“Does your faith shape your politics, or does your politics shape your faith?” John Carr, November 2nd, 2011
At first, this question called to mind the Euthyphro question for me:
Does God love what is just because it is just, or is it just because God loves it?
As any freshman philosophy student will recall, the Euthyphro question brings to light the difficulty with talking about God and justice. If God loves what is just because it is just, then we do not need to refer to God to understand what is just. In other words, we don’t need the 10 Commandments or the Beatitudes to tell us right from wrong. But if what is just is so only because God loves it, then it makes justice (or morality) arbitrarily dependent on the will of God. God could, for instance, change his mind, telling Abraham at one moment to kill his son and at another moment not to kill his son.
So when John Carr asked whether faith shaped my politics or politics my faith, I started thinking of the question in light of Euthyphro. If faith shapes my politics, does that make my politics arbitrary? What if I changed faith or what if my understanding of my faith changed? If politics shaped my faith, does that not itself make my faith secondary in life?
In the end, though, I think that Carr’s question is unnecessarily bifurcating. Today, the members of the Catholic Church are often seen as torn: many in the Church believe that abortion defines the beginning, middle, and end of morality and politics, believe that it is a grave moral sin to vote for anyone who would support a “woman’s right to choose,” and believe that politicians who do not actively fight for the end of abortion rights are not Catholic. Other Catholics believe that abortion is one among many important issues, and that social justice issues are as important, as are issues of war and torture, and that it is hypocritical, if not morally wrong, to vote for someone on the basis of abortion alone. Of course, both camps look to Scriptures to find the “rightness” of their position.
Carr’s question challenges this tactic, but I think the challenge could be made more helpful. Rather than asking “does you faith shape your politics or your politics your faith,” it might be better to ask, “how should your faith shape your politics and how should your politics shape your faith?” This form of the question gets us to think more concretely about what already happens — that faith and politics shape each other. It also challenges us, however, to think about how they shape each other and whether we want them to shape each other in the way they do. So we can revise the question to ask, should my faith shape my politics in the way it does (do I become a single issue voter or do I ignore some issues) and should my politics shape my faith the way it does (do I ignore the multiple passages in the Bible that talk about the poor and the marginalized or do I ignore what the Pope’s say about the culture of life)?
When it comes down to it, Carr is right: the question is, how do we form our consciences to be active participants in the political community. This participation goes beyond mere voting — it involves asking after these questions in the context of community.