Why We Have a Duty To Take an Interest in Politics
Rev. Walter E. Orthwein
With privilege comes responsibility. Those of us who are privileged to live in a free society have a responsibility to participate in the political process whereby that freedom is preserved. And those of us who are privileged to be acquainted with the spiritual truth, which the Lord has revealed in His Word, and specifically in the doctrines of the New Church, have a responsibility to apply that truth on the civil plane of life. The spiritual principles of the New Church need to be brought down into actual life, so that they may have a tangible effect in our world. Otherwise those principles have no power and might as well not have been revealed.
There is a strong doctrinal foundation for the premise that New Church people should take an active interest in the civil order of society and be involved in politics. I do not mean that the church organization should involve itself in politics; this is deadly to the life of the church because individuals must be free to apply the truths of religion according to their own conscience. If individual New Church people wish to get together and form a political club of some kind, separate from the church body itself, that is fine.
The nature of a person's involvement in the political realm will vary from person to person, but to completely ignore politics as something unimportant or unworthy of a spiritual person's attention runs counter to the teachings of the church. One well-known teaching is that being "spiritual" does not mean forsaking the business of this world. On the contrary, engaging in useful natural work promotes our regeneration.
It is true that the words "politics" and "politician" have acquired some unsavory connotations, but if spiritually- minded people refuse to participate in politics the situation will only grow worse. Every use is subject to abuse, but let's not let our distaste for the abuses cause us to forsake the use.
The New Church exists to raise up that which has been cast down by human evil and folly. This is true of religion generally, and such important aspects of human life as marriage, for instance. Similarly, politics, which by its very nature is subject to various abuses resulting from such human weaknesses as the love of dominion, hypocrisy and greed, can be restored to its rightful place in a civilization whose spiritual soundness has been renewed by the New Church.
Politics per se is not a bad thing. The dictionary defines politics as "the science and art of government." Since government is a necessary function of human society, engaging in that science and art is a useful enterprise and a way of exercising charity toward the neighbor. The involvement of each citizen in the government of the country and the local community is especially important in a democracy, in which the course of the ship of state is determined by the people themselves. (In a representative democracy, a republic, the people choose a "captain" and "crew" to run the ship, but the people own the ship).
I am not suggesting that everyone should become a student of political science, a politician, or a government worker. The most basic governmental responsibility each of us has is simply to vote in elections, and to vote wisely.
Our American form of government is not a pure democracy, but is a republic, in which the people elect representatives to run the government. Not everyone has the interest or ability to serve as such a representative, but most of us are capable of participating wisely in the process of selecting our representatives. If we do not exercise wisdom in this, then we shouldn't complain about the state of the government.
Voting in elections is not just a right, but a privilege and a duty. It is not just a civic duty, but a spiritual responsibility because the spiritual dimension is embodied in and rests upon the moral and civil planes of reality. Those lower planes provide a foundation for the spiritual plane, and if that foundation is not attended to then the presence and vitality of spiritual goodness and truth in our earthly life will be weakened. Then the civil government we live under will not support the spiritual welfare of the people, and may even be harmful to their spiritual well being.
The teaching of the Writings about "discrete degrees" gives us a great model for understanding politics and government. In terms of the whole order of human life, the spiritual, moral, and civil planes of life are related as end, cause and effect. The end (the desired good) enters into the cause and into the resulting effect and gives them their quality. The end is like the soul in the body.
The soul in the American body politic is freedom; that is the great good which the American form of government was designed to embody and promote. All real freedom is, in essence, spiritual; civil liberty cannot be sustained apart from spiritual liberty, and spiritual liberty is a gift from God. It is not something we have or can sustain by ourselves, but is a perpetual Divine gift; and since civil liberty is derived from and depends upon spiritual liberty as its very soul, the same may be said for it. Freedom on every level is a gift from God.
Freedom is the most essential human faculty, along with its companion reason. The soul of American government is therefore a human soul, and the body politic which it forms and activates is human in form. This form of government, therefore, is the most favorable for the spiritual development of human beings. Therefore, this is the most favorable form of government for the spiritual development of human beings.
It follows, then, that "patriotism" is an important spiritual virtue, especially in a country dedicated to human liberty. Real patriotism is not just a blind love of one's country, but a love of the spiritual good which the country embodies and serves. In the case of the United States of America, that good is very great, indeed. It is the good of human freedom — not just civil freedom, but civil freedom for the sake of spiritual freedom; civil freedom as the expression and support on the natural plane of life of the spiritual freedom the Lord gives to every human soul.
There are three distinct degrees of reality, according to the teaching of the New Church, the lowest degree is the "complex, containant, and base" of the two prior degrees. The civil plane, therefore, is formed out of the spiritual and moral planes which are above it, and it is the foundation upon which those higher degrees of life rest. Free thought, for example, needs free speech to express it. Without freedom of speech, freedom to think is incomplete and powerless. The outmost degree is where power resides. In regard to the Word, for instance, it is in the letter — the actual teachings — that the celestial and spiritual senses, or the goodness and truth within, become actual and permanent and can affect our lives.
The quality of natural life is determined by the kind of spirit that enters into it; conversely, the condition of the natural determines the kind of spirit that can enter in and dwell there. A better spirit will enter in when natural conditions are changed for the better. Raising the "standard of living" is not the essential thing, but when the moral standard of the nation is raised a new spiritual atmosphere will prevail. Political wisdom is the application of spiritual and moral principles to the civil order of the community.
All of this shows why our involvement in the civil life of our community and country is a spiritual responsibility. The New Jerusalem, the New Church promised by the Lord in the Book of Revelation, descends out of heaven from God more or less perfectly and fully depending upon the moral and civil order that exists on earth. Political activity is one of the ways in which that natural order is affected, which is why New Church people have a duty to pay attention to political issues, examine them in light of the truth from the Word, and participate wisely in the civil life of the country.
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