November 6, 2012

It’s a Madhouse: Christians, the Presidential Election, and the World

By Nathaniel Torrey

As we go into the polls this November 6th to elect our next president, I’d like to reflect on a Christian’s role in the world. Specifically, I want to talk about the so called “Culture Wars,” within which the upcoming election would be something analogous to a battle.  As I think about what my duties are as a Christian in the world, I find myself questioning whether this tension between the old and the new, the liberal and conservative, etc., that is so often called “culture wars” really ought to be called a war, in so far as Christians participate in it.

The image of a war being waged between two entrenched sides is more fitting for what I would call the “other side” of the war: radical leftists, secularists, radical feminist and LGBT activists, historicists, Marxists, believers in the “Enlightenment,” and other Baconian utopians. For them, the stakes are much higher. For them life is a constant battle, their “values” and “ideologies” are in need of constant vindication. There is no justice, there is “just us” in their eyes—no God watching out for them to wipe away every tear (Revelations 21:4). If they do not act, they will be relegated to the dustbin of history. Since they believe there is no life after death—only life in the world, it is of the utmost importance that all their energy is spent to make life in their own image and make it fit to their particular standard, whether it is guaranteeing the right to an abortion and contraception, the legitimization of divorce and homosexual marriage, and other hot button social issues.

Though the imagery of warfare for Christian life is used in the Holy Scriptures, writings of the Church Fathers, and other forms of expression, I think it is best used practically on the individual level. As St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountains says in the foreword to his translation of “Unseen Warfare”:

This book teaches that the warriors who take part in this unseen war are all who are Christians; and their commander is our Lord Jesus Christ, surrounded and accompanied by His marshals and generals, that is, by all the hierarchies of angels and saints. The arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our Whole life.

The Christian is constantly beset by his enemies: his sins and his passions, memories that haunt him and drag him back to his old ways, a world concerned for itself and not for the next, gossip, seductive images and phantasms. He is called to be ever vigilant and never to doze at his post, fervently praying for aid. The moment he believes he has claimed victory he is immediately thrown back into the conflict. The Christian will only know true peace in the life to come.

This is to say that the warfare analogy in so far as a Christian is a “combatant” in “the culture wars” is problematic. It makes the truth of Christianity contingent on its being won. However, we can say with confidence and assurance, unlike the Marxist who believes in History or the Empiricist who believes in Science, that we have already won! As it is sung in the Easter Troparion in the Orthodox Church, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Victory has been claimed! The cure has been discovered! We have firmly planted our flag upon the enemy camp! In this post-Resurrection world all we are doing is proclaiming the good news of Christ’s victory over death. If Christians “lose” the “culture war,” the necessity of salvation through Christ will be true regardless. It is the radical that has already lost though he clings desperately to ideology, to the world, to death.

We must fight only in so far as our duty to Christ demands it. We must be ready to suffer or even die for Christ. We may have our reputation tarnished, spit on, reviled and called anything from weak and feeble-minded sheep in need of a crutch to authoritarian intolerant bigots. It is our solemn duty above all to make sure people come to the side that has won.

I’d like to suggest a better image for Christianity in dealing with the world, instead of the image of two entrenched foes. The world is more like an insane asylum, where for the longest time the patients have been running the facilities. Their entire way of viewing the world is like a carnival fun house. What is big is really small and small is really big. What they view as important is insignificant and what they think is insignificant is the most important. Finally, the Great Physician came and began healing some of the patients, nursing them to health and made sure they saw reality as it really was and not in their disturbed and frenzied state. He then left those he had helped with the tools necessary to begin the healing of the rest of the patients.

Christians exist in a world that believes a corruption, namely sin and death, is totally normal and natural. To quote Charlton Heston in “The Planet of the Apes,” “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!” But the Church is nevertheless charged with the task of setting the patients right the best they can. We must also never forget that the sickness runs so deep that only the Physician can be trusted totally. We are not even able to trust ourselves.

When we vote, let us do so as conscientious Christians. However, if our favored candidate does not win, or a law that we believe is just does not pass, let us not lose hope. Let us not take consolation in the fleeting and temporary cares of this world, but seek solace in the bosom of God as we approach the world to come.


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  • Jamie Moffat

    I am interested in writing for your blog. Please contact me with appropriate ways to get involved, or steps on how to submit an article.

    Thanks!

    Jamie

  • Paul H

    When Whittaker Chambers forsook Communism and became a Christian, he said that he knew he had left the winning side for the losing side – meaning that, this side of the grave, the dark side would win. Granted, the official history says the Communists lost the Cold War, but I don’t think so. The materialism that is at the core of Communism pretty much rules in our society, and we get Christian spokesmen like Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, and Diana Butler Bass telling us that Jesus “really” intended us to confine our interests to this world, not heaven, and the Joel Osteen types convey the same message, one urging liberal activism, the other urging us to focus on success. If Nikita Khruschev came to America today, he would feel sure his prophecy “We will bury you” came true with a vengeance. yeah, lots of people identify as Christians – but when was the last time any of us heard a sermon on hell – or, for that matter, on heaven?
    Chambers’ conclusion didn’t lead him to throw in the towel. There’s something noble about a Lost Cause, especially if you’re certain that you’re on the right side, even if you’re defeated at the worldly level.

  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    I think a family might be the better analogy than either a war or a madhouse. Within a family, you have loved ones who all generally want the good to happen and yet, sometimes disagree about how best to do “the good.” I don’t look upon my more conservative fellow citizens, community members, friends and family members as “the enemy,” nor do I view them as those against whom I am waging a war and, crazy as I may think some of their ideas are, I don’t think of them as insane.

    Rather, I presume that, by and large, they are striving to do the right thing even given their fallen nature and living in a fallen world. Sometimes “they” and “we” are less-than-ideal in what we want to see happen, but nonetheless, we all are generally striving towards the good as best we know it.

    As Mary Wollstonecraft said, “No one chooses evil because it is evil; they only mistake it for happiness, the good they seek.”

    Tomorrow morning, the sun will rise and set on the just and the unjust. My fellow citizens will continue to work and strive to live aright in their families and communities, regardless of who the president is. And they will, no doubt, still have their moments of greed and ill-will and sin along the way as they strive to get by in this life.

    Left, right, in-between, we will continue to live in community as we have the last four years and, just as with a family, we will have to strive to get along with those we disagree with, as best we can. Hopefully, we can learn from our mistakes and learn to reach out a bit more and with a bit more grace than we have, but no doubt, it will continue to be a challenge. And yet, God is here with us today and tomorrow and the world will continue to turn.

    Peace to you all.

  • Bart Gingerich
  • http://paynehollow.blogspot.com Dan Trabue

    Here are some of my favorite songs on this theme…

    Big Old Goofy World

    Great Big Stupid World

    Drop in the Bucket (which begins, “It’s a crazy world we live in…”)

    All of which are a bit more hopeful-sounding, for my friends who have need of some hope today…

    • http://www.juicyecumenism.com Nathaniel Torrey

      I do love Jonathan Prine. Here is a more depressing song a long the same line, Mad World by Tears for Fears. Most people have heard the more somber recording by Gary Jules, featured in the movie Donnie Darko, but I prefer this one.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFsHSHE-iJQ