Sunday, January 22, 2012

Looking for Another City

The fact that Christians are journeying toward the other city [i.e. the New Jerusalem]… allows us to be healthy and our states to be healthy. For if men have nothing more to expect than what this world offers them, and if they may and must demand all this from the state, they destroy both their own selves and every human society.
Values in a Time of Upheaval, 71
Reflection – I admit it – I am a political junkie. I know, I know—it’s bad for me! It’s fattening! Causes cancer in lab rats! Linked to higher rates of depression! (actually that last one is true…) But, as the movie line has it, I find myself saying to political games of all stripes “I wish ah could quit you…” but I cain’t…
To make matters even worse, Canadian politics are just about the most boring spectacle on the planet, and always have been. Right now we have one party, Conservative in name if nothing else, who have a virtual lock on power with its almost freakishly competent leader, while the other two parties are in deep disarray, devoid of either leadership or viable ideas. Not a lot of scope for political interest there.
So I’m forced to illicitly feed my political addiction on the black market, smuggling  American politics across the border and consuming it in back alleys and seedy news dens until I pass out amidst the fumes of newsprint…
OK, enough cheesy metaphors. I like politics, and I’m following the American presidential campaign with great interest. Doing so, it seems to me that the above quote from Ratzinger could well be read and reflected on by everyone involved, which means every American citizen, The USA being a democracy.
What do we expect from this world? What do we expect from the state? Do we have this orientation towards the New Jerusalem, towards heaven? The criticism has always been that Christians are so focused on heaven that they ignore the poor and injustice. This has always been a ridiculous criticism (yeah, that Mother Teresa sure ignored the poor!). We could counter that those who despair of heaven mostly try to drag heaven down to earth… which results in hell on earth.
That’s what happened in Russia under Communism, in Germany under Nazism, and what is increasingly happening in North America and Europe under secular liberalism. The Obama administration is trying to force the Catholic Church in America out of charitable activity by forcing them to fund contraception for their employees. If the Catholic church in the States is forced (because we cannot violate our conscience on this matter) to shutter its hospitals, schools, adoption agencies, and every other social service, what will that mean for the poor? A terrible increase in suffering, that’s what.
But the underlying problem is this terrible idea fixed in the minds of so many that the government, the state and its various extensions, is the primary agent in society, the one to whom we look for just about everything. A terrible exaltation of that most frail and flawed human institution—government—to the grave diminishment of personal responsibility and action and small group initiatives and works of charity and justice.
It really does revolve around the question of the New Jerusalem. Are we trying to build heaven on earth? Better give all power to the state, then! If we know that there is another city, another world, another place where alone true happiness will be ours, then our lives here fall into proper perspective. We can spend our days serving the poor and striving to live justly. We will not look to politicians (for crying out loud!) to solve our problems.
So to my American readers, you have my great sympathies and good wishes as you move through this election year. To them and to everyone else, let’s try to put politics in its place—a low place, really. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, our hands to the plow of good works and service, and our feet continuing to trod towards that City where every tear will be wiped away.