Archive - November 2016

Christ the King and this Election Season
Seeking Civics for Anxious Times
Hope for a Catholic Political Party: Never Bleaker, Never Brighter
New Documentary Film on How Christians Respond to Persecution

Christ the King and this Election Season

I want to start with a confession.  I am a political junkie.  And so, while I have no principled affinity with the major presidential candidates, still I check Politico and Five-Thirty-Eight to follow the race. I rationalize my habit by using Aristotelian maxims of being a “political animal,” but this year that was not quite enough justification.

And so I have exercised my political nature by diving a bit deeper into three voices on the periphery of our major media frenzy.  I want to share a few thoughts about these voices, and what they might mean during this time of focus on politics.  And this blog—dedicated as it is to elevating conversation even beyond the national arena—is a fit place to share what I am learning.

And so take a moment to move beyond Republicans and Democrats.  Rather, these players go by the names of “Tradinistas,” “Integralists,” and the American Solidarity Party.  At the end, though, for fellow junkies, I will share what these three political animals have to do with Election 2016.

First, the Tradinistas.  These young Christians promote the social “kingship of Christ.”  Clearly, that have looked at modern society and seen the way it represents a kind of anti-Gospel of exclusion, violence, and vice.  Their response is to turn to “traditional orthodoxy” in order to suggest a “politics of virtue and the common good,” while being clear-eyed that this will mean “the destruction of capitalism” and the establishment of a socialism marked by robust subsidiarity.

Greater social control of labor and wealth, especially when it ensures workers, local communities, and families have more access to personal property, is needed to combat the inequality and exploitation of global markets, where decisions are made based on the priority of capital.  As I examined the Tradinista Manifesto, I found myself appreciative.  No doubt, the vision seems abstract and impractical—especially when the current choice for president involves two super-capitalists—but the Tradinista response at least gets to the heart of the problem.

The second voice that garnered my attention this election season came from The Josias, a website full of interesting and thoughtful essays that promote Catholic integralism.  Integralism is, like the socialism of the Tradinistas, built on a commitment to the truth that Christ is king not of a cordoned-off spiritual realm but rather of all life, including the socio-political realm.  The integralists thus believe that political principles and structures—which should promote the natural good of human life—ought to be subordinate to theological principles and  ecclesial structures, which extend natural goodness toward our ultimate end of communion with God and the saints.

Writers at The Josias are complex thinkers and recognize that a variety of models can perform the “integration” necessary to help communities pursue the two-fold path toward goodness and holiness.  I certainly am not sounding the bell for a Catholic monarchy—even as depressing as I have found our choices this election,.  But it is hard not to pause for a moment, think of our candidates and global leaders, and wish that more of them had the moral vision offered by the Church, in particular of someone named Pope Francis!

I do believe that we Catholics should always be on guard against triumphalism—the Gospel indicts us all, not just Democrats and Republicans.  Yet we might also take a look at Catholic Social Teaching and say: “that might be about the best vision of justice on offer in the world today.” Of course, many will say “fine, but that still is not a practical option in this election.”

Or is it?  The third voice I have been following is the American Solidarity Party.  These folks—shall we call them/us “the Solids”?—are committed to a pro-life, pro-family and pro-peace and justice vision.  Check out their platform and you will find no daylight between it and the social doctrine of the Church. They do not run as candidates seeking an establishment of Catholicism as an official religion, but to me they do show that if you get the ultimate end of persons right—we are made for communion—then you also are on the path to a pretty good politics.

Their presidential ticket, Mike Maturen and Juan Munoz, has mainly write-in votes as its option, but is actually on the ballot in the swing state of Colorado.  Still their goal in 2016 is more modest: to begin to develop the party as a real alternative, much like the Greens have hoped to become for liberal progressives.  Will see more of the Solids—or how about “Virtue-crats”?—in coming local and national elections?  The answer to that may depend on the very people reading a blog like this.

And where does this leave a political junkie like me?  I write this on election eve, though many may read it after that fact.  And like many friends, I have gone back and forth about my votes.  When folks have asked what I will do, my musings about tradition or integralism or a third party seem at first not to help much.  But now that I have learned more from these voices, I am in better shape to share three conclusions which may even approach the realm of practical.

First, go to the polls—and consider the write-in option.  One thing I like about that option is that if there is any writing at all on a ballot, it gets counted by hand.  That means that somebody actually reads it.  Why not even share a brief sentence like “hoping for more pro-life and pro-peace candidates.”  Your ballot, or other votes for listed candidates, will not be dismissed. That would be illegal—and besides, the people who work on Election Day take very seriously making sure every vote counts.

