What do you mean God speaks?

S3Post3: Vote for a person, not a party (some Biblical reasons why)

December 07, 2023 Paul Seungoh Chung Season 3 Episode 20
What do you mean God speaks?
S3Post3: Vote for a person, not a party (some Biblical reasons why)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

There’s this adage that says, “Don’t talk about religion or politics unless you want to get in trouble.” Well, this series is all about religion, so we might as well go the rest of the way this episode, and talk about politics!

Now, politics is not what we usually explore in this series. But, it might be good to listen to me thinking aloud on topics outside my area, especially if these ideas are based on some of the insights and ideas this series has examined in the main episodes.

In this case,  the importance of the person, the character of the people we select as our leaders, over what they supposedly stand for. Here are some reasons--from the Christian perspective--why you might want to vote for a person even if they hold views or position you disagree with!
         
 0:33     To examine who we are is to examine our relation to reality - God           
 6:53     Why democracies are vulnerable to ourselves           
 17:28     My proposal : Vote for a person, not a party            

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There’s this adage that says, “Don’t talk about religion or politics unless you want to get in trouble.” Well, this series is all about religion, so we might as well go the rest of the way today, and talk about politics. 

[ short music / ]

Welcome to “What do you mean God speaks?” I am Paul Seungoh Chung, and this is the 3rd post-season episode of Season Three, “Vote for a person, not a party. Some biblical reasons why we should do that sometimes.” 

[ / music ] 

My default principle, when I discuss any topic, is that I stay with things I actually know at least something about—which are the insights, ideas, and stories in Christianity, and more generally speaking, philosophy and religion. If I stray beyond that, I should say so quite clearly and why. So, the previous extra episode and this one is me, breaking this default, by straying outside, which is why I’m making sure you know that. But, you may be asking, why are you going off topic? I mean no one said that to me, but there are probably some people thinking that I should just stop with these social or political issues, which I know no more than an average person, and go back to my regular content! 

But, hear me out! Firstly, we’re between seasons, and we’re still on time—mostly—to start the fourth season by the end of this year! And in the meanwhile, it may be good to listen to how I think aloud on topics outside my area—I mean, we all think about stuff we don’t know, right? But, I’m trying to draw these thoughts from the kind of insights and ideas we explored in the main episodes of this series! But, which insight, you ask? 

Well, one of the ideas that’s being presented in this series is the call to examine who we are and what we are becoming as persons. We are called, to use the old phrase, to look within our souls. Now, we can leave the more “metaphysical” connotations of the word, “soul,” for later seasons. But, looking within our souls is not at all about looking only at ourselves, closed off from the “outside world.” After all, (as a 20th century philosopher, Heidegger, would put it) we are always connected and engaged with the world around us; that is the nature of our existence. So, to examine ourselves is to examine how each of us relates to reality as a whole. And—you can probably recite the next lines by now— reality is like a speech and unfolds like a story, so, all of reality is God-God-speaking; that’s what religions like Christianity mean by “God.” So, examining what kind of person we are is the same as examining how we relate to God: that is to say, how we engage with reality—with everything that is real, with every truth, with every living person. Do we engage in good faith, humbly, truthfully, and justly? Or do we engage in bad faith, with conceit, lies, and contempt? And this question seems to be more fundamental to the Christian Bible than the question of what results from such engagements.   

What do I mean by that? Well, this is the insight that this series has once phrased as the following: “There is truth, then there is truth that generates other truths.” There are truths that we discover and learn—and again, every truth is God speaking to us. But, truth that is even more important is what kind of person leads us to every truth, by engaging reality in good faith, without deceit or distortion. Such person is the closest analogy—or in the words of Genesis, the image—of God speaking to us in our time. So, in Season Three, we considered why some of the moral precepts and laws in the Bible seem to change over the centuries—such as that of say, circumcision, or slavery. And our conclusion was that a crucially important idea that the Christian Bible presents to us is how each generation arrived at such these precepts and laws—which is to say, how they related to God and heard God speak to them, and so reached—or received—these moral precepts for their time and their generation. Our particular standard of morality or justice are always inadequate, and it can change, and so what is crucial is what kind of person can bring about the things that are most just, most fair, or most compassionate, for their time. And that question, again, is that of the soul, the person and their relation to God and thus, how they engage reality. 

