The dogs in our neighborhood occasionally get into shouting matches that are not too serious. Somebody might get a sore throat, but that’s about it. There is a sense of security: we still have our fences and nobody’s gonna get hurt, so we can bark our fool heads off. I used to enjoy watching our little dog racing back and forth the length of the back fence exchanging deadly threats with a similar critter behind the fence who was doing likewise. It was a stockade fence, so they never saw one another or had to show that they really possessed the weapons they threatened to use. They were both quite in earnest about it, and then would get hauled back indoors to resume lapdog duties.
There are a couple dogs named “Red” and “Blue” in the neighborhood that have an ongoing argument that flares up into such a shouting match only on special occasions, and the quadrennial raving mad slobbering barkfest is the specialest occasion. There are other dogs in the neighborhood, but Red and Blue are each so important within themselves and to each other that they give little heed to the other dogs, who are seldom even heard with all the noise Red and Blue make. One could say that those two dogs monopolize the airwaves.
As the old and useful expression goes, “I have no dog in that fight.” And, since I’m really talking about politics, I’ll say that I’ve never been able to reduce political choices to one or the other, though that is what Red and Blue seem to think I should do. The 2016 presidential election reinforced my apartness or whatever it is. I had to ask both Red and Blue “Is this really the best you can do?” Any reader who felt really good about either of the candidates is permitted to be miffed at me. And, by the way, I’m not attaching any righteousness to my (lack of?) position. I am, after all, admitting that I can’t do what people in a representative democracy are supposed to do.
Because we do government, all of us, since it is “for the people, by the people, and of the people,” and because we are terribly moralistic, we want to attach “right” and “wrong” labels to the choices given to us by Red and Blue — and to the choices that are made for us by Red and Blue. Or there are more theological terms than “right” and “wrong,” such as “God’s candidate,” “murderer,” and “sleazeball.” At any rate, those of us who believe the Bible and think it says something about right and wrong might well feel obligated to find such voting-booth mandates in that battered book.
Democracy was not even on the horizon for the people whose voices are joined to become the voice of God in the Bible. So they are able to inject a bit of realism into our finding of mandates. Let me boil it down:
- There are mandates for good government in the Old Testament, but they are for the very different good government of somebody other than us. Attempts to universalize any of it (except in principles broad enough to be nearly useless) are generally disastrous, both theologically and politically.
- Despite Romans 13 (better: Even in Romans 13), there is no mandate for good (or bad) government in the New Testament. To cut to the chase, Romans 13 would have to be addressed to the Caesar of Rome, not to the Christians of Rome, for it to provide any mandate to government. Representative government muddles our minds on that, but those Roman Christians could tell us the difference.
Red and Blue must be broad and middle-of-the-road in order to remain the only viable choices. The idea that anything that inclusive could represent what more than a handful of Americans, especially of those who think about it, think is good government is absurd. Democracy is a good ideal (despite the Bible’s ignorance of it), but thinking that we have achieved it is akin to thinking we are all fully sanctified and in heaven.
Going deeper than that, we need reminders, especially during the quadrennial barkfest, that political options are not the only options. We have something else we can do, which is discipleship to Jesus.
It sometimes scares me to think of how many people I know who have a loose grasp on reality and sanity but are permitted to drive. Which means that the countless drivers I don’t know but drive by every day include a similar proportion of additional loosely attached minds. Not only can they drive, but they can also vote. Chesterton: “[T]he sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men [and now women] are equally idiotic.” But rather than get together and learn and discuss until we figure out what is stupid or insane so that we don’t do those things, we run around in our safe yards and bark threats and epithets through the fence. Perhaps (oh no, can it be?) even I do that. Yip, yip!
- I’ve known dogs named Red and Blue: “Red” for his color, “Blue” for the song.
- “We have something else we can do” is how we can think about ethics as well as politics: discipleship to Jesus is what we have instead of ethics.
- “It sometimes scares me”: twice I have seen distinctly in the rear-view mirror a driver snorting coke. I wonder how those two voted.
- “[T]he sane and enduring democracy”: G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill. I suspect that “idiotic” here means crazy, not stupid.