Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Republocrat: Chapter 5 "Rulers of the Queen's Navee"

I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

- "Sir Joseph Porter's Song" from H.M.S. Pinafore

Carl Trueman's been known to quote Rush on occasion -- that's Rush the Canadian rock trio not the voice of the EIB network -- but in the final chapter of Republocrat he quotes Gilbert & Sullivan to illustrate an approach to politics that eschews thoughtful analysis in favor of sloganeering and reductionistic arguments. Politics, especially party politics in a representative democracy, is a messy business that more often than not involves the art of compromise. Most political issues resist easy analysis, and rare is the politician that consistently puts principle first.

In light of all this Christians should be wary of uncritically hitching their wagon to any political party or platform. Trueman isn't saying that believers should give up on politics out of cynicism or despair. Far from it. Christians, especially, should "set good examples of civic engagement", an important part of which is voting.

Indeed, I would suggest that all Christians should vote, as part of their civic duty, but they should also feel pain when they mark the relevant box, knowing the trade-offs they are having to make as they do so, and how their action belies the complexity of reality. (p. 83)

Thoughtful and realistic political engagement means being aware of several prominent cultural forces that shape contemporary Western politics. As described by Trueman they are (and here I'm quoting his section headings) 1. The rise of aesthetics and the decline of discourse 2. Never mind the argument, tell me a good story 3. It's not the economy, it's character and rhetoric, stupid!

I won't rehash his arguments -- since it's time to put this series of posts out if its misery! -- but suffice to say several figures beloved of conservatives and one or two beloved of liberals are cited in examples of how politics in the age of 30-second ads and sound bites has become something of a joke. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines in this chapter, including Trueman's description of Sarah Palin's embarrassing 2008 interview with Katie Couric as "the equivalent of being savaged to death on live television by a teddy bear." Apparently the author isn't a fan of Mama Grizzly.

This book deeply resonated with me, though if I'd read it ten years ago my reaction probably would have been much different. Over the years I've grown more politically moderate (maybe even liberal) at the same time I've grown more theologically conservative. One of the reasons Trueman decided to write Republocrat was to present an alternative to younger believers who risk being alienated from the church by the linkage of conservative party politics and evangelical Christianity. Trueman wants you to realize that abandoning the agenda of the GOP or Christian Coalition doesn't mean you have to abandon the faith once delivered. Plenty of saints throughout history have remained in the orthodox faith while holding wildly divergent political views. Indeed, the very categories we use to describe our political beliefs are products of our own narrow historical context.

I'll end with the quote from Vaclav Havel that Trueman ends the book with. These inspiring lines are a reminder that politics, messy though it may be, is a noble calling. Whether you call yourself a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat -- or none of the above -- I hope you agree.

Genuine politics—even politics worthy of the name—the only politics I am willing to devote myself to—is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole. (p. 110)

Quotes from Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010)

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