That is why Jesus declares, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to God my Father except through me.” Notice that Jesus places the words, Way—that is how we engage things—and Truth, and Life, together, side by side, and identifies all of that as one in a person: himself. [1] This is a core idea in Christianity. We often pay a lot of attention to the results, what the person produces, that we often miss the person

But, of course, I said that we are talking politics today. So, let’s do that. 

My assessment regarding how we have participated in politics and social movements of our time, is that we have been captivated by the results—the products—and neglected to see the persons that produces them. Or to put it differently, I’m posing this following question to the advanced democracies of the world today—you know, ones that really are democracies, with real elections and freedom of speech. Have we been seeking victories of our political or social causes—the products—while neglecting to examine the characters or the souls who champion them? Is that what we’ve been doing? Because if so, we are amplifying the greatest weakness that lies at the heart of every democracy. And this is the reason why we complain in every election cycle that we’re being forced to choose the least horrific candidates, rather than the best. But, if I’m right, we deserve it

[ pendulum ] 

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher, Socrates—according to the writings of Plato, his most famous disciple—posed this criticism regarding Democracy. In a democracy, a state or a society is ruled by popular opinion; but, that is no way to run a state. What is needed is expertise, not popular vote. Suppose you are on a ship sailing on rough seas; now, do you want to be on a ship where its course and direction is decided by the votes of its passengers who know nothing about running a ship, or do you want to be on a ship that is helmed by someone who knows how to read the charts, how to navigate the ship toward a safe port, and well, knows how to steer? 

Now, Athenian democracy, to which Socrates and Plato was part of, was a different kind of democracy than ours—everyone, or rather every eligible voter, which was male Athenian adult—cast a vote on every major decisions, like enacting laws and going to wars and such. Modern democracies, on the other hand, are forms of representative democracies. We choose representatives who will make these decisions in our place, using their expertise. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. But, that only places the problem further back. How do we choose our representatives, people who should know how to steer our nation? Here’s another example, which is also drawn from Plato’s work, again featuring Socrates. So, say there are a group of children who’s falling ill. And they need to choose between two persons to treat them. One person is a doctor, who prescribes them with bad-tasting medicine and maybe even painful needles. The other person is a pastry chef who offers them cakes. Who’d they choose? 

The problem is that the quality of the representatives that govern a democratic society depends on the quality of the people who elect them. And I’ve been hearing that more and more people in contemporary democracies, like that of the U.S. are becoming concerned about the state of our democracies. Or, more bluntly, we’re losing our trust in that institution. We don’t like our leaders. We don’t like the choices we have in our election; it’s becoming less and less about who we think is the best candidate, and more about who we think is the least terrible—least odious. But, then my question is, why are we only getting terrible candidates? Remember, the quality of our leaders, our representatives, depend on the quality of the people who elect them: us.

So what’s happening with us

Let me propose a following account that may explain, at least a big part of the problem. Again, I’m not a sociologist or a political scientist. This is a layman’s observation; but, it’s an observation, which draws from the insights we explored in this series. For too long, our elections have become a matter of winning, and specifically, a particular political, social, or cultural position, winning. All of us likely heard the term, the “Culture War.” Well, that is part of this, but also involved are relevant economic policies, foreign relations, infrastructure spending, and so on. And we want our side to win. That is quite obvious. Would we want to lose instead? But, this has consequences

