Power, Politics, and Faith

I have a running theory that political ideologies are always at odds with the Christian faith. In other words, political ideologies are always attempting to displace loyalty to any other forms of faith. Especially religious faith, and even more especially orthodox Christianity.

But let’s put this more simply by way of practical examples.

Let’s say I’m a moderately liberal Democrat in the US in the 21st century. This might mean that I hold to certain policy positions such as:

  • We should expand healthcare to as may people as possible, especially those in financial need
  • We should implement a carbon tax and other policies that reduce carbon emissions in order to help mitigate climate change
  • We should support a woman’s right to choose an abortion and provide the means by which to obtain an abortion
  • We should provide the opportunity of a quality education (including and up to higher education) to all US residents
  • We should require more oversight of police authorities – especially as it relates to the use of force on US residents – and adequately fund other means of community protection and care (mental health workers, social workers, etc.)

These are just a few examples, but you get the picture. I could have done the same thing for someone who identifies as a libertarian, a moderate Republican, or a democratic socialist.

If we’re trying to see why a political ideology like this or any other is at odds with the Christian faith, we have to ask two questions:

  1. Are these policies in accordance with, opposed to, or neutral towards the Christian faith? (and a secondary question to this might be – how would we know where these policies stand in relation to orthodoxy? hint: we’d first need to know what is required of us if we call ourselves “Christian”)
  2. What are the means by which these policies be implemented? In other words, is the how we pursue implementing these policies in accordance with, opposed to, or neutral towards the Christian faith?

Question two, I think, may get at my point more deeply than question one. That’s not to say that question one is unimportant. On the contrary, it could be argued that the in history of US politics, the focus has been on some version question one. E.g., what policies should we implement, and do these policies help make a more just and equitable society that supports the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The reason that question two is more important is a Kierkegaardian stance. His concern is less about the content of faith (perhaps because of the time and place in which he lived) and more about the “how” of Christian faith. What is our relation to the things we believe? Do we hold those beliefs abstractly in objectively (in our heads)? Or do we actively and subjectively attempt to live in the implications of our beliefs?

This is why political ideologies are at odds with the Christian faith. There are no political affiliations I know of that do not attempt to implement policies via power. It may be authoritarian power or democratic power, but it is power nonetheless. To implement societal change – new laws or ordinances, abolishing old laws, etc. – power is required.

Not so with Christianity. In fact, I think it is arguable that attempting to follow the way of Jesus is to relinquish the right to use power to effect change. Rather than use power, the Christian way to effect communal (and yes, even societal) change ought to be what humans often think of as weak and foolish. That is: faith, hope, charity, and forgiveness.

Political ideologies, regardless of their content, are always attempting to displace Christian faith and practice. One attempts to change the world via power and policy. The other attempts to change the world via love and forgiveness.

The question is, which one do we have the courage and faith to align our lives with?

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