Tag Archives: Paul Ryan

De-mangling political religion, Part One

November 25, 2012


We’re beyond the mere need for civil discourse. Our minds are askew. We actually believe our own rhetoric as an article of faith. We no longer know how to talk because we no longer know how to think. We’re thrusting religious categories onto politics, and that’s true of both pious and secular fundamentalists. Classical politicians are pragmatists in their heart of hearts. They’ve wended their way through local and state governments, where the grand debates center around zoning regulations, potholes, sewer lines, schools and budgets. Old school city pols made sure Mrs. O’Leary got her groceries and medicine. It was practical vs. impractical and useful vs. unworkable, all under the umbrella of the law and agreed-upon values. We’ll compromise with our opposing “friends” because the people elected them as well. Sure we have ideals, and we’ll salute Old Glory with relish, but that’s because Old Glory symbolizes our practical approach. Political ideals serve people, not vice versa.

No longer. We’ve forgotten something subtle and yet crucial, articulated well by Dutch theologian/statesman Abraham Kuyper: Politics and religion occupy two distinct, although sometimes overlapping, spheres. Our religion can and should inform our political beliefs (remember Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and Martin Luther King: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”), but the two categories cannot be confused. They’re linked but not enmeshed. Otherwise, we view fundamentally practical questions (should we repair that bridge?) through a spiritual grid. Everything is moral vs. immoral and evil vs. good. We demand Messiahs, not effective representatives and administrators. We insist our presidents become pastors.

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Paul Ryan: The intelligence-wisdom gap

August 19, 2012

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The all-American picture of the All-American family struck our Facebook walls hours after the announcement: A trim dad, donned with a baseball cap and a sweatshirt, sits on the porchswing beside his beautiful wife. Three children smile on their laps. The headline pleads above: “Please say a prayer for the Ryan Family.” The caption explains below: “They are about to face a terrible and merciless onslaught of lies, rumors, and smears from the progressive/Democrat propaganda machine known as the, ‘Impartial and Objective Main Stream Media.”

So the culture-war detonates with a prayer, sealing Mitt Romney’s vice presidential designate from criticism because he’s a pity-worthy victim. Political discourse – always filled with passion and never for the faint-hearted – is no longer about reasonable verses unreasonable or practical verses impractical. It’s good verses evil, the wholesome verses the malicious, the decent verses the vile. Think of that harmless family. Think of the children.

I actually sympathize as they face the potential onslaught. I have no reason to doubt Paul Ryan’s sincerity or his religious devotion. I honestly wish him no harm. He might be a great guy. Perhaps we’d be friends. Maybe he’s one of those give-you-the-shirt-off-my-back libertarians, individualy charitable but suspicious of candy-doling but power-hungry governments. I should listen – especially if he’s the admired GOP intellect and policy wonk. At the same time, my American citizenship obliges me to gauge a candidate’s intellectual coherence, what previous generations called wisdom – and, since he’s a self-advertised Christian, his representation of Christ and his teaching. Romney opened that door when he played the religious card, apparently forgetting how the deck was once loaded against him. He hailed Ryan’s Catholicism and, in a Virginia campaign ad, accused the president of waging a war on religion. Many are leaving churches of all stripes because the faithful are seen as Bible-heaving, take-no-prisoners zealots, so I need to see what we’ve been dealt.

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Thieves in the Temple

April 19, 2011


I’m hearing whips crack, coins clink, and benches flung against walls. The hawkers and peddlers and venders race for the gate as sheep bleat and doves fly. A furious Messiah is taking his temple back a day after Palm Sunday. He’s not negotiating. As the dust clears, I can’t help but wonder: Are there money-changers in our temples? Even worse, have we become the hucksters? Have I? My answer: Yes to each. There are thieves in our temple, and I’ve been one of them.

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