Jay Nordlinger, one of my favorite pundits, has this great line in his most recent Impromptus:
"A key feature of the totalitarian state is a coercion to politics."
I love that! I am as passionate about political issues as the next person (since politics is a natural extension of incarnational theology and philosophy). In fact, during my high-school and early college days, I was more involved and informed about political issues than I was about theological and spiritual issues. But I must say I am getting a little weary of the tired and incessant political maneuvering by both the pacifists (or in many cases, the "anti-Bushites") and the those who support military action against Iraq.
Last night, I got into a little tussle with a member of my church about this issue. (Ironically and sadly enough, at a prayer/spirituality discussion group meeting! One more thing to add to my confession this Lent!) It all stemmed from the recent publication written by Jim Forrest and signed by several hundred prominent Orthodox priests, bishops and theologians about the upcoming war and their opinion about the use of force in this situation and about the necessity for caution and restraint.
The problem I have with so much of our current political debate and the public square in general is the dualism with which so many issues are debated. Conservative vs Liberal, pro-war vs peace, more taxes vs tax cuts, etc....So many false dichotomies....
Western politics suffers the same "either/or" problem that western theology does!
There is no room for, as my friend Tripp likes to say, "plurality" in the debate. Now, this does not mean that on some issues it is very clear what the Church does and should teach. (ex. abortion is murder. Period). However, unlike the creedal truths of Christianity and the clear historical, spiritual witness of the Church, some political issues are not always as clear cut. There is a little more room for ambiguity in the City of Man than there is in the City of God.
What is interesting about Orthodoxy is the fact that it does not suffer a specific "political" label like most of western Christian groups do. As someone who had left western Christianity once said, "I am tired of Christianity being nothing more than a philosophy to placate upper-middle class, suburban, white, SUV driving Republicans." A very sad, but true assessment of much of the conservative, evangelical scene. One could also say they were tired of it being used as an ideology to placate upper-middle class, angry mainline Christian Democrats who wished they could kill George Bush and then move to France. (a little tongue in cheek).
In any case, the political plurality I have seen in the many Orthodox churches I have been in over the past 5 years continues to amaze me. For the most part, it is impossible to pin the Orthodox down on many political issues and stick a nice, clean label on them as "conservative" or "liberal." Orthodoxy transcends these neat little labels because, as CS Lewis said, you can't have "Christianity AND." True Christianity can't be subservient to a political cause or candidate. It can't be "Orthodoxy AND the war" or "Christianity AND organic produce" or "Christianity AND tax cuts." It just doesn't work that way. As we say in the Liturgy, "put not your trust in princes and sons of men, for in them there is no salvation." Of course the spiritual life in Christ will include a "political" component. We will care about our world, our fellow man, and our society. But we will not let any of those things distract us from "the one thing needful."
We Americans have a long way to go in learning the proper place of politics in the Christian life.