Inadequate ideologies

Chuck Colson
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Posted: Aug 01, 2005 12:00 AM

Recently, a Wall Street Journal poll announced that both political parties—Republicans and Democrats—are now held in low regard by the American people. Usually if the fortunes of one party decline, the other party increases—sort of a zero sum game. Now, however, for the first time in polling history, both parties come up in negative territory.

Why would this be? Well, the driver who took me to do a CNN broadcast recently gave me a hint. He didn’t know who Karl Rove was, and he didn’t know who all the people up on Capitol Hill were who were calling for his scalp. Nor did he care. He dismissed it as just politics, that is, ideologically driven politics.

When ideology begins to replace revealed truth as the basis for governing a society, you inevitably have the kind of polarization we have in America today, Reds vs. Blues. Ideology is a man-made political formulation for how people should live their lives together and is, therefore, from our perspective as Christians, inherently flawed. And it’s dangerous when a society becomes so polarized over ideology that it lacks a frame of reference for agreeing on the common good.

This all started when moral relativism took root in America, beginning in the sixties on the campuses and then invading popular culture—back when Time magazine asked that provocative question, “Is God dead?” When this happened, the overarching standards of truth and moral behavior historically governing our society were undermined. And forty years of aggressive secularism since then have simply erased the idea of moral absolutes—no such thing as truth; everything is a matter of personal preference.

This eliminates the possibility of reasoned, intelligent discourse. Since people are attracted to different ideologies, all we can do is clash. So every issue about how we govern ourselves, or what our standards ought to be, ends up in a titanic wrestling match.

The American public is rightly disenchanted with this poor excuse for a political process. And while I would like to blame the politicians, I can’t. They are simply reflecting what has happened in our broader culture—the death of truth, the lack of any common standard by which we can judge what we do. The tragedy is, of course, that politicians will continue to lose stature in the public’s eye with the over-the-top rhetoric we saw in the Karl Rove case. With no agreed-upon standards, you just start shouting more loudly. Public discourse becomes course, unreflective, harsh, and when you don’t get your way, it becomes shrill. You set out to destroy your political enemies, because power is the way to win an argument. Obviously, people are going to be turned off by this.

As Christians, we should be the first to recognize that ideology—substituting human schemes for revealed truth—is the enemy of the Gospel, and the enemy of historic conservatism: conservatism not as political ideology, but as a respect for tradition, custom, a reliance upon the past, a belief in natural law and the religious underpinnings for society.

Well, how do you change a culture? You change it one person at a time. We start explaining to our neighbors why things are happening the way they are, why they are disillusioned with politics. We have a special obligation to talk about how the death of truth and the secularizing of America are paralyzing the political process, and we had better get busy and make our case quickly, because the way we are going, America could become ungovernable.


For further reading and information:

Today’s BreakPoint offer: Russell Kirk, “Ten Conservative Principles,” 1993 (adapted from The Politics of Prudence).

John Harwood, “Public Losing Faith in Bush, But Not in the Iraq War,” Wall Street Journal,16 July 2005. (Subscribers only.)

Red and Blue America,” CD of Charles Colson’s speech on political divisions in America and how Christians should stand for truth in the public square.

BreakPoint Commentary No. 050513, “Beyond Divisions: Living in a Red and Blue America.”

Charles Colson with Anne Morse, “The New Civil War,” Christianity Today, February 2005.

How Should We Talk?: Religion and Public Discourse,” an Ethics and Public Policy Center Conversation with Jean Bethke Elshtain and William McGurn.

The BreakPoint “Role of Government” information packet includes booklets addressing “The Causes of Virtue”; “The Social Necessity of a Moral Consensus”; “Creating the Good Society”; and more.