Monday, September 28, 2020

Common Good and Civil War

It is difficult being a concerned citizen of the world, looking on from afar, as the United States of America bit by bit becomes the Divided States of America, excruciatingly travelling day by day towards destiny's deadline in November.

Spoiler Alert: no one knows what will happen!

One analysis I heard the other day (can't recall the source) is that the USA is in a "Cold Civil War." This comment by Robert Reich, Amid Talk of Civil War, America is Already Split , highlights how divisive Trump has been and continues to be, though Reich seems to see the civil war as coming rather than already arrived, albeit "Cold."

Andrew Sullivan, in Yes, This is the Face of a Tyrant , makes the fascinating point that when most view Trump as incompetent, he has in fact been supremely competent ... at destruction. The associated, brilliant point, is that Trump stands in the tradition of Shakespeare's Richard III.

Bonus: read on further in Sullivan's column to see what he says about certain "woke" leaders in the USA. They are as frightening as Trump!

Postscript: yes, like you, I have been reading about Amy Coney Barrett, the nomination to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Whatever the situation re the Court thereby becoming unreasonably stacked 6-3 conservatively, I am aghast as a Christian that Barrett is being attacked (1) for her faith (2) on the grounds that she has adopted two children from Haiti (apparently this is some kind of white supremacy colonization ... and the more scurrilous attackers also want to check that the adoption was perfectly legal). Will the day ever return to the States when prospective judges are assessed on their jurisprudential competence?

Meanwhile, in the Blessed Isles Down Under, our election is a pleasant picnic in a lush green meadow by comparison with the States' democratic meltdown.

We have a chief contender party, Labour, which has led a coalition government since the last election in such a manner that polls suggest we think Labour's competency means it should govern alone and, by contrast, that the coalition partner party, NZ First, should be executed and dispatched summarily from the political landscape. 

Then we have a chief opposition party, National, which until recently was more popular than Labour in the polls, but which has harmed itself by changing leader twice this year and then recently, while campaigning on the strength of historic reputation as good economy managers, has stuffed up key figures within its alternative budget. It is now in "more than a miracle" territory if it were to somehow rise up to lead a coalition government.

So, no "dirty politics" needed here to explain either Labour's strength or National's weakness, though we can say that the Pandemic has been very good for Labour and very bad for National (and NZ First).

How then should Kiwi Christians vote in our General Election?

Liam Hehir, a right of centre commentator and openly Catholic Christian, made a good point the other day when he posted on Twitter a thread emphasising the "common good" and how we view it being enhanced by Party X or Y or Z:

(Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, this thread has been deleted but you can get the gist of how you might think about (e.g.) the Greens, ACT, NZ First contributing to the common good and whether that would incline your vote for them or not.)

I realise the "common good" is a concept which I know nothing about in a technical and academic sense, but I understand Liam to (at least) be prompting voters to think about what will yield the greatest benefits for the most citizens over a lengthy period of time.

I don't think I have ever quite thought of voting with that concept in mind but I see it as a better concept (from the perspective of Loving my neighbour) than "which party will put into or leave in my wallet the most dollars"!

Nevertheless in Aotearoa NZ, the notion of the "common good" needs some careful teasing out. And Anglicans may be in a good position to do that because of our experience of Three Tikanga which heightens recognition that "common good" is not just what is good for most of us over the long haul (because "most of us" are Pakeha). The common good in ACANZP is what is good for Maori and Pakeha and Pasefika.

Last Tuesday night Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins debated on TV One. One observation made afterwards was that neither leader mentioned Maori and the issues Maori face. Was that (classic) Pakeha forgetfulness of Maori? Was that political strategem? 

(For those readers out of NZ, it is all too often politically strategic to (at best) not mention "Maori issues" and (at worst) deliberately mention "Maori issues" as a political dog whistle seeking to round up Pakeha voters who feel (e.g.) that Maori "get more than their fair share" of resources or that we are/should be "one nation".)

What is the common good in Aotearoa NZ as we seek good for everyone, Maori and Pakeha and Pasefika and recent migrants from other nations?

On the one hand, that is not an easy question to answer in one sentence or less!

On the other hand, we who have a vote, should use it, and must make a choice and thus we will (whether we think about the common good, or what will be good for our wallet, or not) be voting for what will be good for our nation and the peoples within it!


MarcA said...

Of course Judge Barrett may suffer from anti-catholic bigotry but I gather catholics and others are concerned at her membership of the People of Praise which seems rather outside "mainstream" catholicism.
Perry Butler

Anonymous said...

As usual, Peter, my view is much less polarised.

The tension here up yonder has arisen from long-standing cultural differences among the perennial regions on our territory. While I have agreed with Robert Reich often and Andrew Sullivan occasionally on matters of policy, I read them at the links as naive about or maybe just stubbornly denying this reality.

Americans of a reformist bent default to an amiable delusion that the United States is a well-unified moral community. On what other premise could a democrat (small D) use Federal power to change life across the continent for the better?

But this is to confuse the mass elite of academics, professionals and managers with the whole population. Most less exalted people think where they live, and living in Peoria, Illinois, let alone Biloxi, Mississippi or Honolulu, Hawaii is not living in New York, New York. This is why so many states so reliably support one party's nominees for president that any incumbent, even this one, is certain to win in several of them. If I had a dog, he would poll about as well.

In this, as in most large countries, regional differences do not always entail tensions. But they necessarily do when power concentrates at the centre.