Simply put, what are we willing to do to win? Are we willing, for example, to bend the truth? Truth about the issues, about ourselves or our opponents, or what is going on? I mean, we won’t spread outright lies—or so we tell ourselves—but, a spin, a somewhat faster spin on some truth, or perhaps partial truth. Except of course, the other side calls that disinformation, or fake news, though obviously it’s their side that’s spreading those, or so we say. I noticed, to my great annoyance, that in my newsfeed, different news outlets—different, mainstream and vetted outlets—present very different news now. And let’s not even get to the more partisan, online tabloids that keeps offending my eyes. Some news stories or facts covered in one outlet seem to be completely ignored by the other, as if they never happened—for example, stuff in a recent war. And even when they cover the same news, the actual content and the details regarding it are glossed over in one, while emphasized, emblazoned, and shouted atop mountaintops in the other. Now, some differences of views are to be expected, obviously—that’s how we think and interact—and that’s good. But, again my question is, what kind of persons are we becoming, when we become more and more willing to spin the truth, faster than we know we should, just so that our side wins? What is happening with our relation to reality, with truth—and so, with God? Because if we spin the truth a bit too fast—say, like a drill, to pierce holes on our ship—our world may start taking on water. Yes, that is a direct reference to the episodes on the Genesis account of the Flood, in Season Two.

Then, we come to actually choosing people to represent us. What kind of persons are we increasingly attracted to? Well, there are two features we seem to be going for that amplify our problem. First, a person who’s willing to do anything to win, and second, one who will win in ways that will tear apart our opponents, and put them in their place. This is what I remarked in our previous extra episode: we seem to have this tendency when we try to make our world better; we tend to do so, by destroying people who we think is making it worse. We seem to enjoy, especially in our polarized world, exposing, humiliating, and canceling people who we label as “people who make this world bad.” And by that, we far too often mean, people who we disagree with. So, many of us want our representatives to do just that. To win, and bring down the—the MAGA, the woke, or insert the word of your choice here. We want our representatives to be combative, to spin the truth like a drill, if they have to, to carry our anger and frustration—or worse, to embody our contempt at people who we think are at fault for why our world is so different from how we would like it to be. And let’s not even get into the obvious point of whether the world should be how we would like it to be.

And so let’s say, such people win our primaries, or party conventions, and so on. They are the people who will tear down those we’re angry at, people who will win, and deliver us the products: the law courts, policies, actions, and impose of our values and vision on the rest of our society. And we think this is all justified, because we believe in the goodness of our products. But, if this is what we’ve done, people we selected are essentially gladiators, our champions in a blood-sport. Or perhaps, more charitably, they are showmen. But, neither gladiators nor showmen are leaders; what makes them great in a blood-sport, or showmanship, have very little to do with bringing together a society or a nation, and leading us together to a better future. 

In fact, things may very well be much worse than this in a particularly politically charged and partisan setting, where animosity toward each side runs rampant. There, darker features will become increasingly prominent in those we select, while others, to put it bluntly, will be bred out. For example, we’ll encourage unquestioning stance toward our views, and uncompromising hostility toward our opponent’s; we’ll overlook their conceit and arrogance, and even approve their contempt for the other side; we’ll ignore their callous disregard for people “not in our camp” and even cheer when they say, they will “put those people in their place.” Yet, these are characteristics that belong more to people who start civil wars or a political pogroms and purges. Now, note that I’m not simply saying we’ll select such people to be our representatives—I’m saying that the way we do this will encourage those in politics to become such a person, if they aren’t already, because they’d learn that those are the people who are being selected. Yes, you can say that I’m exaggerating, and I’d also like to say that this is a worst-case scenario. But, let me ask this question—a litmus test, if you will. 

Let’s say you are choosing between two people to represent your political party, or be presidential candidate, or whatever—and they’ll both be men, in this example. The first person proclaims how everyone in your party—people like you—have been so deeply wronged, how everyone on the other side is bent on destroying your society or your country, or the planet, and how if he’s elected, they’ll never so much as get a word in, in your government. Then, the second person steps up and says the following: now, he does agree with most of the key policies and positions of your party, but, he says the concerns and arguments of the other side are quite understandable and he wants to address those too; he even voices concern that your party has been so focused on how angry you all are at other people that the hard conversation about actual policies and governing have been ignored. Now, which of the two will be chosen as your party’s candidate in the end? I mean, realistically speaking? And if it’s the first person, my darker scenario above may be a lot closer than we’d like to think.

Yet, if it is the first person, if that is the kind of person all of us are choosing to champion our cause, then here is what that would mean. If we lose, the person who will have power over us will be the worst possible kind of person among those we disagree; if we win, they will be the worst possible kind of person among those we agree. 

