A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Political Labels and Apocalyptic Prophets of Doom

...political labels are dangerous. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those folks who thinks labels are unimportant. We have to use labels to communicate. The problem with political labels is not that they are a bad idea in general, but rather that they are normally used manipulatively. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering the political process.

Henry Neufeld has written an excellent post entitled, Dominionists, Dominionisimists, Theonomists and Political Labels. The quote above from his post really struck a chord with me as I was intending to write a post on a related but somewhat different subject.

Once again, we find ourselves engaged in another political season. And as expected all the apocalyptic prophets of doom on the left and the right are coming out of the political woodwork. On the right we are continually being warned of President Obama's desire to make America into a socialist (i.e. in their thinking "Communist") state; and that if the Democrats get their way, they will take away individual freedoms making citizens subservient to the whims of bureaucrats. Not to be outdone, the apocalyptic prophets on the left are carrying their "The End Is Near" signs as well warning of the disaster that will surely take place if the Republicans gain control of the White House in 2012. They are firing the signal flares of class warfare warning of the Republican desire to undermine democracy in their desire to put an oligarchy in control of government, giving the wealthy few control over the masses and rolling back civil rights returning to the Jim Crow laws.

Of course, the problem with such apocalyptic pronouncements is that they are simplistic construals of a complex reality. What amazes me is not that the politicians who desire power talk this way. They want to win elections and be in charge, so the nuance of truth and attention to factual accuracy are not high on their list of priorities. Whoever said that in politics the first casualty was the truth was spot on. But what I scratch my head over are those whom I know on both sides of the political aisle, and who are more than capable of employing thoughtful and sophisticated analysis, and yet, when it comes to politics, they fall into unsophisticated argumentation. Many of the very same people who find the religiously certain arrogant, appear so certain in their political views, that those on the other side are to be stereotyped and denigrated at all cost. Politically certain arrogance is rearing its head once again.

And this is where Henry's post on labels is important. In the dueling politically apocalyptic pronouncements, labels become weapons of the political Chicken Littles. All these doomsayers have to do is throw out in a pejorative way the labels of Tea Party, Socialist, Dominist, Leftist, et al and complex and nuanced analysis of any of these descriptors is not needed. The label is sufficient to dismiss the other.

The problem for me is that I know people who identify themselves as Tea Partiers. They are not wild-eyed morons who want to starve poor children. I also know some folks who wish the United States would become more of a social democracy. They are not persons who believe that the state should be all-powerful making subservient citizens. Yes, there are persons who are extremists (another label) on the right, just as there are extremists on the left. The extreme few do not make an entire movement. These political prophets of apocalyptic doom are no different from those who label all Muslims as extremists because only a few are.

I am not suggesting that persons cannot be partisan in their views. Direct and passionate debate and deep convictions are the important stuff of politics. But what I am suggesting is that the reality of politics and social issues and business and the workings of government are too complex for simplistic doom-and-gloom warnings of the other. Such a posture in reference to politics is unhelpful and indeed dangerous. When political labels become weapons, they are used to dehumanize the other. "My politics is the only way and if those who see things differently get their way, it will be mayhem in the streets." When I hear people say and write things that amount to this kind of politically certain arrogance, I have to confess that there is a part of me that wants to reply in snarky fashion, "Sorry, but I just do not think you are smart enough to know that."

The truth of the matters is that America has survived Democratic presidential administrations and Republican ones. America continues on even though one political party or the other has had control of Capitol Hill. And America has also made it through one party rule at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue (and I say that as one who prefers for government to be divided between the two parties). It is true that most people believe one political party or the other has better ideas and will rule the country better. That's certainly fair enough; but believing one side of the political aisle has better ideas than the other is a far cry from crying in the wilderness that America is in danger of being dragged into exile.

But to hear the apocalyptic prophets of political doom, one would think those on the other side of the political aisle are nothing more than nefarious villains waiting with baited breath to destroy people's lives.

Once again, in this political season, we have to entertain all the political Chicken Littles out there. But as we do, we must remember that such apocalyptic naysayers are almost always wrong.

Not only that, I confess that I find them to be rather annoying.

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