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The Politics of Complaint

The basic point about this line of political argument is that it carries no useful implication about "how we should then live." "Tax the rich more" is not a plan for successful living. In the terms favored by American politicians in the past twenty years, it is solely a plan for balancing an abstract "fairness" ledger. No coherent argument is made about what positive good that does our lives or prospects.

A theory of Marxist collectivism or socialist income transfer at least purports to have in mind a model of cause and effect. It may be fatally flawed, but it is an idea about methods and consequences: it offers a program of things we all must do. Great evil has been done in the name of collectivist ideologies, but they have the merit of seeking to convince us in the terms of a valid human construct: the need for a way to live and a perspective on the future.

The evil of resentful negativism is of a different order. I wrote some months ago about the way evil talks to us—the discouraging, paralyzing way in which it makes its case—taking as my example the story line in an episode of "Law & Order." Much of our political dialogue today presents us with a similarly paralyzing premise. It casts doubt on every element of a positive, prescriptive program for living, while encouraging us to focus on the negative.

Whenever a rhetorical theme is addressing us in those terms, it is the voice of evil speaking. To the question "How shall we then live?" God responds usefully and encouragingly. Evil tries to shift our focus away from it: to discourage our interest in consequences, accountability, the conditions of the future, and even in the passage of time itself.

Consider that evil asks, over and over again, "Have the rich paid their fair share?" God doesn't ask insinuating questions, or create open-ended opportunities for condemnation and resentment; He offers positive direction for each of us. He tells His people quite clearly that a tithe of 10 percent is His standard for giving to communal works of compassion and relief, and He makes it clear that we are responsible for the material sustainment of His church. He has no system of payroll deduction; He leaves it to us to obey His command. But He promises the reward of plenty and a life without economic worry if we will obey. He gives us, in short, a system with a method and consequences.

Our mothers and grandfathers were right about negativism being bad for us, and a positive, constructive approach being the key to a good life. A people who base their politics on complaint have given their minds over to a self-perpetuating cycle ruled by evil. In an important way, we as a people have passed beyond pursuing poor imitations of God's model for how we should live, and begun blindly lionizing the worst of our destructive urges.

The good news is that the remedy is very simple; God has already spelled it out, and it can take hold in a very short span of time in the life of each individual person. We will never find any remedies, however, in the politics of complaint.

9/25/2011 4:00:00 AM