So, when Washington has made sweeping moves to end slavery and racism, combat poverty, protect the environment, realign genders, etc those overseas have approved and sometimes admired these initiatives. But enacting these with a certain hard-nosed, happy warrior moralism erodes home rule and ordinary life in the states.

In Spain, Catalan separatists explode bombs. In the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament demands more rights. In the United States, more of them vote for Republican presidents.

The big story here is not that a lazy authoritarian is polling as well as my hypothetical dog, but that democrats with good ideas need regional strategies to advance them.


Father Ron said...

I'm interested, Bishop Peter and BW, in the identity of Christians as being related to our expected behaviour in the field of politics.

In the U.S., we have Donald Trump lining himself up with conservative Evangelicals on the one hand (the son of Billy Graham and various Pentecostal pastors who laid hands on the President for a 'win' in the Election); while on the other hand, courting the support of America's Roman Catholic bishops, some of whom look upon him as the saviour of Catholic morality on matters of Abortion and S/S/ Marriage (Despite his own record of abusive behaviour towards women).

In Aotearaoa/NZ, we have the leading (Labour) contender, affianced but not yet married, with no professed religious (Christian) faith, yet who showed compassion for her Muslim compatriots in the wake of the Mosque Shootings, who seems to be adhering to a 'Christian' concern for ALL our citizens by her bias for the poor and the marginalised of our community.

This reminds me, to a degree, of Jesus' parable of he Pharisee and the Publican in the Temple - in their relative understanding of their own behavioural responsibility to moral questions in their own lives.

And now, here in N.Z. we have 2 issues facing us, both of which, objectively, might seem easy to answer from a Biblical perspective of judgement: (1) Euthanasia - (NO?) and (2) Decriminalisation of Cannabis - (NO?)

However, each of these has a dimension of pastoral caring that demands our attention, as believers in Jesus' concern for compassion over judgement.

(1) In an environment where most people would baulk at the propect of allowing a dearly-loved pet to continue in pain and suffering; is it morally right to allow a dearly-loved friend or relative to continue suffering, when an assisted death - at their specific request - might alleviate their further suffering? (Certain safeguards, of course, would be needed).

(2) In a country where many people die from the effects of alcohol and smoking - without criminal sanctions against their use - what is so special about cannabis that it requires legislation to prohibit its use - especially when used for the controlled medical alleviation of pain and suffering?

I suppose the cannabis cunundrum for me - at the age of 91, having never resorted to the use of cannabis or any other recreational drug; and yet enjoying the effects of tobacco and alcohol in my time - is the faint whiff of hypocrisy on the part of a society which can criminalise an activity that young people can be marked for life by engaging in - that they see as a
social activity (like drinking or smoking, for the rest of us). Perhaps the more realistic answer to each of these problems is to tackle education about their deleterious long-term effects?

The matter of euthanasia is rather muddled by the expectation of a 'quality of life' as compared to life's expected longevity. No wonder moral rigorists compare euthanasia to abortion!. However, the two are not alike, even though both are concerned with the 'Right to Life'. Although, as a Christian pastor, my natural proclivity is to preserve life; I'm not at all sure I would want to do this in ALL circumstances. Perhaps this is where I have become a Situation Ethicist, rather than an Empirical one. (At this point in time, I certainly have no expectation of wanting my life to end - but who knows about the future? I certainly am glad that suicide has been seen in a more pastorally compassionate light by the Church, which once refused to allow a Christian burial service!)

Anonymous said...

Postscript-- Three brief thoughts.

(1) The comment above hypothesizes that I have a dog that is a Republican. It explains why majorities in many inland states prefer the party that is ideologically more distant from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Manhattan and Washington. That is, the percentiles and geography of support for the president are about what we would expect for an unpopular candidate of his party.

(2) What about the smaller subset who are passionate supporters of Trump? These voters feel a tension between democracy-as-individualism as they understand it and institutionally-accredited expertise that belittles the less educated.

Voters like me usually see any suspicion of Science or credulity about conspiracies as lacking sanity, charity, or seriousness. But before the Second World War and the Cold War that followed, critique of social hierarchies that concentrate scientific expertise in an elite at the top was a mainstream concern of America's public intellectuals (eg William James, John Dewey, Carl Becker). Trump's fringe prefers disruption to governance, and has wildlings and hitchhikers as all mass movements do, but the tension it feels may be real.

(3) Across the pond, the spiritual ancestors of evangelicals here up yonder were deeply resistant to having their lives directed by state church clergy drawn from social elites. They came to America to escape what they saw as churches false to Protestant *internalism*, and so were no less suspicious of the clergy those state churches organized in North America. Plainly, believing in justification through faith does not entail oh disbelieving in vaccines, but a believer with an emphatically internalist view of the former may sense that s/he and the anti-vaxers have a common enemy in an elite that brooks no doubt about its claims to expertise.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bowman
America is a [contested] idea, not a country ...

Now that Trump is ill, the rest of the world watches with, I suggest, some alarm ... speaking for myself, with fear that if he were to die, America would erupt in ways not good ... and with fear that a "mild" dose of the virus would embolden Trump's insouciance about the virus.

Father Ron said...

Today's comment on the Jesuit 3-minute Retreat:

"In the parable of the banquet, Jesus tells us that all people are invited to the Kingdom of God. The mercy and love of God are not reserved for a few, and the invitation to serve the Kingdom of God is not forced on anyone. Jesus invites us; we need only answer "yes." We share with Jesus the belief that all people are important to God, and we demonstrate this commitment through our service to others."