Monday, March 07, 2005

I Like This Better Than, "Go Ahead, Make My Day"

Jerry Brown has a quote from Clint Eastwood, mined from TIME magazine, which I really like.

It's particularly interesting to me because these days, one of the books I'm reading is the first volume of Bruce Catton's history of the Civil War. The Coming Fury reminds me of Barbara Tuchman's chronicling of the events that led to the First World War and of the 9/11 Commission's incredibly well-written report about the 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. In it, Catton chronicles the rising extremism that led to America's Civil War and the seeming inability of people of moderate impulses or thoughts to restrain the fury...either of others or themselves.

In all of the works I've cited, you observe how rhetoric and ideas grow more and more extreme and vicious, leading almost inevitably to explosive actions.

Today, I read and listen to the extremism that is vented, especially on blogs, with rising alarm. Extremism is often the refuge of people who refuse to think and who would prefer to attack, negate, and disagree than listen, work, or compromise for the greater good.

Some advocates of extremism quote Thomas Paine, saying that moderation in principle is a vice. Thomas Paine's Common Sense shows that even a gadfly, like the blind squirrel who occasionally finds a nut, can from time to time, find a good idea. But Paine was, quite frankly an inveterate malcontent, a crank, and a brilliant nutcase. Like Woodrow Wilson, whose career and life came to a sad and lonely end for the same reasons, Paine had a penchant for turning on his principles and former allies, embracing new ones until he ran out of an audience.

There are people whose politics are moderate and they are not unprincipled for it. They become moderates, in part, because they believe that no humanly-created ism, be it conservative or liberal or otherwise, can possibly have a monopoly on truth. Each such philosophy, in its own way, reflects the finite and imperfect perspectives of human beings. Often, these political philosophies also reflect idolatries, either of the particular philosophy or of the political system that they're designed to uphold.

No Christian, for example, could ever say that any political philosophy is always right, because no Christian would ever make an idol of a transient system, which is what all governments and philosophies are. They're all earmarked for death with the rest of the sinful baggage of the human race.

Governments and the philosophies by which they may be run, are temporary, emergency measures, made necessary by the reality of human sin and the fact that most human beings will not voluntarily submit to the God Whose call is simply that we love God and love neighbor. Christians are called upon to acquiesce to governmental authority for the common good, not because we believe lives can effectively be transformed by government action.

Such transformation can only happen through the voluntarily-accepted dominion of God that comes through Jesus Christ.

Governments can create islands of sanity in which it may be possible for people to actually hear and pay heed to the Good News of Christ. But it would be silly and faithless for a Christian to give any political philosophy his or her ultimate allegiance. For the Christian, that only belongs to God!

Being an extremist in one's political views is a bit like arguing to the death over whether the Backstreet Boys or Nsync were the better musicians. Some day, governments and political philosophies will be yesterday's news, just like those two boys bands of recent vintage. Moderation, whether tilted to the left or right or bent toward the absolute middle, sees the world aright, it seems to me. Extremism puts too much faith and too much stock in the things of this world. Better to give God our highest allegiance.

Eastwood probably wouldn't agree with everything I've written here. But I like his statement nonetheless.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved the Catton trilogy, and had much the same reaction that you did. Catton does such a good job of painting the backdrop behind the events that I, at times, wanted to yell, "How can you be so stubborn!?" Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Have you gotten to the part where the South Carolina powers voted to leave the union at their meeting in ... a Southern Baptist Church?