Second, let’s go back to the idea that Christ really is King of our social and political lives.  Here we have to remember that clearest of lessons from the Gospel: the kingship of Jesus does not emerge in the expected ways.  This time of year, it’s true that many eyes (especially mine) are on the political structures that are up in the air. But our neighborhoods and social circles are also political structures, too, and they may be up in the air waiting for our involvement.  At least we could help redeem these places.

Third, let us use this moment to widen our capacity for political options.  It has been a long time since I really dived into Catholic integralism, or Catholic socialism, or even the viability of Christian Democratic parties.  But standing here, in the middle of the American “democracy,” seeing that of all the women and men capable of leading us we have “chosen” the two most established and flawed political and economic insiders… well, if that’s not a call for considering a few more voices, than all we have left is Politico, Five-Thirty-Eight and a pretty boring sense of politics.  Or we can join the conversation, the movement, to see what principles and shared visions emerge when we look to Christ as king not only of heaven but of earth too.

Seeking Civics for Anxious Times

This summer, something unexpected happened to me- I couldn’t stomach another news story. I’ve been a heavy news consumer since middle school so this was unusual. For weeks, I took a break. I wasn’t alone: almost everyone I talked to experienced something similar. The news, which people ordinarily cared about, had become of source of stress to the point that they were tuning out.

An American Psychological Association poll found that most Americans have found the election to be a major source of stress. New York Times columnist David Brooks has called it “an epidemic of worry”. The anxiety goes beyond US borders, given the outsize American role in the world: acquaintances from Canada, Sweden, and Australia have mentioned being worried and transfixed by the American political process.

We are united by our anxiety, even though it has many sources. It goes beyond the election, even as the election has been a focal point.

We worry about personal security amid random violence. Mass shootings remain a reality of American life. Terrorism is a particularly potent anxiety-provoker, infecting us with siege mindsets and triggering more negative judgments about outgroups. The lockdown mentality has trickled down to everyday conversation: I heard a colleague use the phrase “securing the perimeter” in describing a personal interaction (and not in an ironic way).

For many American Muslims like me, the worries are compounded; we are threatened not only by the terrorist violence but also the accompanying negative generalizations about Islam. Intolerant and prejudicial rhetoric is reliably followed by significant rise in hate crimes, while tolerant and inclusive rhetoric appears to put a brake on hate crimes. Even the more favorable voices portray us flatly as pawns in a security game, rather than as full citizens or persons. Dehumanized, we become more vulnerable to having our rights taken away, in our schools, our workplaces, and our communities.

There’s ethnic status anxiety. Demographic changes are spurring a nativist backlash. It’s an ugly echo of past ethnonationalisms, and a saddening retreat from humanism and inclusion. Especially troubling is the rise of religious nationalism- where religion becomes an inherited neo-tribal group identity clashing with outgroups, instead of pursuing the common good, and addressing the higher aspirations of the soul.

There’s class anxiety. Wages have stagnated and income inequality continues to grow. Automation and global competition are threatening jobs. Working people feel that future job prospects are uncertain. It’s not hard to find economically depressed communities around closed industrial plants here in the American Midwest, dotted with glitzy payday lenders offering loans at exorbitant interest rates.

There’s environmental anxiety. Every month in this year has been the hottest ever recorded for that month since measurement began. In 2016, we crossed the symbolic threshold of 400 ppm carbon concentration in the atmosphere, well above the 350 safe zone and approaching the 450 ppm of irreversible runaway effects. Without urgent action, we will lose two thirds of vertebrate wild animals by 2020, compared to 1970 levels. The Great Barrier Reef is under severe stress- an underwater structure so prominent it is visible from space, and about 93 percent is suffering from coral bleaching. People are so on edge that a satirical obituary for the Great Barrier Reef rocketed around social media as though it was real.

This worry list could easily go on- the blatant misogyny, the othering of peoples of color, the fraying of democratic norms and institutions, the coarsening of our public life. We have reasons to be anxious, and that can feed the impulse to withdraw and become insular. Is anxiety undermining our ability to reach and problem-solve with others unlike us?

The stakes are high in this moment. Our social order, even in this strained state, rests on an ecological foundation that is being rapidly depleted and undermined. Unless we act now, the environmental crisis will produce far more conflict, insecurity, economic distress, refugees, and public health problems. On Nov. 4, 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change officially came into force. All governments that have ratified it- the US, China, India, and EU among them- are now obliged to act to prevent the average global temperature from exceeding 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the point of irreversible and catastrophic climate change.

The Paris Agreement is an important signal of global concern, and the recent Kigali Amendment on HFC greenhouse gases is another step in the right direction. But existing national pledges alone are not going to keep us below the danger zone. More change and momentum is needed from the ground up to reduce our carbon emissions. These high-level summit agreements should spur us to act, taking civic initiatives to generate local changes, support advocacy coalitions, and overcome the social dilemmas needed to address our compound collective action problems.

