Friday, October 5, 2012

Voting, the Kingdom of God, and the Filthy Rotten System

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
--Jesus, talking to God
Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system.
--Dorothy Day, talking to her fellow citizens

I'm having my usual pre-election struggle with my conscience.  Not primarily a struggle about whom to vote for, but about whether to vote; about my responsibilities, my ability to respond appropriately, as a citizen both of God's already-and-not-yet Kingdom on earth*, and of the United States. Friend John's post on voting helped me to clarify what the issues are for me.
It's my understanding that to live as a Kingdom citizen means primarily to live in direct and loving relationship with God and with other people, and to relate responsibly and humbly to the non-human Creation.  That relationship can't be adequately contained in a set of principles, but I think it's likely to show up in such behaviors as peaceableness toward enemies, forgiveness of debts and misdeeds, honesty in communication, and economics based on subsistence and gift rather then hoarding and competition. 

I am learning to live this way in daily life--with a lot of scrambling and backsliding--and I find others who are also trying to live like this, and I have experienced moments of Kingdom life with neighbors. I don't know how to bring this life into the larger American economic and political system, which does not generally encourage Kingdom relationships or follow Kingdom practices. I think Dorothy Day was right in describing it as a filthy rotten system.  And I don't think that the fundamental nature of this system is changed when new people are elected to head it.  

This isn't because the candidates offered to us are flawed. Of course they're flawed, like all of us. Like all of us, they are also blessed with at least the seeds of decency, integrity, courage, compassion.  But when elected they inherit a system that is based on war (or at least the constant threat of war and readiness for it, which in my opinion tends to precipitate it), on unforgiven debt (I am not just talking about the national deficit, but about the fact that our whole concept of economic growth is based on debt, and we seem unable to imagine a sustainable economy not based on growth), and on the willingness to treat both people and places as interchangeable commodities.  This system tends to magnify the effect of the flaws of the elected, and to hobble their virtues, to the detriment of the elected and the electorate. 
I have been painfully aware of this since the election of the current President, the first victorious candidate for the presidency for whom I have voted. I read his books, I admired his decency, courtesy and intelligence,  the breadth of his questions (especially when he was a community organizer, still somewhat when he was a senator), and I understood him to share some of my concerns for civil and human rights and for environmental protection.  As drone strikes, drilling and deportations have accelerated under his administration, the systemic nature of our problems has been brought home to me.
I am aware that there are still marginal differences between candidates, and even to some degree between elected officials, and that some of these marginal differences are fairly important.  (For example, at the state level I am quite concerned about the course of our debate over hydrofracking, and there's a real partisan difference about that… at least for now.) This is why I am still a struggler rather than a solid nonvoter.   So far every year I've convinced myself that it is best to vote in hopes of slowing down some of our system's more destructive tendencies.  I can picture that such a slowing-down may be a necessary way of loving neighbors and caring for the earth. Sometimes I've voted third-party, both because of specific issues I care about and because I think a more multiparty, parliamentary, consensus-requiring system would be somewhat less dysfunctional than the one we have. Sometimes I've voted major-party. 
This year I am more than usually aware of concerns, not only about the political system, but specifically about how elections affect local communities.  I am in touch with people near both ends of the political spectrum, and I am troubled by the amount of sheer fear and loathing I hear expressed on both sides for the other side's nominee.  Not just "I dislike these policy suggestions, and I think if he does X we will be worse off", but "He is a cynical, dishonest, godless Communist who will destroy our freedoms and wreck our country" or "He is a cynical, dishonest, soulless vulture-capitalist who will destroy our communities and wreck our planet."  This fear gets in the way of constructive relationships between neighbors of different political convictions. (I wrote a speculative-fiction story about this which is published here) It also feeds into a fantasy of personal powerlessness, and perhaps blamelessness, which denies our ability and responsibility to live into the Kingdom regardless of election results. 
I am still praying, thinking, trying to discern what to do about voting this year.  In the meantime I will hold on to the basic practices of Kingdom living in my daily life--including those discussed in this post, and also listening tenderly to folks who disagree with me and practicing freedom from fear.
I'd be glad to know how you discern about voting and what practices help keep you sane and faithful.  

*--I know some people who find the phrase 'kingdom of God" unhelpful.  It's the language that resonates with me, but if "Commonwealth of God" or "Beloved Community" or any other substitute is better for you, please translate as you read.