Would Jesus Run for Parliament or Lead a Protest?
Had Jesus reincarnated now having the idea to get involved in the forming a better world than what is known to us, my advice to him (not that I would advise him to listen to me, really) would be to lead all the Christian churches and movements rather than run for a parliament. It is in this way he might have the biggest possible global influence, as we do not have parliamentary global governing structures. However, my advice includes more than just that, he would have to form a strong network of partisans of several standings and use demonstrations, publications, boycotts – all the means. But, I guess, the real intention of the proposed question in the title is to ask what we should do. This is what I hope to answer, as well as touch some of the under-lying issues too.
There is an easy answer: We should use the most effective measures possible. Sometimes this could mean something as simple as leading a protest. Especially, as many parliaments in the current world order do not necessarily have a lot of room to maneuver in the globalised context of competing for markets, taken that in practice one of the main aims seems to be to generate wealth. Though that was an empirical remark (and not a prescriptive one); I want to acknowledge that generating wealth is something that seems to highly influence (Western) democracies’ policies.
Even if there is an easy answer, there are some points I want to make:
1. Politics in not a sufficient, but yet necessary condition for improving the living conditions of the members/inhabitants of its area of its influence.
Most often politics means gaining wealth, if this is what the members, elite or both aims for. This is also a reason why politics needs to become (more) global. Otherwise, its means for controlling society, making differences, and developing are limited. In order to generate wealth there appears to be different routes that work to a certain extent; democracies with different depths of government involvement and non-democracies. However, the attempt to generate wealth is still important but I just want to add that I believe democracies are better at involving other goals of well-being.
2. Matthew 25:40 and 42 states; “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” and “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink”.
This encourages me to think, there is a level of wealth that needs to be generated and a level of distribution by need (see later) that must be required. For me, this also brings up a question asking which kind of political thought might not be advisable.
It is obvious, but some forms of coordination will arise regardless of our will. Different motivations will drive people somewhere. Politics is something that could be a counter-measure of possible short-comings of the order that would just happen to take place. Politics could also be seen to take place anywhere there is coordination between people’s or groups’ interests. That is, indeed, inevitable. Yet we need each other to do things better.
I, therefore, think that politics is either an obligation or at least something that should be respected by those who are not themselves doing their bit. It is a way to feed the hungry, even though it may be done in a poor manner or serve as means to maintain structures of inequality, discrimination or intolerance. The fact that politics may be used poorly is not a sensible reason to avoid it, but a reason to make it better as it cannot be avoided. If those who feel politics is implemented badly decide to disregard politics, it will result to such politics which is poorer from their perspective. It may leave politics to those who do not have much common interest in mind, if any.
One should not count on one’s supreme knowledge
The generation of our contemporaries thinks that their opinion should matter just because it’s their opinion. This is a result of a weird contradictory subjectivism that has a lot of ground. Firstly, it postulates that all opinions are equally meaningful; secondly that anyone’s opinion is, as such, meaningful. Equally meaningful unfortunately means utter meaningfulness of all – which might be a sustainable conclusion, but it is not the one a subjectivist would make. And this leads to consequences in politics. Those who think their opinion should count will become frustrated in politics, because this is not going to happen. Politics are then blamed for the frustration. Engaging in the political world seems to require much more genuine subjectivism. That is, many things must be negotiable and other people’s views have to be taken into account.
This is, indeed, frustrating, I can tell. One manifestation of this current under-lying moral trend is the fact that people do not want to make full commitments to a particular political party. We could live this way (and so could the parties), but, as long as there are democracies, there will be structures and parties. And such it is those in the parties who will make the final decisions. I think those who make final decisions have often more influence than those who just try to persuade the decision-makers. Non-commitment may make theoretical sense for an individual that think s/he hold supreme wisdom, but even then it does not make practical sense. I think then, non-commitment has weaknesses both practically and theoretically.
It is also a bit funny to try to replace representative democracy by, let us say, public votes. The questions will often determine the answers, and some questions are asked, some others not. These matters are complex and intertwined. If we ban the political parties, some other set of division will arise.
Theoretical weaknesses of having supreme knowledge comes back to Rhetorics. I have not met a person who would disagree upon the rule of justice (from Chaïm Perelman) in which a being in a same essential category must the treated in a similar manner. But there are some minor questions remaining. Could we agree upon the given category to be given? What does similar manner mean? Just as an example, are humans and apes in the same category? Let us say they are somehow similar social beings. Thus, as a conclusion, “similar manner” might mean that apes should not be separated from others. But we might not give them voting rights.
What does similar manner mean among people? Is it a similar manner, if people receive the same income, or not? Is it not also a similar manner if everyone receives a share according to one’s output? Or by their need? Or by their input/effort? I have the tendency to be truly humble having faced such questions, even if I am sure everyone should receive something according to their needs. Some argue that it is easier to allow everyone to receive a minimum if some receive something according to their output. How can one claim to have supreme knowledge on these, very basic, issues?
Can one person, alone, make a difference?
It is not easy to discover the truth in all its glory. What would be beneficial, I presume, is a dialogue. If a dialogue has taken place and then will come the time for implementing the results. We are indeed talking about forming a place in politics.
The question about whether or not a single person can make a real and lasting difference in society is a simple and strong no (even charismatic revolutionary leaders need certain circumstances and certain behavior of others). I do not even desire for a single person to be allowed to make such a difference. That would not be a dialogue. It would not be democratic. It would not be treating people in a similar manner. Making a difference in the world, or within a community, should be a common maneuver. Unfortunately, we as individuals or as a whole do not hold any supreme knowledge and thus people should not have a say over others. But through dialogue and politics we can make a difference.
All those who are participating in the dialogue will determine the result; at least if this dialogue is any good. Regrettably, it will never be a perfect dialogue from anybody’s perspective, it may be better or poorer, but hopefully it will be for something. If such politics is replaced by another order, there is no reason to assume that would be any better. If one disregards such politics (or politics generally), it does not help one’s causes. One cannot make best out of it without formal politics/decision-making. At the same time, other means count as well. Any protest or other form of debate trying to influence politics and human behavior may greatly influence the dialogue.
To briefly conclude:
- Everyone should be involved in some form of societal discussion to aim for what is best for our fellow humans (and perhaps other beings)
- It is rather damaging to one’s cause (such as making a better world) to disregard parliamentary politics and/or political parties
- Perhaps there are not definite inclusive truths in politics, not even for Christians – this is a basis for dialogue that we should aim to make as good as possible
Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty (Oxford, 1958).
Chaïm Perelman, L’empire Rhétorique. Rhétorique et Argumentation (Paris, 1977).
Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, La Nouvelle Rhetorique. Traité de L’argumentation (Paris, 1958).
Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
Markus is a 34-year old Finn with a Master of Philosophy in Philosophy and a Master of Arts in Politics and Contemporary History. He currently lives in Helsinki and works as a Senior Political Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development. He has been involved in politics and public management during his career and has participated in Church life in various ways such as, running a Christian School in Helsinki as chairperson and being a treasurer in WSCF-Europe. The volcanic ash prevented him from presenting a lecture under the same title at the Berlin Theology Conference this past April.
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