Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world

The temptation of youth is to shoot for the moon, the temptation of age is to wax opportune. The young are far too otherworldly for the world below while the old are far too worldly for the other world above.

The political chameleon exemplifies the spirit of cynicism. He blends into the seasonal setting, whether snowy or stony. In the words of W. H. Auden, "Our researchers into Public Opinion are content that he held the proper opinions for the time of year; when there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went." Or as Groucho Marx more succinctly put it, "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

But the political stargazer exemplifies the spirit of utopianism. You can see this is Marxism, which is a secularized brand of Messianism.

You can see this in the social gospel.

You can see this in the overrealized eschatology of the Anabaptist, for whom there is no intersection between the city of God and city of man, but only a grand chasm separating Dis from the New Jerusalem.

You can see this in Platonism, with its hiatus between spotless universals and bespotted particulars.

As I've had occasion to say before, the lesser of two evils is not synonymous with the lesser of two sins. Every political candidate is a sinner, and there are degrees of personal evil.

Choosing between the lesser of two evils is not necessarily a choice between moral evils. If I see a wildfire approaching my home, and I don't have time to save both my five-year old son and the family dog, I have three choices:
i) I can throw up my hands and let nature takes its course, on the theory that any compromise is a moral compromise;
ii) if I were a member of PETA, I'd save the family dog, lest I commit the crime of speciesism my favoring my own flesh-and-blood;
iii) if I were a Christian, I'd sadly consign my pet dog to the flames while I fled with my son in arms. This is not a choice between right and wrong, but better and best.

The only solution is to have a carefully thought-out value-system. For further reflection, I'd refer readers to my essay (posted at Triablogue) on "The Art of Christian compromise," as well as:


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