Thursday, November 13, 2008

Politics, Again

It occurred to me in conversation with Angela yesterday that the problem I have with politics is that I can’t understand how people can be so sure about things. I know people who are without a doubt more intelligent than I and who are very committed to living a Christian life and following the direction of the Spirit who are absolutely convinced that the Democrat platform is the more moral and responsible one. And, of course, I know other people who are without a doubt more intelligent than I and equally committed to living a Christian life and following the Spirit who are completely sure that the Republican platform is the more moral and responsible one.

And then there are the individual issues. How can two people pray about gun control or immigration or how to help the unemployed and come away with opposite views? And how can they be so convinced of the rightness of their views that they are willing to proclaim them and argue them everywhere—even on other people’s blogs and facebook walls?

I just wonder where all of this absolute conviction comes from. I would like to have it, but it makes me squirm. Especially, especially, it makes me squirm when I hear it from politicians themselves. How can they lead when they are so very sure? How can they not consider the other side of things, about which so many intelligent and honest people are equally sure?

(Again, I love comments, but I don’t want a political discussion here. You could, however, talk about ways of knowing, without being specific . . . )



Jennifer B. said...

Hmmm. What an interesting way to think about politics. The first thing that comes to my mind is the way things are done in the church. As in politics, we may have the same goals, but differ about how to accomplish them. I'm not sure I agree with the assumption that there is one right way to accomplish something. Couldn't two different people pray about reaching the same goal, but arrive at it differently? Does there have to be only ONE right way to reach a goal?

When I think about my calling as Primary President, I realize that I am doing many things differently than the former woman who served in this position--and I am fairly certain that whoever follows me will do things differently. I don't think one way is necessarily better or is the only right way to run Primary. In addition to relying on the Spirit, we are expected to use our own judgment and wisdom. We should also use our strengths--and since those vary from person to person--so will the way they lead.

I do think there are basic principles of leadership that should be observed by all, but I also think there is a lot of room for different approaches to leading others and to reaching goals.

Personally, I hope that the people leading me have great confidence in themselves and in their approach. I do not think that means that they are the only capable or "right" person to lead, or that their approach is the only "true" way to lead.

Michelle said...

I don't have anything to add but I have often wondered the same thing.

Jennifer B. said...

So I'm sorry I didn't answer your question. I think people just have to study things out for themselves and make the most informed decision they can--I'm not sure every issue has only one "right" solution. I guess what I was trying to say before is that I do not believe there is one right political leader or political party--so rather than have knowledge that you are right, perhaps you can only know that what you have decided is right for you--based on your opinion of how things should be done.

While I hope that people have good reasons for believing the way they do and feel confident in their choices, I think it is arrogant to believe that your view is the "right" view and that no other approach could have merit.

Politics is a means to an end. Governemnt is not the gospel--but the way in which we implement our beliefs.

In the Church, we are taught correct principles, but must govern ourselves. In our country, we must decide how political religious principles should be applied and there is not necessarily only ONE way to do that.

Coming from a bi-partisan household, I sympathize with your question of how to "know." I wish people could have more confidence, but less arrogance. I wish more people could accept and acknowledge that there is not necessarily ONE way to do things.

I think you hit a sensitive subject with me. Sorry for going on and on.

Darlene said...

But I'm glad you've chimed in, Jen. You've given me lots to think about.

Anonymous said...

I'm someone who, as you may have observed, feels pretty confident in my opinions. For important decisions, I tend to think hard about something and seek lots of information, then make a decision and be very loyal to it. Even in more trivial decisions, I tend to take something close to this approach -- for example, once I decide on a brand of, say, laundry detergent, I'm unlikely to explore or even be open to other alternatives unless for some reason my brand of choice stops working for me.

When it comes to political decisions, I usually don't pray about them; I just go with principles that make sense to me, based on my own knowledge and experiences, and then try to match those principles with candidates. If there's an issue where I think my vote really matters, and I'm in doubt, I might pray for guidance, but, like I said, generally I'm pretty comfortable with and confident in my opinions.

