Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Religios Politikos, I: What is “Politics”?


Yes, we changed the title.  It looked as if we were picking on Catholics or other Christians. No, we offend everybody.

Earlier this week we were copied on an e-mail that was in response to last week’s election.  It seems there was a lot of discussion in religious circles whether a committed Christian (or a member of any other religion) could even vote when the choices on all sides were so bad.  The obvious response, of course, is “If you know how the job should be done, why aren’t you running?”

That’s a little flip, however.  More to the point, it’s also individualistic, and the Just Third Way is about economic and social justice.  That’s why the brief comment in response to (somebody else’s) statements about how to vote sparked this response.

The respondent stated, “I don’t think Christ is about politics.”  In a larger sense, the respondent was disclaiming any role for any organized religion in civil society.  Religion is off in the corner somewhere, and must be completely separated from “real life.”

In one sense we would agree that, “Christ [or any other religious leader from any faith] is [not] about politics.”  In another sense, He is about nothing but politics.  So was Moses.  So was Mohammed.  So was the Buddha.  So was Confucius.  The list is endless.

If by “politics” we mean the particular machinery of government, electioneering, squabbles between parties, jockeying for advantage over opponents or constituents, pork barreling, then, yes, Christ is not about politics.  That sort of thing doesn’t really have all that much to do about maintaining the common good as the environment within which humanity acquires and develops virtue, thereby becoming more fully human, either.

If, however, by “politics” we mean what Aristotle and Aquinas meant, then it is a different story altogether.  Pius XI made this clear in Quas Primas, his 1925 encyclical on Christ the King, the Feast of which is coming up on November 23.  Any sincere member of any religion would logically have to make the same claims for the pivotal figure in his or her faith tradition.

According to Aristotle, man is by nature a “political animal” (Politics, 1253.a2).  The human person therefore only develops more fully as a human person within the institutional framework of an organized social unit, the pólis, hence, political.  As a political animal, humanity is uniquely endowed with individual rights that can only be realized within a social context — we are political.

 We must as a matter of reason (Humani Generis, § 2) acknowledge that “Christ the King” rules over the human heart through our conformity to the natural law of which Christ is the living embodiment (John 15:5).  This is individual ethics (bios theoretikos), the life of the individual as an individual.

Aristotle covered individual ethics in the Nicomachean Ethics.  Again, this applies in the same way to all faiths.  Don’t forget Aristotle was a pagan.  Christianity is here used as the exemplar — besides having the clearest social and political teachings of any major religion.

By conforming our behavior as individuals to the precepts of the natural law (the chief of which is “good is to be done, evil avoided”), we acknowledge Christ as King of our personal lives.  This is true even if we are not Christian or have never heard of Christ (Matt. 21: 28-32) — this, as we keep saying, applies to everybody.

#30#

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