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Posts Tagged ‘Political Philosophy’

Election Day

Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

Thank goodness it is over: mid-term elections. The day following elections, November 3rd, is almost as bad as the days leading up to Election Day on November 2nd.  The whole day is taken up with pundits and analysts telling us what the election results mean; as if we are too ignorant to figure that out ourselves and need someone to tell us.  Of course, even the analysis is driven by political views.  So, none of it is hardly objective – from the left, right or center.

At least for a short period of time, about 18 months, we will not have to listen to the ads, get phone calls from pollsters, and be visually assaulted by placards along our streets and highways. It is not that I am against the American political process.  Far from it!  We are privileged to be citizens of a country that can change political authorities without a coupe or revolution that causes death and destruction.  Few nations in the world can do this.

I am just tired of the mean-spirited, misleading and meaningless droning that has taken over any real civil dialogue that will result in really solving problems. Much of today’s political proclamation reminds me of a poster I saw one time for a revival meeting taking place at a conservative Baptist church in our neighborhood.  In bold-letters across the top is declared, “Come hear preaching against!”  And then it went on to list all of the ills of our society: smoking, drinking, gambling, movies, television, dancing, illegal drugs, swearing, etc.  The whole poster was filled with issues that listeners could go and hear preached against.

It struck me in the weeks leading up to the elections that this was pretty much all I was hearing in the debates. Propaganda I received in the mail never espoused what a candidate was for and any solutions the candidate was offering to solve our state or federal problems.  They all consisted of what a political action committee (PAC) or sponsor for an opposing candidate was against.  How helpful.

I was taught years ago that any unskilled moron can tear apart a barn. However, it takes a skilled craftsman and someone who really knows what they are doing to build one.  It would appear to me that we have more than enough people who can identify the problem and tear apart what has already been attempted.  What we are really lacking is enough people who can come together to build something that will benefit everyone and last more than one election cycle.

All of this has got me to thinking about politics that really matter. It has been a “hobby-horse” of mine for years now, but this past election cycle has only solidified my opinion regarding American politics.  It is simply this: The only politics that really matter are the politics you and I practice everyday.  Let me explain, please.

The most basic definition of the word “politics” is offered to us by the Merriam-Webster as “the art or science of government. Now, before you rush head-long into thinking that the word “government” has only to do with our large scale federal and state governments, think again.  Our early American Founders understood first and foremost that governance, or government, was first and foremost a personal matter.  It concerns how one governs his or her own affairs: home, land, finances, relationships, etc.  Thus government, properly practiced, starts within one’s own home.

Unfortunately, it seems that as a society as a whole we have lost touched with this reality. We focus on macro-politics, when our most important contributions are on the micro-political level.  The American electorate gets all worked up over what party is in power, what national issues are screaming for our attention, and who has most recently offended our political sensibilities.  Meanwhile, the everyday things we could do to govern ourselves and our own circle of influence goes unmet.

Glacier On Mt. Daniels, Washington State, September 2010

Glacier On Mt. Daniels, Washington State, September 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

For example, the political debate over health care is a major issue on the national scale. Yet, how many of us really practice responsible self-government in the way we eat and exercise?  All of us contribute to the rise of health care costs when we let obesity and a sedentary lifestyle send us to the doctor for expensive medical procedures and then expect our insurance companies to pay for it (which is paid for by the rest of us contributing to the system, by the way).

Many conservative and religious American voters vow to only vote for pro-life candidates. However, how many of them actually help the governance of their local pregnancy centers by volunteering time or donating money?  It is useless, let alone hypocritical, to vote for state or national pro-life candidates if one is unwilling to act locally to help those with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.  Personal politics demands that I practice in self-governance that which I vote for on my election ballot.

In other words, what we demand on the larger scale of the political arena, let us practice on the political scale that really matters: personal politics and self-governance. By making a difference in our own towns, cities, neighborhoods, local schools, food banks, rehab centers, social agencies and volunteer organizations, our culture is changed at the micro-level.  This change will be reflected at the macro-level as those within our communities and raised on our values are elevated to larger or macro levels of political responsibility.

The politics that matter start on the personal level. If we cannot self-govern, then what makes us think that anyone we elect will be able to govern for us?  This is only a cop-out.  Instead of taking personal responsibility to choose and to act, we want those in government to tell us what to do so that we can blame them when it does not work out.  It gives us an excuse to “Vote the bums out!”  It is time for every American to take a personal vote.  If you were “president” of you, would you re-elect yourself?  If the answer is no, it is time for some soul-searching.

The reality is what we all know too clearly. There is no administration or elected official that is going to bring solutions to all of our problems.  It is up to each of us to practice politics that matter, which is the science and art of governance.  Let’s start with self-governance and go from there.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Pluribus and Unum

The United States of America has somewhat of a schizophrenic community identity.  On the one hand, we relish in the idea that we are a “melting pot” of cultures; a country where people from any culture are welcome to legally come and establish a new home.  However, on the other hand, we worship the idea or myth of the rugged individual who comes to this country or who pioneers a new horizon; a country where an individual can realize the potential of all that he or she can become with enough hard work and luck.

