Ethics has always fascinated me. While morality seems very clear to a large extent, it's easy to find conundrums and paradoxes when you look for them. I have no doubt in my mind that gray will always exist, but I also believe that we tend to do a bad job reflecting on morality. We often invoke mystery too easily, or we land on the side of whatever our moral preferences are in our given culture. I think we can often do better than either giving up or caving in to self-interest.
The following sample of resources are some of the pieces which I've read or created while thinking through the issue of politics. I attempted to use a broad selection of authors, from conservative Christians to the secular, so you can get different angles. Regardless of where you land, my hope is that you'll begin to see the world through the eyes of the gospel first, and politics second (or tenth).
“The Politics of Jesus” has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I could glean ten different life lessons from it to discuss right now, one in particular has surfaced in my mind as of late. In the book, John Howard Yoder, the author, points out several aspects of what it means to bear our cross. Two of these observations had never crossed my mind before. First, Yoder tells us that bearing our cross is not a random event or hardship in our lives, like cancer or a difficult boss. Instead, cross is what is borne as a direct result of the lives we lead as lived in Christ, like moving to a leper colony to serve and contracting leprosy or having your boss fire you for refusing to alter information in a report. Cross is first and foremost something borne as a direct result of living a life directed towards Calvary.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
I've always heard that it becomes much easier to understand our relationship with God after becoming a parent. I continue to find a great deal of truth in this. Right now Catalina and I have a hectic life. We have four kids under six, with two boys who are at peak craziness, and a five year old teenager. The big word running around in my mind the past few months has been obedience, because it is very clear to me that my children's obedience could significantly change how life runs right now. How do I develop obedience in my kids? If I could figure that out, it would make my life a whole lot easier. I have been thinking long and hard about how to handle my relationship with my kids, which has also begun to get me thinking about how my obedience (or disobedience) to God may have a similar appearance and patterns.
Obedience had always seemed like a cut and dry thing to me. If someone is in authority, you obey them because they said so. It's just the way it is. But as a parent, the anger which wells up inside me when my children disobey indicates to me that there is a lot more to obedience than some simple mathematical equation. When my kids straight-up look me in the eyes and disobey, I am infuriated. I have done a lot of soul searching on that, because the way I feel anger inside me is very clearly not good. It's not a righteous anger. It's a selfish anger. I recognize that in disobedience, my kids didn't merely fail a moral math equation, they offended me. Obedience is personal. Why is that?
Cynicism has always been very alluring to me. There’s something about having low expectations that feels good. For one thing, a hardcore cynic doesn’t mind being proven wrong. Who would have a problem with a situation turning out better than expected? It is also helpful that when you have low standards, you find that the standards are frequently exceeded. Now I must emphasize here that I am not advocating for extreme cynicism. For its one positive aspect there are a multitude of burdens that cynicism creates. It is unappealing to people, fosters a lack of motivation towards progress, complains constantly, quells hope, etc. But for all of its faults, I am finding my cynicism to be a wonderful inoculation to one of the greatest threats our society currently faces – unfounded optimism.
It doesn't matter which worldview you accept in life, any position is going to produce its nagging questions. Most people don't seem to have too much of a problem with the dissonance, either because they're unaware of the bigger questions or because it ultimately doesn't matter to them. They can go on with life and never give the problems inherent in their worldviews a second thought. That does not at all describe me. The big questions nag me, and nag me, and nag me - and will likely do so until the day I die. While I'm trying to find that middle ground and come to terms with the fact that mystery exists and isn't always bad, I don't think I can ever stop working through the big questions.
One of these big questions which arise and is particularly strong in Reformed Theology, is the question of how evil originated. If God created good humans in a good world, and if human action is the result of acting upon one's desires, then how could sin have ever come about? If a good, all-powerful God created a good world, then any deficiency which arises seems to be attributable to God. But Christians know that can't be the case, for then God would be evil.
The murder of James Bulgar is a story which wrecks my heart. While all murders are tragic, this one feels to me as if it fits into a different category. The level of reprehensibility, of violence, of senselessness, and of the corruption of innocence eats away at my emotions. But in reality, the murder of James wasn't much different than the murders of other children, save for one fact - his murderers were children themselves. I think the reason the Bulgar case has become so infamous and why so many find it more tragic than other cases is because the source of evil came from an unexpected place. How could two children kidnap, torture, and murder a small child? That's not something children do. In fact, that's something it seems children aren't capable of doing. We don't expect to find great evil in certain places. We think such a thing is reserved for the darkest recesses of society. We expect evil to exist, but we don't expect it in all the places where we often find it.
Many Evangelicals harp on the fact that our culture has lost notions of sin. Our culture is often willing to call evil, "good." Certainly the redefining of morality is problematic, but I think there is something even more tragic going on.
The SLED argument against abortion has been one of the greatest defenses of a child’s right to life. The simple line of reasoning goes a long way in most abortion discussions. The few arguments which the SLED argument can't handle tend to be arguments based on arbitrarily formed definitions of things like “personhood,” and/or basing arguments on degreed properties which lead to inconsistently applied conclusions. A simple reductio ad absurdum reduces most surviving arguments down to positions which either aren't tenable or consistent. For more on this, you can check out what I've written on the issue of abortion here.
However, I have found one newer argument for abortion to be relatively compelling – the argument from bodily autonomy. The argument basically says that as it stands, if we were to prevent abortions, a corpse would then have more rights than women. A corpse may legally donate or withhold organs – even to those in need – whereas under anti-abortion laws, a mother would have no choice in the case but to contribute her organs to sustaining the life of another. We would be requiring her to give up her bodily autonomy for the sake of another. While this “heroism” may be lauded as a great sacrifice if it was a willingly pursued course of action, it is not something we can require of another. Bodily autonomy supersedes the needs of another. Whereas most other arguments have some apparent loopholes, this particular argument initially seemed unassailable to me.
*This is a very rough draft of a strange rebuttal I've developed against the Violinist Argument for abortion. I'm putting it out there not because I'm certain it's solid, but for honest critiques. If you would like to a more comprehensive and solid rationale for the intrinsic valuing of all human life, you can find that here. You can also find a more mainstream rebuttal for the Violinist Argument.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.