By Addie Darling
Since the election, there have been numerous articles tolling the bell for the death of Christianity’s relevancy in the political sphere, as well as a continuing discussion over the future of Christian political activism. These claims seem to have a point: gay marriage was passed in three states, physician- assisted suicide met a narrow defeat in Massachusetts, and the President was largely supported by Catholics, even given the controversy between the President and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over the HHS mandate and its effects on Catholic organizations.
Looking back at the discourse of the past month, I can’t help but wonder if – given the current dialogue- the alignment of traditional Christians with the goals of political parties- particularly the Republican party, will doom any attempt at salvaging a society that values human dignity, the family, and authentic justice. This is not necessarily because the goal of promoting the traditional family or preserving the institution of marriage is an unworthy cause, nor because our culture is too “lost” or depraved to understand the Gospel, but because both parties’ individualist foundations undermine a Christian understanding of the world. While cooperation with political parties is necessary to achieve certain ends, Christians must distance themselves from the heresies of Americanism and radical individualism that infect both parties. Radical individualism undermines the communitarian and cooperative nature of the Church, has given rise to the sexual and social revolutions that have gotten us into this mess, and it won’t get us out of it.
At the core of Christian social teaching- on sex, on economics, on justice, on poverty- is a theory of solidarity with all men- particularly with the weakest and the marginalized who have no one to turn to. Yes we have personal relationships with Christ, sin is an individual action and we are judged as separate persons. However, Christianity is fundamentally a communitarian faith: with the support of the family and the Church, we come together as parts of a body in pursuit of Christ.
Individualism, however, destroys this body. Its isolationism and self-interest sends a message that the individual’s actions do not concern anyone else, and furthermore, that the individual has few-if any- obligations to others. The apologists for modernism preach that so long as one does not directly and significantly impede the ability of others to pursue their own desires, nearly all things are permissible- even at the expense of the community. This divorce of man from community reduces morality to the pursuit of one’s personal pleasure, rather than what is good, and transforms politics into a tool for supporting individual prerogatives. In short: individualism breeds moral relativism and gives public license to nearly all self-centered initiatives.
Gone is an idea that Christ is the vine, and we are the branches; annihilated is the idea that we grow in our own ways and towards our own goals, but we fundamentally are part of the same body. Instead, this view creates a society of princes, lording over their own self-designed kingdom – and anyone who suggests otherwise is a tyrant seeking to impose himself upon others.
It is this rhetoric and set of assumptions that underlies the core of the both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms today, and, as hinted by R. Reno in First Things, if this message does not change, then it will undermine the conservative philosophy that it masquerades as, not to mention orthodox Christian beliefs.
If Christians who hold traditional beliefs on sexual morality and the family wish to have those positions respected within political society, they must embrace a conversation and tone that values the role of solidarity; We need to reclaim the the value of the Church, of a community bound together, within public life. Yes, the Christian is called to reject hedonism and turn society back from a sexual libertinism that threatens to undermine the most fundamental community- the family. However, this will not be accomplished should Christians clinging blindly to language of “free enterprise” without solidarity, should Christians continue to use and promote philosophies that divorce our individual actions from the common good of society.
Maybe President Obama’s much-maligned “gaffe” was a rare insight of wisdom that the political right should have taken more seriously. After all, a Christian knows that “you didn’t build that”- you can’t build anything on your own. We are dependent not only on our works and effort, but on God’s grace and also the support of His body, the Church. If Christianity is to survive in the public square, we must not only live lives of virtue and charity among our communities, but also reclaim this language of solidarity and genuine community in the public sphere.