[ Pendulum ] 

So, here’s a proposal. Now, I don’t think people will follow it, even if this small podcast somehow reaches everyone who will vote. But, it might be worth keeping it in mind.

Vote for a person regardless of their party of ideology. 

Vote for the second person in my scenario. Vote for someone who does not substitute character for showmanship; vote for someone who listens, and seem genuinely willing to speak with his political opponents. Vote for—and this is a big one—someone who is willing admit they were wrong. Now, you don’t want someone who’s making mistakes all the time, but, unless you think our political leaders are infallible and divine, they will be wrong sometimes. Vote for someone who can acknowledge that, even when it is their opponents who were right; and follow the course of actions that really seem the best, even if it makes them look bad. Vote for someone who’s concerned with making the world better, rather than punishing those who made it worse. In fact, vote for someone who seems reluctant to identify such people—now, they will step up when some people need to be held accountable, but they don’t relish it.

You can think of it this way an application of something Jesus taught us, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

How do we want to be treated by people who disagree with us? And I mean something other than them agreeing with whatever we think. If they become leaders of our society and take us to a direction we disagree with for the next few years, how would we want them to do it? And is your answer for them very, very different from how you would act toward those you disagree with, if you or your chosen champions lead our society? Then, we have a problem.

Ok. Here’s an interesting exercise. So, think about all the candidates in your next election cycle, from every political party. Now, imagine that all of them hold the same views and policies, and specifically, those you disagree with—an unpleasant thought, I know. So, say your candidate of choice, from your own party: imagine that everything they support or are fighting for now, are that of the other side, and the people they are speaking up against—or disparaging, or mocking, or whatever—are you. Now, out of all of these candidates, who are all championing the issues and policies of the other side, remember, and are speaking against you, which person would you respect the most? And which person would treat you with greatest fairness and respect? Are they still the person you were going to vote before? Or, now is it some other person? 

Vote for that person, regardless of their political party or views.

But, some of us may object that our views are correct! We need to vote for someone who agrees with our views, regardless of their character, because it will save our planet from a crisis, or because these things were taught to us by God, or such. But, that’s a dangerously arrogant assumption. I mean aside from the obvious question of whether our views really are correct, even if they are, and will save our planet, or were taught to us by God, or whatever, can we be confident that the way we go about in following through with our views are also true? Can we be confident that that there weren’t better ways to do so, or that there were still something we missed? Not that our views were wrong, but that there were more that we needed to learn?

For Christianity, there is another critical issue at stake. And it is something we explored, way back in the first season, in the 5th post-season extra episode titled, “What Jesus never taught us.” And this is: Christianity has no paradigm for how to politically bring about its goals. In the Christian Gospels, when the devil offered Jesus power over the kingdoms and empires of the world, Jesus refused. But, that was only because the devil told Jesus to bow to him, and that’s true, but there’s far more to it than that. It’s about a particular way Jesus would do things—a way that God, His father, wanted it. So, when the Roman governor asked Jesus if he was a king, before sentencing him to death, Jesus replied that he was indeed King, but, that his kingdom is not a kingdom of this world; otherwise, Jesus specifically added, his followers would be fighting a war to free him. Of course, maybe he said that because Jesus first needed to go to the Cross, to bring salvation and forgiveness to all human beings, at least according to Christianity, and we’ll leave what that all means for quite some time in the future. But, that’s what his disciples thought when they approached Jesus after his resurrection and asked, “Lord, now, are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Translation: Jesus, now that you’ve died on the Cross, rose again, defeating sin and death, saving us all and stuff… are you now gonna start kicking ass and show those Roman occupiers and corrupt religious leaders what’s coming to them, and establish a good country? And Jesus basically replied, “That’s none of your business. When the Holy Spirit from God comes upon you, you’ll know what to do.” And when that happened, what the disciples did, were the same kind of things Jesus did when he was in this world: ministry of teaching, healing, reconciliation, while being persecuted and slandered by the powerful. 

