March 7, 2016

Political Theology

I have, for better or worse, been "back on" Twitter for a couple weeks now. I made the mistake of following a bunch of people who (like myself) call themselves "conservative." First, I note that the character limit on Twitter, being extremely short, lends itself to screaming matches, unless one is faced with an interlocutor with an amazing ability to summarize. (If teachers want to force students to learn summary, make them summarize paragraphs in the length of the Twitter restrictions of 140 chars.)

I have hinted at the above in another post of mine. However, what I have observed over the past weeks, being that we are in a campaign season, is the sheer number of people willing to attribute evil character to those with whom they disagree. While pejoratives like traitor, betrayal, and banana eater (okay, I made that one up) are common when (for instance) Ted "Cruzers" are describing things like Marco Rubio's moderate immigration position as traitorous, it is evident that there are no small number of people out there willing to call Rubio evil (or as bad as) for taking such a position.

Let me provide some examples of both, names of the proponents redacted for their safety, etc.:
So you call yourself a CHRISTIAN and you want to vote for the FILTHY mouthed, DONALD TRUMP? C'mon! You'll be judged by this. He also LIES.
@realDonaldTrump By the way, your speeches are identical to many of Hitler's. "I am going to make America great," "We don't win."
DYK that because of the treasonous actions by @HillaryClinton Russia now owns over 20% of our Uranium #DemTownHall …
@MikeBates @oreillyfactor lived in Arkansas 4 40 yrs. HUCKLEBERRY always a very moderate republican...  he's sold his soul....
God bless @MarcoRubio. Both sides terrified of him & scum @tedcruz & @realDonaldTrump "leaking" fake @CNN stories. 
I did not see any direct use of the term "evil" on this go-round, but I have blocked or unfollowed many such people in the near past, so I may now be somewhat insulated.

In traditional Christian, and (to my own experience and knowledge), Catholic thinking, we have always been careful to separate action from culpability and evil act from evil person. The latter is especially important in light of the (true interpretation) of Christ's commandment against judgment. We see this reiterated in various Gospels. For instance, in Matthew 7:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Some have taken this to mean that we cannot reprove any other Christian for behavior not in accordance with the Gospels. In Luke 6, we find similarly:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
If we cannot reprove those who misbehave, then we cannot follow Christ, who did this very thing. If we turn to great thinkers in the Church, we find a clear distinction between judgment of soul and judgment of action. For instance, St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
I wonder, then, what is it that leads self-proclaimed Christians (for many whom I see attributing evil also claim the mantle) to act in such a way as seems manifestly opposed to Scripture and Tradition. It occurs to me that one reason is that Christians have become so absorbed in politics that, when they perceive a politician who isn't in agreement with one of their own positions, which is the (perceived) Christian position, the other position is, by default, anti-Christian, and therefore, evil. Another (and I think related) possibility is that certain strains of Christian attribute to America a Divine Mission, special in the eyes of God. This is usually tied up with attribution of quasi-sainthood to the Founding Fathers. Therefore, the further one is perceived to stray from the Founders, the more evil one is perceived to be; after all, if they are saints, then leaving their path marks one as an anti-saint.

Whatever the causes, Christians must assess their language and thoughts carefully - they ought to keep in mind St. Ignatius, as well as Christ's clear commands of charity in judgment and action. If Twitter proves to be an irresistible source of temptation to wrath, Christians should leave - Twitter is not indispensable to this life; in fact, it is likely all too likely to lead a Christian astray.

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