Monday, February 27, 2006

A Dialogue on the Government of the Self

Terry McKenna returns to the blog for his usual Monday morning appearance, with some thoughts on faith, government, and the vile concoction we've had these past five years from the admixture of these ingredients. In the process, Terry recalls the voice of a fellow whose work has been fattening the wallets of Disney shareholders recently, and wonders what that man of Christ might have said about this most un-Christian world and nation of ours today.

Tomorrow, I'll be providing a commentary on the same theme, with the help of another old voice of spiritual insight and perspective. But now, Mr. McKenna:

I am not a man of faith, but I was raised by devout parents who took us kids to mass every Sunday and for whom prayer was an important part of their daily life. While I no longer share their faith, I respect what it meant to them. Their humility and simplicity was at one with their religiosity.

In contrast to their humble faith stands the arrogant and triumphant faith of George Bush. Yet I wonder what he thinks now, as his plans are being blasted apart. You would hope that the facts are taking a toll on him. Perhaps he has even pondered that the god he prays to is no longer listening.

In any case, maybe it is time to revisit Christianity – and to ponder how it happened that Christ’s simple message of poverty, charity and mercy was turned into a weapon — a bizarre brand of warmongering and merciless conservatism, shoved down our throats.

Our last truly pious president was Jimmy Carter (to those who think that Bill Clinton was a man of faith, I beg to differ. He talked the talk, but very much did not walk the walk). Carter’s White House, however inept, was one of openness and had a tone of simplicity that was in concert with the piety of the president’s private life. In fact, Carter kept religion out of his government, but the fact of his religion was not at odds with his policies.

The Bush government is something else. To a man, his administration is closed-mouthed and brutish. They exert power, not influence. And their acts (for we should look as closely at their acts as their faith) - their acts are evidence of almost the inverse of the Christian message. Where Christ elevated the poor, Bush elevates the rich. Where Christ wanted us to turn the other cheek, Bush has implemented a policy of pre-emptive war. Where Christ loved all of god’s creation (we are supposed to be stewards of creation) this White House would like us to pave over every last bit of the remains of paradise.

It was not supposed to be this way. American conservatives had thought that once they found their way to power, that they could turn back the calendar on 6 decades of progressivism. And they thought we’d be all the better for their efforts. Well, they may have started to turn back the clock, but look at the results. And yet, genuine conservatism should never have turned out like this.

My model conservative is C S Lewis, a beloved British teacher, brilliant writer and a stalwart for Western Christian values. And by the way, I am not a believer, but I admire his overt humility and his adamant defense of what he knew everyone else scorned. He had the courage of his convictions. He was also apolitical.

He believed in learning from life and history. Here is an apt quotation: “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” At the end of a rough week, surely even George Bush must have learnt something.

Then a second quote: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” Certainly apt for today’s faith mongers.

Then finally: “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”

To cultural conservatives like C S Lewis, the current American brand of conservatism would be a shocker. They would have shuddered at the notion that war could change middle-eastern culture. But if war had commenced anyway, they would have expected all to share. A tax cut during war time would have been anathema. And their sons and daughters would have served in the armed services. And then, when it all started coming apart, an earnest conservative would have leveled with the American people.

—T. McKenna

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