For some time now, I have been pondering the sources of these attitudes within our American culture.  More specifically, I have wondered about our idea of the rugged individual who makes it on his or her own and how that shapes our relationships, politics and religion.  We love our pioneer stories.  We almost worship the entrepreneur who starts out with nothing and produces something out of a garage or shop that not only attains success but also produces wealth.  Our movies make heroes of the rebellious individual who beats the system or the status quo accepted by the larger majority.

This heightened sense of the individual over the community gives rise to many tensions in our society. Loyalty is no longer given to any one group but to the self.  So, individuals move from church to church, job to job, and even community to community for personal advantage.  Loyalty is passe’, whether it is to a marriage union or workers union.  Most Americans are looking for the “best deal” and “for the right price.”  We have taken the American Founders ideal of an individual’s freedom to pursue “life, liberty and happiness” to individualistic twisted ends.

Individualism fractures society more than it unifies it.  It seems to be the human tendency to move toward separateness until there is something that unites us – a common enemy, a common problem, or a common experience in the midst of disaster.  Once the threat has passed, however, jockeying begins all over for the selfishly personal “best seat at the table.”  Jesus’ disciples exhibited this same behavior despite the fact that it was Jesus who brought them all together and was the unifying factor.  Perhaps church bodies could learn something from their example and Jesus’ instructions to them.

Of course, the fracture of civilization and its relationships is nothing new to human existence. It is as old as the Garden of Eden where the break in community with other humans and with their Creator began.  However you tell the story and understand it, it perfectly illustrates the human condition.  From Genesis chapter three through history up to today, we witness the effects of the rips and tears in our social fabric.  The story of the Tower of Babel, when God caused confusion through language and culture, is only the pinnacle of this story.  Humanity has been on a steady descent ever since despite the attempts of world rulers and empires to bring a return to a one-world order according to their terms.  This has only led to resistance and further fractures in the global human community.

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009

Washington D.C. Capital Buildings, Spring 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Of course, conveyors of conspiracy theories like to point to one of the Latin phrases on the reverse side of the United States’ Great Seal to show that the U.S. is involved in the same scheme. The Latin words

Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.

Image via Wikipedia

Novus ordo seclorum” are taken by them to mean “New World Order” when, in fact, they truly mean “New Order of the Ages;” signifying the beginning of a new era with the birth of the United States of America.  The other Latin phrase appearing with it is “Annuit coeptis,” which means “God favored our undertakings.”  So, there is a bit of irony in the theories of conspiratists in that it would seem that they believe the U.S. is involved in some diabolical plan to take over the world with God’s blessings.

At any rate, the Latin phrase on the U.S. Great Seal which most Americans are more familiar with is “E Pluribus Unum.” This is roughly translated “out of many, one” or “one from many.”  In recent American history, it has been embraced to refer to the great cultural “melting pot” of this country.  However, at the beginning of American independence from Great Britain, it was an attempt to directly reflect the unity of the diverse thirteen colonies.

Modern Americans tend to forget just how fractious those early colonies were based upon their religious preferences, politics, loyalties to England, economies and ideals of the ruling classes. The contentions were never really settled until after the Civil War – and some would argue, especially from the southern United States, that it is still not settled.  Early on, the threat of secession from the federal union was always present; first from the northern states and then from the south.  Politics became divided very early over the preeminence of individual and state rights versus federal rights.  We still wage political battle over those ideas today.  This conflict may always be in flux and never really settled in our American democracy.

Interestingly, E Pluribus Unum was the motto of the United States of America until 1956, when it replaced with In God We Trust.” Until then, it appears on most U.S. coinage since it was mandated by law in 1873.  It first appeared on U.S. coinage in 1795 even though it was first proposed for the Great Seal of the U.S. in August of 1776 and finally formally adopted in 1782.  In the 1776 proposal, which Benjamin Franklin had a hand in, the seal had a shield with six symbols; each symbol representing the six main countries that provided immigrants to the colonies: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), and an imperial two-headed eagle (Germany).  Those six symbols were surrounded by thirteen smaller shields, which were to represent “the thirteen independent States of America.”  Of course, the “independence” of those states and the others to follow would greatly change with the new constitution of 1883.

The idea that a country not formed by, from or for any one ethnic group can exist without fracturing into hundreds of splintering self-interest groups is still being tested.  The United States and its people are still very much a democratic experiment in the making.  The strength of our union requires every citizen and local and state government to bow to higher ideals than self-interest.  This, in part, was the empowering force behind Abraham Lincoln’s administration and other leaders to seek to preserve the union with southern states who attempted to go their own way.

