It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Statesman or demogogue? Well, I'm emerging briefly from my work-imposed break from the blog to post the following stories. The common theme for today's work is the difference between being a person of authentic faith in the public square as opposed to a person who merely uses religion to advance a secular ideology. I am a strong defender of the rights of religious believers to live their faith in the public square and to form their political positions in light of their religious convictions. But there is a danger that faith can be misused, seen not as a source of moral truth but simply as a means by which a particular ideological perspective can be advanced. For the authentic believer who is involved in politics, a proper use of faith can help that person rise to the level of a stateman. The misuse of religion as a means of manipulation in support of an ideology, though, leads down the path of demogogery and hypocrisy. An example of a faithful politican. One politican who embodied authentic religious conviction in the public square was the late president of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino. Strengthened by her Catholic faith and shaped by the Gospel's concern for the human person, Aquino was a human rights activist who helped to lead the People Power movement that brought democracy to the Philippines in 1986. She then became president, and worked to solidify the rule of law and constitutional government in her country. An authentic believer, Aquino's faith was a source of strength for her as she sought to restore constitutional government to her homeland. Her faith was so strong that she's even being proposed for sainthood. Here's a brief overview of the story over at the Mirror of Justice. Aquino wasn't just a political leader, she was the leader of a spiritual movement for reform as well. And her work as a leader in both venues was grounded in her Catholic faith, a faith she took very seriously, even heroically. But she never used Catholicism as a cheap vehicle for exploiting her people. Both her religion and the people were too precious to her. Her Catholicism deeply informed her political principles -- it was not a cheap prop to be used after the fact to bolster her own self-invented ideology. An example of the demogogue. Contrast the impact of faith on Corazon Aquino's public life with our own president's recent foray into the topic of faith and public policy. Speaking about health care reform before a rabbinic group, Obama's instincts were precisely to use religious faith as a cheap prop in support of his own ideological goals. As he put it to the assembled rabbis, in a statement of remarkable hubris, "we are God's partners in matters of life and death." Can you imagine what would have happened if George Bush had said something like that? I sure can... As Ann Althouse puts it, "Obama would like you to see government as religion." This is precisely the kind of perversion of religious faith in public life that is such a temptation for politicians who have any kind of theological orientation. God is wheeled out in support of a particularly policy, without any attempt to pay attention to the actual principle involved. In this particular case, Obama claims that God wants us to be his partners in matters of life and death. A crass and self-serving use of theological principle that in Obama's case indicates a a failure to appreciate both devotion to religious principle and how religious conviction can inform public debate. Rather than bringing religious principle to bear on how larger issues intersect with concerns about human rights, the dignity of the person, the common good and the ideals of subsidarity and solidarity among people, Obama's religious rhetoric is just an example of a tawdry attempt at manipulating faith in the service of an ideology. Such manipulation is an abuse of religion, subordinating faith not to the God who gives it as a gift but to the shabby ambitions of the Chicago-style huckster. Religious conviction is held not to be a transendent vision of the true, the good and the beautiful, but is reduced to a barrage of pseudo-religious language interjected into speeches as an emotionalistic crutch for secular ideology. As such, it is blasphemous at best, idolatrous at worst. And in either case, it displays a remarkable level of presumption, of claiming the ability to identify our own ideas and interests with those of God. A useful quote about being ruled by self-righteous busybodies. As we reflect on the differences between the authentic believer and the pseudo-religious ideologue, it might be helpful to keep the following quote by the Christian apologist and Anglican layman C.S. Lewis (1989-1963) in mind:
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I am just finishing up John Patrick Duggin's book on President Ronald Reagan. Duggin brings up an interesting point that I hadn't realized, namely that Reagan was strongly influenced in his views by Thomas Paine. Paine is the one founding father that Reagan quoted the most, and much of Paine's ideology -- individual liberty, a suspicion of large institutions, hostility to taxation and government regulation, etc. -- is evident in Reagan's general approach to conservatism.One particularly interesting point that Duggin makes is the Reagan's brand of conservatism was remarkably untraditional in its rhetoric. In several different contexts, Reagan quoted Paine's stirring line, "We have the power to begin the world anew" -- a very untraditional sentiment. Reagan embraced Paine's idea that human beings can liberate themselves from corrupt and oppressive structures in order to create a new order of liberty and individualism. While Reagan appealed to voters of a more traditionalist perspective, he was no disciple of Russell Kirk and even less a disciple of Edmund Burke. Behind Reagan's conservativism was a streak of radicalism that is underappreciated both by many current conservatives who tend to be overly hagiographic when speaking of the former president, and many modern progressives who ignorantly demonize him. It is a fascinating twist of history that the most radical founding father -- Thomas Paine -- serves as a primary philosophical influence on the most successful conservative president of the 20th century. Any attempt to understand Ronald Reagan must take into account the influence of Thomas Paine on his work. And any attempt to appreciate Thomas Paine's influence on America must look to the impact his work had on the ideas, rhetoric and program of President Reagan. [Cross-posted at American Creation.]
Saturday, August 1, 2009
[Picture: Corazon Aquino in 1986 during the People Power movement that lead to the downfall of the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.] Sad news today on the death of former Philippine president Corazon Aquino. The widow of slain democracy activist Benigno Aquino, Cory (as she was known) lead the People Power uprising that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986, bringing democracy and the promise of human rights to the people of the Philippines. A woman of faith, she was motivated by her strong Catholic convictions into standing up for the rights of the people. A woman who loved her family, she worked to carry on her murdered husband's legacy. A proud patriot who believed in a Republic with the rule of law and respect for each human person, she was a symbol of hope for the millions of people who took to the streets during the People Power movement, ushering in the first of the many revolutions for freedom in the late 1980's. Like Lech Walensa in Poland, she was convinced that her mission to stand for human liberty was part of her vocation as a Christian. After she became president, there were constant coup attempts against her -- questioned as to how she could hold on to preserve the rule of law in the country in the face of such relentless lawlessness, she responded simply, "If the country needs me, God will spare me." She was an example not only to the people of the Philippines, but to freedom-loving people the world over. I remember as a young high school student here in the States watching the news reports of the People Power revolution in the Philippines, and seeing her pride and dignity and determination to vindicate the legitimate rights of the Filipino people. Like the other great leaders of the 1980's -- Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher -- she understood the call of freedom, and the yearning of the human heart to actually be free. Aquino was not a perfect president, and her regime had its fair share of problems. The corruption within Philippine politics was not and could not be removed overnight. But she served the people as best she could, and she always kept in the forefront the interests of her country. She was an example of all who live in challenging times, to all who face choosing to give in to tyranny or to fight -- peacefully, non-violently and in the power of the Gospel -- for liberty and human rights. Maraming salamat po sa inyo, Corazon Aquino.