The starting point for understanding how religion relates to politics is to determine how God functions in the world. Like many of you, I attribute the word God to experiences of beauty, love, and goodness that have no logical explanation. These encounters have depth. The reality of the experience is so much greater than the parts making it up.
I have friends who have told me that music brings joy and a sense of peace into their lives, that it often takes them to another place. I also have friends who find a depth of meaning in church liturgy. During my tennis teaching days, I befriended a gifted artist. I taught his kids. At one of our many conversations together, he talked about the process of painting. He told me he often has no idea where he is. Time stands still. Images appear on the canvas from a place he sometimes can't explain. The point of these examples is that they all suggest a sense of something more.
Abraham Heschel and Matthew Fox have created theologies centered around mystical encounters with nature. For Heschel experiencing nature in a deep way creates a sense of awe and wonder. This sense points to the beyond which I have encountered often while hiking or sitting quietly outside observing the beauty of all that surrounds me.
Forty-five years ago our daughter Molly exploded onto the scene. I was there. The experience of witnessing her birth shook me to the core. It all started nine months before when sperm met egg which generated billions of cells that knew just where to go. She came with ten fingers and ten toes, and a brain with billions of nerve cells with the capability of making 10,000 connections a second. I left the hospital with a sense that life is sacred, beautiful, and essentially good. My heart was overflowing with love for my wife and new daughter.
Finally, when I look at my adult life over the last fifty years, there is a direction to it. My path hasn't been perfectly straight, but there are times when I sense I am being directed by a wisdom greater than my own.
According to Alfred North Whitehead, none of the experiences described above, the experiences of others I report, my encounters in nature or the birth of Molly prove the existence of God, but these experiences allow the possibility of God to make sense. Whitehead was very humble concerning his ideas. There is no dogmatic certainty regarding the existence of God, but it makes good sense to think of God playing a role in creating and sustaining the universe as well as being behind our encounters of love and goodness.
Whitehead's philosophy applies to both the macro level of the universe and the micro level of subatomic particles. What is important here is what Whitehead says about the functioning of human beings. According to Whitehead, humans are decision makers. We make decisions based upon different messages that float through our awareness. There are messages from the past—memories, emotions, goals, hopes. There are messages from our biological need to survive—fear, greed, lust are among them. There are also messages from God—a sense of beauty, goodness, love, creativity, justice, and harmony, a sense that mirrors the experiences I describe above.
Humans are free agents. We can decide based on a past influence, our needs relating to survival, or we can decide for God. This stark choice is present in every situation. Evil results from decisions that ignore God's vision. When we choose for God, however, we join with her in helping to make the world a better place. That's an awe-inspiring thought.
If that's how God works in the world, how do we as Christians respond politically. The answer is quite simple. Study the issue in question, look at it from all sides, and then sit quietly reflecting on the messages of goodness and love from God that relate to the issue. It may take a little practice; but when you learn how to listen, the messages will come. The blogs that follow will illustrate Whitehead's approach as I apply the messages I receive to the political issues of the day.
There is one important advantage to understanding the relationship between religion and politics in this way. It avoids needless controversy over the interpretation of scripture. The truth is that one can find a biblical passage to support any position one chooses to take. Wayne Grudem in Politics According to the Bible finds a biblical passage to support every position he takes in promoting his right-wing political agenda. In contrast, Jim Wallis in God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong illustrates his left-wing positions with biblical passages. Such passage picking in support of political policies is nothing more than a ploy to suggest God is on your side. We can do better. This blog will make suggestions on how that can happen.
If you find the above interesting, please pass it along to a friend.