06 November 2006

on election eve

Every few years or so I return on some occasion or another to Stanley Hauerwas's pithy 1995 text, "Preaching as Though We Had Enemies." Along the way, Hauerwas writes,
The moral threat is not consumerism or materialism. Such characterizations of the enemy we face as Christians are far too superficial and moralistic. The problem is not just that we have become consumers of our own lives, but that we can conceive of no alternative narrative since we lack any practices that could make such a narrative intelligible. Put differently, the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story. Such a story is called the story of freedom and is assumed to be irreversibly institutionalized economically as market capitalism and politically as democracy. That story and the institutions that embody it is the enemy we must attack through Christian preaching.
In times such as national elections, such thoughts provide some perspective.

It's not that democratic processes are in themselves bad. I agree with Thomas Aquinas when he writes that ideally "all should take some share in the government: for this form of constitution ensures peace among the people, commends itself to all, and is most enduring" (Summa Theologiae I-II, Qu. 105, Art. 1).

Rather, it's worth remembering that such political arrangements, particularly as they present and package themselves in the modern West, can offer themselves as idols - alternative stories, making promises in conflict with the Christian story, offering competing claims for meaning and value. Our politics as Christians involves, first and foremost, embracing a different story and belonging to another polis.

So, whatever the results or the hype, tomorrow's election isn't going to change the world, even if it effects temporary, incremental shifts in our political constellation. As Hauerwas reminds us, the day that changed the world already occurred nearly 2000 years ago. And the church is the self-divesting power in our world which continues to herald that change.