A Few Thoughts on the Political Dimension And Some Homework

The gospel precept of charity enlightens Christians as to the deepest meaning of political life.

Lately, I’ve been “working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”  I’ve also been exploring the task of a Catholic layman in the political order. As I said in a previous post, politics generally isn’t my bag. It takes a lot of time, and basically leaves me unfulfilled. Surely I’m not alone in this regard.

But finding the quote above (in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church) has kind of galvanized me into thinking I need to pay a little more attention. That, and the fact that weird stuff seems to be happening to our Constitutional rights lately. Therefore, I’ve resolved to be more attentive to the political dimension of my being.

Something that I learned in college is that often times “where you stand is a function of where you sit.” And there is more than a glimmer of truth to this common sense statement. But readers may also recall that I was a latecomer to college, and I learned a lot by doing things in “every clime and place” for about a decade before even heading to the halls of academe. I also like to get my hands dirty. Recall the identity of the mad man who disassembled and reassembled the motor in the car you see in the banner above, in an effort to make it better, stronger, and faster? Heh.

So what does that have to do with YIMCatholic and politics? Frank, you plead, I loved this site when you never spoke of politics and now it’s getting uncomfortable in here. Sorry, dear reader, but last time I voted in the big general election of 2008, I was just a newbie; a fledgling Catholic who basically voted the same way I always did, without much thought to it. Though I am still very much a rookie Catholic whom you may call Grasshopper, this time around, and for the rest of the time I’m around, I won’t be voting in the reflexive manner like I used to.

Because to do so reminds me of how I kept going to Mass with my wife and family for 18 years, all the while figuring the Church was dead wrong, and therefore never joining her. That’s not going to happen regarding my participation this election cycle. “Fool me once, same on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Saavy?

Instead, I am going to try and figure out my duties as a member of the polis, the civitas, or whatever other fancy Latin word you wish to call being a member of the peasantry that has been given the franchise. I plan on doing a lot of reading of texts that I hope will be helpful in forming my Catholic conscience (in addition to my normal reading of scripture, etc.), and which will (I hope) help by-pass the cognitive dissonance that flys for political thought nowadays. And this time around, I intend to vote with a conscience informed by Catholic teaching.

I’m sure to infuriate a number of you, if not all of you at some point. So for now, I wish to bring the quote that I started this post off with right back to the forefront of my mind, and yours:

392. The gospel precept of charity enlightens Christians as to the deepest meaning of political life. In order to make it truly human, “no better way exists … than by fostering an inner sense of justice, benevolence and service for the common good, and by strengthening basic beliefs about the true nature of the political community and about the proper exercise and limits of public authority”.[798] The goal which believers must put before themselves is that of establishing community relationships among people. The Christian vision of political society places paramount importance on the value of community, both as a model for organizing life in society and as a style of everyday living.

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Chapter 8: The Political Community.

So basically, I’m going readin’ about politics and you’re coming too. I’m doing so for a number of reasons, the least of which is that someone recently left a comment over on the post I shared a little while ago entitled Because of Natural Law and Politics. There, I’ve already been labeled both as a “Libertarian-COnservative” and as a “Culture Warrior” and “politico” as well. Another person left a befuddled comment on yesterdays Time Magazine “Person of the Year” post saying that they needed to know a lot more than just that Time is honoring the Ninjas, or the “Protestors.” Perhaps we all do.

What you have to look forward to then are a number of posts where I investigate the passage I quoted from the Compendium above in an attempt to try and make sense of it all, not that I have the slightest chance of being successful in doing so. I won’t be reinventing the wheel, either. Instead, I’ll be standing on the shoulders of giants, and hopefully learning how to think better to.

Here’s what I don’t expect from this exercise: hitching my wagon onto any particular candidate of my choice and twisting everything they say into a claim that is the very essence of all that is true, good, and beautiful. Nor will I waste your time (or mine) trying to make sows ears into silk purses, or cheerlead you to death about any particular candidate, or get so wrapped up in any candidate as to forget how to think and reason. In fact, my assumption is that the candidate I will vote for will probably lose the election, if they even make the ballot.

Now when I went studying and reading, and became a Catholic convert as a result, I wasn’t writing a blog. I was just reading, and working, and getting angry, and getting humbled, and becoming happy, all on my own time. In hindsight, I wrote a few posts about the episode and then realized that there was much more to say, as conversion is an ongoing process. This time around though, I am blogging and reading at the same time. I’ll try not to bore you to death.

Why even bother? Like I’ve said in the past, I’m a weirdo contrarian. I spent vast chunks of my short lifetime in career fields that, in the chart below (put together by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness, and The Black Swan), are identified as ones having “Soul in the Game,” and “Skin in the Game.  I have no experience in ones that have “No Skin in the Game.” It must be just because the way I’m wired. Take a look,

As Catholic Christians, we are called to be saints, even though we are all sinners too.  So it looks like like I will just have to do my level best to stay in the “Soul in the Game” column during this little exercise and enjoy it. And if neither you nor I enjoy it, then at least we will have hopefully learned something of value about living the Faith in all the dimensions of our being, including the political one.

Note that Taleb’s chart also shows (to me, at least) that it is a serious waste of time, talent, and treasure, to spend the bulk of your gifts on wrapping yourself up in matters that are dominated by the “No Skin in the Game” types.  Which, as you can clearly see, includes politicians and a variety of other folks who have benefited greatly over the past 35 years.

Note also that Our Lord didn’t spend much time on this particular area (political) either. Therefore, neither will I. But if you would like to follow along with me, the first assignment is to read the first three sections of Chapter 8 of the Compendium. Feel free to share your thoughts on them in the combox below.

UPDATE: More thoughts to consider on this subject.