This is not at all to say that Christians can’t hold political office, or stand for what they believe in; they can and they should. But, it does mean that when Christians hold values or views that are different from the rest of their society, they should be very, very wary of using anything other than persuasion, personal witness, and act of love, to change their society—that bringing about those changes through political power, even if it is legitimate in terms of secular laws, may very well be something that Jesus rejected.  

There is another far more relevant criteria in choosing a person to lead a nation. Again, remember our key point at the beginning of the episode: examining what kind of person we are, is the same as examining how we relate to God, and thus to reality as a whole, to truth, to people around us. In his letter to the Galatians in the New Testament Bible, Apostle Paul describes the character of those who do so in good faith, which he calls the fruits of the Spirit. He writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This contrasts with those whose life is characterized by idolatry, strife and enmity, envy, anger, debauchery, sexual immorality, and the like. But, these traits aren’t exclusive to Christians. Now, in the letter, Apostle Paul is specifically describing what kind of person we become when our lives are placed in Christ, even if that transformation can be quite long.

But, for our purpose, we can ask this question. What is the character of those we are choosing as our leaders—especially if we are Christians. Because the “fruits of the Spirit” is not conservatism, fiscal responsibility, or nationalism, nor I add, progressivism, social welfare, or equity. You may of course argue that your position, whichever it is, derive from these fruits, but even if that is true, it remains derivative. And the question still confronts us. If our views are derived from them, why do the champions of these views not embody the actual fruits of the person?

And I am not at all saying our political positions are unimportant, no am I proposing that our vote should ignore the views of our candidates. I am proposing something very specific. If our society has turned into a place, where our political candidates we see on our ballot are persons characterized less by love, peace, gentleness, respect, and wisdom, and more by strife, faction, envy, conceit, and enmity—if our candidates are the worst possible kind of person among those we agree with—then, we need to change our voting habit to correct this. So, until this is corrected, and only until this is corrected, vote for a person, and not a party.

And let’s be very frank here. Take any real, functioning democracy, so say, the U.S., with all the current jokes about the state of that country aside: there were times when Democrats held office, and there were times when Republicans held office. And so far, at least in recent years, the U.S. did not descend into political pogroms, concentrations camps, or complete economic or ecological collapse. That means, as far as political positions and parties go, both sides are at least, in principle, able to govern. And that means, it’s safe to at least test out my proposal for a while. In fact, I’d even argue that the catastrophes you’re worried about will likely come more due to kind of persons you elect, rather than which party. Remember: a person who is humble, willing to learn, admit mistake, and listen to the other side, regardless of the party, will be someone who can respond properly to any incoming disaster that, say, his party might cause.

We may at this point, voice this final concern. What if our candidates start faking these virtues? Faking being respectful, faking being willing to learn, faking humility and peace and the like? But, I’d respond that in our specific context, that’s actually a step toward a better world. That’s because if we’ve been selecting people who didn’t even bother faking those virtues—people who were chosen because they were conceited, angry, contemptuous of their opponents, and so on, so that people seeking political office were actually trying to become such people? Then, a world where people at least pretend to be good is a much better world. It would mean that we at least know where we should be headed toward; it will tell those who seek power, what kind of people they should aim toward, and failing that, at least act as if they are such persons.  

So, next time, you are choosing someone to lead your society or your nation, here is my suggestion: Vote for a person, rather than a party.   

[ / Music ]

But, of course, maybe all this is too idealistic. Maybe it’s just a foolish dream. I did say, I don’t think people will follow it, even if they heard this proposal. But, as with every good dream, I think it’s at least, worth sharing. 

Thank you for listening. If you enjoy this content, please subscribe, follow, and rate or review this series. You can also support this series at buymeacoffee.com, when you click the link in the episode description, that says, “Support the Show.” 

And please join me next episode when we wrap up the post-season episodes and lead into our fourth season. 

 

[1] Yes, there is much more to this statement than that, since Jesus is primarily speaking about how—his life, his sacrificial death and resurrection, will save humanity from their sins, and restore their relationship to God. But, to really get into that, we’ll need a few more seasons. 

To examine who we are is to examine our relation to reality - God
Why democracies are vulnerable to ourselves
My proposal : Vote for a person, not a party