Okay…I guess you could argue that I was never really “in” politics. I’ve never been elected to any public office. I’ve never really even worked on anybody’s presidential campaign. However, well over a decade ago when I lived in Kansas City I was a minority committeeman for my district. I was once arrested and jailed for civil disobedience. I did a political comic strip and provocative covers for a political free paper in Kansas City for several years. But mostly, in my mind I was “in” politics. Politics occupied a good deal of my thought and time, and I was actively engaged in trying to influence public opinion in whatever (non-coercive) way that I could. I’m intentionally not telling you what stripe of activist I was, and that is part of the point of this post.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still fascinated by politics, and I certainly vote in every election. I love history, and I still enjoy discussing politics if I can find someone willing to discuss political differences without getting their shorts all in a snit. But here’s the deal: I’ve always believed the most fundamental, revolutionary, life-changing aspect of life is the spiritual, not the political. I saw over and over again when I was “in” politics, that politics creates division, yet I was ultimately seeking to unite people with their Creator and with each other. Inevitably, people with whom I engaged in political discussion associated my politics with my “religion”. Politics distracted both them and me from what was more important.
Here is what I came to. At least in American politics, I believe that to a large degree, both conservatives and liberals want the same things: peace, freedom, basic rights for all people, less suffering, less injustice, and a better world in general for everyone. I believe we just differ in our beliefs as to how that should be accomplished; liberals tend to look for government solutions, conservatives seek to keep the role of government limited and look for local/private sector solutions. That’s a significant difference, but it’s a difference that at least allows us each to view those on the other side as simply misguided, rather than seeing them as hateful or evil in intent. We all know that there are jerks on both sides of the spectrum. I hope we can also agree that there are reasonable and compassionate people on both sides.
In this age, given that human beings are so deeply flawed, I don’t believe there can be a perfect human system. Human greed and selfishness can turn free market capitalism into an oppressive, exploitive force. Human selfishness and arrogance can turn socialism into a soul-sucking, spirit-crushing narcotic. It is only the spiritual that can effectively address and change the human heart. In the meantime, the best we can hope for politically is to ensure that everyone’s basic freedoms are guaranteed – freedom of speech, of expression, of religion – so that truth and reason can compete in the marketplace of ideas.
This political season, I hope that we can each vote our conscience without maligning those with whom we disagree. At an underlying level, we all probably want the same things.