The environmental crisis thus presents a civic opportunity. As artisans combine different materials to form something needed, so civic artisans combine diverse social elements to form rules to address common problems. Engaging in civic artisanship reduces isolation and the sense of anxiety- and it also helps solve the underlying problems.

Fighting for our environmental commons could spark a virtuous spiral, building our social commons. But it needs a kickstart. We who understand this must redouble our efforts and not disengage. We must live and pursue civics in our anxious times.

Hope for a Catholic Political Party: Never Bleaker, Never Brighter

I’ve long yearned for a Catholic political party.  It would be one that passes the test that Hubert Humphrey once posed for a moral nation, namely that it stands for people “in the dawn, in the twilight, and in the shadows of life.”  It would be the Democratic Party of the New Deal, the early labor movement, and the civil rights movement but without the lifestyle libertarianism.  It would be the Republican Party that was founded in the struggle against slavery, protects the unborn, and upholds marriage, but not the one that cheers the death penalty and hardens its heart towards the immigrant.  It would resurrect the pro-life Democrats and the legacy of the late Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey.  It would be pro-life, pro-family, pro-environment, pro-immigrant, pro-religious freedom, pro-human rights, anti-death penalty, humane and law-abiding in its foreign policy, and against the radical division of classes that is now besetting America.  Such a party, I believe, would attract wide support among African-Americans, Latinos, Catholics, many evangelicals, and a wide swath of middle class Americans.

This election season, my hopes for such a party have never been bleaker and never been brighter.  Bleaker, because we’ve never had two candidates further from this position.  I will vote for neither.  I don’t decide this lightly because I think that one should strive to vote for one of the viable candidates if one’s conscience at all allows it.  Mine does not.

I follow the U.S. Catholic Bishops in the teaching that voting is not simply a matter of weighing up alternative futures in utilitarian fashion but also a matter of what kinds of policies one intentionally supports.  One cannot support policies that are intrinsically wrong or support candidates because they stand for these policies – that is, policies that are wrong whatever the circumstances or outcomes.  Both candidates support such wrongs beyond the threshold where I can consciously vote for one of them.  Others will place the threshold differently and we can disagree charitably.  But here is why I think both candidates are beyond it.

Secretary Clinton supports continuing and even expanding laws that have sanctioned the snuffing out of over 60 million unborn persons; perpetuating and expanding laws that deny the reality of something so fundamental as marriage and sexual natures; and likely the further restriction of religious freedom on behalf of laws that promote these causes.  She will bring a far steadier hand to executive leadership than Trump and more humane policies towards immigrants.  But her problems are deal-breakers.

Trump’s problems are well known and hardly worth repeating but are, briefly: support for torture; support for killing civilians in the war on terror; cavorting with racist allies; abusing women in word and deed; mocking the mentally handicapped; showing reckless disdain for the rule of law; and dismissing entire classes of human beings like Muslims and immigrants.

Both take me beyond the point where I can say, Which candidate is the better future?, and to the point where I must ask, Can I be complicit?

In Christian history, crisis and darkness form opportunities hope and renewal, and so I was delighted when, for the first time in my life, a real Catholic party appeared on the scene, the American Solidarity Party.  Built explicitly on Catholic social teachings – the wisdom of the encyclicals – the party adopts a wide ranging platform that channels these teachings into American politics.

It is inspired by Christian Democratic parties in Europe and Latin America, which – admittedly yesterday more than today – are also rooted in Catholic teachings.  Like Christian Democratic parties, the ASP is not exclusively Catholic and can appeal, I believe, to a wide range of constituencies, religious and otherwise.  The word Solidarity evokes the Polish Solidarity movement, which connected Catholic moral roots with political action and shook the world in the 1980s.

Third parties are difficult to sustain in the United States, though if there takes place such a shock to the system that one or both of the existing parties break apart – not entirely out of the question after November 8th – such a party might seize upon the opportunity to form a new electoral coalition.

To succeed and not end up a flash in the pan, I believe that ASP should form itself as a movement with deep intellectual and spiritual roots, one that reflectively connects religious and deep moral teachings to political positions – again, Christian Democratic Parties of yesteryear and Solidarity are examples.

It would also be nice were the ASP on the ballot in Indiana, which it unfortunately is not, even as an eligible write-in possibility.  After the election, though, there will be much work to do.

Added November 5, 2016: See also this excellent piece on ASP by my friend Malloy Owen.

New Documentary Film on How Christians Respond to Persecution

A new documentary film has emerged from the project, Under Caesar’s Sword: Christians in Response to Persecution.   It looks at how Christians around the world respond to violence and persecution and features first hand interviews and footage.  It is produced by Jason Cohen Productions.  I am pleased to announce it and invite all to view it.
Here is the web page for the film​​​, from which you can view the 26 minute film, a teaser, and a seven minute version.​
Also here is a press release for the film.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.