Even in many American churches, the unity of the church fellowship takes pre-eminence over selfish desires and goals. There is a desire on the part of the individual to be a part of something larger than just the small cosmic consciousness that the individual inhabits.  Becoming and being a part of a community of faith enlarges one’s life and capacity for living in and through the lives of others as believers pray, worship and serve together.  The essence of the Gospel and the Church’s theology is that the Creator, through His incarnation in His Son, Jesus, has come to bring true unity in human and divine relationships.  As the apostle Paul would have it, the enmity or hostilities created by cultures, languages, skin colors and offenses to God have been removed by the peace offering made by Jesus the Messiah on the cross.

So, we are not merely “pluribus” – many independent individuals or states of being seeking to find out own way. We are also “unum” – formed as Americans in our democracy to unite around those ideals that make us a unique light to the rest of the world.  We are a cosmic declaration that people from different parts of the world, with different skin colors, abiding by different religious convictions can not just merely co-exist but also become unified for the common good of each individual in its society to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  It was this very audacious and precarious idea that caused most of the America’s Founders and the truly wise and understanding today to constantly invoke the help and aid of Providence.  And so, it seems, as long as the help of heaven preserves our union and democracy, we will continue to be E Pluribus Unum.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Founding Faith

I really enjoy reading good history books. Since my interests are pretty eclectic, so is my library.  The startling thing about reading history is how much is not new to human experience.  It almost makes one believe that life is an endless cycle that experience death and rebirth or reincarnation.  Still, learning from people who have gone before us and the histories they leave behind can be very instructive.

Recently, I finished Steven Waldman’s national bestseller, “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical a New Approach to Religious Liberty” (Random House, 2008).  I have read conservative writers and historians take on this period of American history as well as extremely liberal writers and historians treatment of the same period.  Both sides seem to want to use this common history to push a political or religious agenda.  Waldman’s treatment of this formative period of American history and its major players was far more balanced (he takes shots at both sides’ attempts to use this history to prove their points).

I appreciate an historical perspective that allows the characters and events to be complicated. Steven Waldman does just that with how he portrays the beliefs of the different Founding Fathers.  They were complicated individuals who changed their religious and political opinions throughout their life times.  Some mellowed with old age, while others hardened with it.  Some began with a very narrow view of religion and then ended their life with a much more liberal view of it, while others had just the opposite experience.

The formation of the founding documents that all these key players had a stake in reflects a part of all of their journeys toward maturity. However, being a part of a political process, they also reflect the various and many compromises that all of them had to make concerning religious and political views.  They did this to bring unity.  Thus, necessity, once again, proves to be “the mother of invention.”  Individuals who found themselves at odds and even hostile to others’ opinions came to believe that compromise was needed to accomplish a larger mission.  After the revolution’s dust settled, then the gloves came off and parties returned to their factious ways, which made for some truly colorful politics.

Hot Rod, Pickup, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010

Hot Rod, Pickup, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, June 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Whatever one has studied about the faith of the Founding Fathers of the United States, one thing is pretty certain from Steven Waldman’s book: they defy easy definition or categorization according to our present political or religious definitions.  In other words, the words “conservative” or “liberal,” whether religious or political did not mean the same thing at the end of the 18th century as it does in the 21st.  At the same time, our present understandings or assumptions concerning the Masons, Unitarians, Puritans or Congregationalists are not completely adequate.

Just like the hot button issues that drives our political agendas today; the Founding Fathers had their own hot button issues surrounding politics and religion. Thus, they reacted against the perceived abuses of both spheres of influence in human affairs.  The common perceived threat was a political or religious authority that interfered with the liberty of a person to act according to his or her conscience. Thus, politics and religion was the battle ground then as much as it is today; perhaps it will always be a part of American politics.

The diversity of religious expressions throughout the colonies demanded liberal documents that would not too narrowly define religion or faith. The various economic experiments that the colonies had gone through since their foundings also demanded broadly worded documents that allowed states to continue their systems of governance.  Of course, the power struggle between states and the federal government continue up to this day and have had some interesting developments over the past almost 250 years.

In short, the seeds of the religious and political dramas being played out today were planted in the soil of this country by our Founding Fathers. Just as compromise marked their work, so it will and must mark our work today.  There is a larger ideal in the formation of the United States of America than what particular religion or faith must be expressed.  The critical issue for the Founders and for us today is the question as to whether any religion or no religion at all contributes to the moral character of our self-government.

As such, the Founding Fathers guaranteed that the game of politics in the United States would also be a rough and tumble sport. This can be witnessed in the lives of our very first leaders.  Politics is not for the faint of heart.  We need people who are willing to contend for issues that are central to the way we live and the way we govern ourselves.  At the same time, let us remember the larger principles for why we exist as a nation.  These can be seen in our founding documents.  Of course, this will require a faith in our Founding Fathers, whatever side of the political or religious aisle they stood.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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