The Problem with Battles
Yesterday I suggested that the increased political activism we see around us is fundamentally religious in nature. As Paul Krugman pointed out, there is an intense longing welling up in our society for an end to injustice and atrocity. And to be absolutely clear, I believe that this longing is deep, sincere, and praiseworthy. The problem isn’t at all that so many people have a moral objection to the status quo. I agree with them completely: the status quo is awful. The real tragedy is that so many (again, including many Christians) are relying primarily, if not exclusively, on political struggle to satisfy what is essentially a longing for God, for His righteousness and for His Kingdom.
It is tragic because it is futile. No laws that we can possibly make will ever be able to stop men from murdering one another. Especially when we routinely consume vivid portrayals of the most horrific kinds of violence nonchalantly, as a matter of casual entertainment. And no matter how many predators we expose or how many institutions we decry, there will still be men who try to take advantage of women. Especially when almost every boy is exposed to a firehose of the most depraved pornography from an early age, accessible at all times from a device he carries everywhere in his pocket. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make those laws, or that we shouldn’t expose those predators. I’m saying that we need to do much, much more. Politics did not create these evils, and it is certain that it can never end them.
Because above all, we will never be able to stop any kind of evil if we choose to look for it in others and not in ourselves. I can’t help but quote Solzhenitsyn once again:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The problem with battles is that they require enemies. I have often thought that to sacrifice one’s life on the field of battle is among the most noble actions of which mankind is capable. But to kill another man on that same field… that is another matter.
If the battle for goodness is basically a political battle, then we necessarily make each other into enemies. How easily do Christians forget the words of the Apostle Paul: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” And I do not think it too bold to add, echoing the words of the Office of Holy Baptism: against the evil which hides and makes its home in our hearts.
All of us can so easily slip into the conscious or unconscious belief that victory can be won politically, and that those who politically oppose us are our enemies. But ultimately, the only real victory there can ever be is the victory of Christ in a human heart. Our only real enemies are the demons and the passions which they incite in us. And if any effort that we make — whether political or otherwise — has any other victory or any other enemy in mind, then we have wandered from the path of wisdom.
Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.