights, such as life, goodness, or happiness, so most traditional Christians wish government to have a restricted role. We want government that defends God-given rights, not government that is god.
By that standard there are, as usual, no great choices on the ballot. People searching for a political messiah will have to wait longer for His coming. That One is certainly not on the ballot. We must choose between very fallible teams.
Despite those quibbles, the choice is not so difficult. Only one team will protect innocent human life at all stages of development, and only one even pretends to limit the scope and power of government. Only one team lacks messianic pretense, so dangerous in this time. Both teams have promise, but only one has the humility to limit their promises.
As a result, based on my hopes and not my fears, based on optimism and not anger, I will be voting for Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester.
This article first appeared on Washington Post's On Faith Column, and John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily