Lyndon Hood - non-appointee, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The other week I got a phone call with the Good News. The Destiny New Zealand Political Party was coming to Wellington! Knowing, as they did, I wanted to live in a decent society but that looking at the TV I could see that this wasn't the case, they had sent me my first spam phone message.

You know how automated answering services are always voiced by either that one guy or that one woman? I'm pretty sure that this recording was voiced by the chick. At first I thought she was the library about an overdue book.

Despite the novelty value, I hung up fairly quickly. In the time I was listening, they didn't mention God once. Nor a did they do so in the associated press release. Their website mentions God all the time. The FAQ contains the assertion that "Members who wish to hold office in the party do not necessarily have to be members of a Destiny Church". The top item on their vision statement is "A nation under the governance of God".

I find all this intriguing, because I think that Christian Government is the next best thing to a Logical Contradiction.

The novelty of the New Testament, read honestly, is that it is not designed for use by the powers that be. In fact, one of the things that got Christ into trouble was that he was such a revolutionary. Not just in the political sense (a significant point of the money-lenders-in-the-temple scene is that the Roman Emperor's head is on the coins) but spiritually. In the Sermon on the Mount, the moral order is a challenge to ordinary pragmatic morality and entirely incompatible with the idea of exercising power over others.

Meekness. Poverty. Turning the other cheek (let's be absolutely clear: that means when someone hits you you should encourage them to hit you again). Not judging and not casting stones.

There are reasons people think Christ was a hippy.

Judging (and the associated punishment) is a core action of civil society. We have a whole branch of Government called the Judiciary. Yet to do it at all is to sinfully and arrogantly undertake what is properly left to God. Hubris. I don't think I'm nitpicking. I think this is a basic point of Christian morality.

It is less of a problem for a traditional monarchy. Or at least, if you can support the notion of a particular monarch being appointed by the grace of God. From this it follows that everything they do is right and that they have the right to judge and can delegate that to appropriate Professional Judges. This position has a kind internal coherence, but does little to encourage modesty and consideration on the part of the leader. Some commentators have raised the idea that the Bush administration sees themselves as divinely appointed.

But in fairness, let's assume that God approves of civil society, or at least recognises that it is necessary to support the population that the world has. So somebody has to legislate, and to enforce, to gather funding by appropriation, and, at some point, to judge. But these are civil laws enacted for the practical end of preserving civil society. If we recognise this as a distasteful necessity, then surely it should be kept to a minimum. We arrive at something approaching Libertarianism, or at least something that stays out of personal morality and does not refer to religious principles in its actions.

Incidentally, it's not clear that one is permitted do something wrong for material reasons, either under duress or out of merely practical necessity.

But then, presumably by that principle enforced charity would also count as a good deed. That would make me feel even better about paying my taxes.

Of course logic has only ever had a limited effect on the behaviour of the electorate. For all the official secularity of the US government, Presidential Candidates generally play their own godfearing Christianity for all it's worth.

And I am, in my enthusiasm for intellectual rigour, missing the point.

Anybody proposing a Christian political party has come to terms with the above issues to their own satisfaction (or ignored them). I think their idea is that our morally wishy-washy institutions would be improved by reimposing some lost absoluteness.

They're forgetting that what drove this noncommittal approach were social versions of the hippy religious values discussed above. Compassion, non-judgement and mutual respect. Tolerance too. Consider the case of the good Samaritan.

I finally lost patience with Destiny's recorded voice when it was clear we were building to a 'family values' appeal. I'm not against families, but 'family values' is known to be a code encompassing an broad complex of conservative social ideas I just don't agree with. Yet, as a policy, it's not as scary as religion. Because the further the goals of government get from the material wellbeing of its people, the closer it gets to the gas chambers. Trying to make people behave according to particular moral standards is the spiritual equivalent of making the Trains Run on Time*.

*A lot of people don't realise that this can be done without resorting to fascism. The Hutt line, for example, is pretty good, and in the Barcelona underground they have timers accurately counting down to the next arrival.