Four theological and ethical musings on the current political campaign

 


Here are four brief musings about the current political campaigns.

First, honesty – truth telling – is the sine qua non for intelligible public discourse. Without honesty, discourse becomes mere prattling. Of course, thoughtful people change their thinking and opinions over time. Honest people acknowledge these changes.

Dishonesty (i.e., lying) entails intentional deception. The intentionality may have its roots in the speaker not wanting to speak the truth, e.g., a spy lies to hide the spy’s espionage. Alternatively, the intentionality may have its roots in the speaker being too lazy to obtain facts, preferring to rely on preexisting biases.

Honesty admits mistakes. Honesty in public discourse is also sufficiently broad to include misspeaking in the “heat of the moment.” Honesty similarly allows some degree of exaggeration to emphasize a point or message, without the exaggeration becoming an outright lie. In both cases, the intent to deceive is arguably absent.

Honesty is lacking in many 2020 political campaigns. In fact, at least one candidate is so broadly recognized for his mendacity that I need not name him.

Second, from a Christian perspective, private property does not exist. All property is owned by God. The human “owner” is really a tenant or steward, entrusted by God with the property and meant to use the property for the common good. In part, the common good consists of the tenant’s well-being. Thinking about all property belonging to God shines a bright light on selfishness and on ecological stewardship. Legally polluting a river, for example, violates human responsibility for the water. Economic arguments to justify loser environmental regulation similarly transgresses our duties as stewards.

Third, the rule of law, like honesty, is essential for healthy community and governance. Calls for law and order are often masked calls for autocratic rule. The rule of law is inherently messy. No democratic system of criminal justice which affords basic civil rights to all parties (right to an attorney, right to confront witnesses, right to due process, etc.) will always be tidy and effective. Humans simply are not that orderly or perfect. Illustratively, witnesses to a crime often give the police rather different accounts of what happened. Analogously, the rights to free speech and assembly are rarely exercised in an orderly manner.

Finally, vote. Encourage others to vote. Voting is not only a civic duty but our moral duty as Christians. Our votes are our opportunity to express God's desires for the well-being of both the larger human community and the planet.

Consider current political campaigns with their widespread dishonesty and claims to be Christian even while ignoring the fundamental Christian duty of being God's stewards of the earth. Support the rule of law (e.g., oppose rioting, excessive use of force by police, and systemic racism). Also, bravely recognize and denounce calls for law and order for the misrepresentation that they are. Democracy is far from perfect, but generations have agreed that democracy is the best system of government known to humans. Therefore, vote!

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