I agree with Jennifer that people can vote for different candidates and still have come to the right conclusion for THEM, (not that I won't try to persuade them over to my side, but I can respect that they can come to a different conclusion than I do.) HOWEVER, a problem arises if that person's a church member and their prayers bring them to a conclusion that I think is on the wrong side of Church teachings. Of course a church member could, for example, vote for a pro-choice candidate because, although they personally oppose abortion, they think the candidate's views on abortion won't affect their governing enough to matter, or the candidate's other views are so in-line with the voter's preferences that they're willing to overlook one point of dispute. I think a church member could even be against abortion but think that anti-abortion laws are not the best way to address the problem of abortion (I disagree with this view, but it's a legitimate difference of opinion) -- UNLESS the Church were to specifically request of members that they back pro-life laws on moral grounds. (See how far I'm bending over backwards to avoid a certain topic?) Even then, I think the Church does give some wiggle room, as seen in the third-to-last paragraph of this Church press release:

"Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances."

(I guess that blew my cover for the issue I was avoiding. But we'll keep working with my alternate example:)

So a church member, who, for example, feared that anti-abortion laws would lead their daughter to get a dangerous illegal abortion might legitimately ignore the Church's request to vote pro-life or support pro-life political movements.

BUT, the one area where I don't see wiggle room for Church members is IF they were to not only decide something was the best decision for them, BUT, they were to also decide their personal revelation told them that the Church was wrong -- to promote a pro-life agenda, or (in the most extreme case) that the Church was just wrong, period, and abortion was okay. EVEN then, though, they could hold these views if they kept them to themselves. BUT, if they start denouncing the Church's position or setting themselves up as a higher moral authority, that's where they get on very shaky ground.

Also, I should say that while there's LOTS of room for diverse answers to prayer within the Church, it's also true that there are some things for which we believe there's just one right answer. For example, we believe that if someone prays sincerely, they'll receive revelation that the Book of Mormon is true. Period. If they think they get a different answer (which we certainly allow them the freedom to think,) then we just think they're doing it wrong and listening to the wrong spirits. So, while someone might come up with reasons why it's okay to support pro-choice laws, we still don't believe that God's ever going to tell them that elective abortion, in and of itself, is good (as long as the prophets keep telling us it's not.) (Minor caveat: the Church has always allowed for personal choice on abortion where the pregnant mother had no choice in the conception (rape, incest,) or where her life is threatened. I'm grateful for this very reasonable difference in our teachings from those of, say, the Catholic Church.) I read a church member say, of a moral issue, "It's a sin for me but not for my neighbor," and that doesn't make sense to me -- it's a sin or it's not a sin. I think they probably actually meant that their knowledge and belief makes them accountable, whereas their neighbor's lacks in knowledge and belief excuse their neighbor from accountability, and I do agree with that. But that doesn't really answer the question of to what extent they're accountable to share their knowledge with their neighbor, or vote against their neighbor. THAT question is DEFINITELY the sort for which we need individual revelation, since the right answer would vary greatly depending on individuals.

So, if someone tells me that their personal revelation leads them to take a different stance from the church's on a moral issue, I'm very dubious. I'm still glad the Church gives leeway to work through those kinds of doubts on individuals' own spiritual schedule. But they do lose that leeway when they start fighting the Church or preaching their beliefs as replacement for Church doctrine.

Barbara Bakes said...

Perhaps it is best to use the scripture "by their fruits ye shall know them" as a guide. Do they lay claim to an ideology, but their words are not reflected in their actions.

Th. said...


Wow. Uncertainty is the topic of the hour, isn't it?

workshop said...

Maybe it's just me, but when I notice someone getting so vehement about their "side" of a question that they have to "shout" down any other possible sides, I find myself wondering how truly sure they are.

If you are sure about your position, then what anyone else says shouldn't make a difference, right?

If you are afraid that you might not be sure, but you don't want to change your position, isn't that the time when you are most likely to shout down any other ideas for fear they might shake your certainty?

Anyway, I like jennifer b's analogy to church callings. I am ward newsletter editor right now, and because I had published a monthly newsletter for writers for almost 300 issues before I received that calling, it wasn't that hard for me to go to a monthly schedule for our ward newsletter. It has turned out to be a vehicle for the bishop to teach the ward members on a monthly basis about the things he feels they need to consider as faithful members of the ward and the church.

But there are those who have said that they really hope they don't have to be ward newsletter editor after me because they don't have to want to do it the way I've done it. Well, for goodness sake! No one, not even the Lord is going to expect them to do it the way I've done it. As jennifer b. has said, prayer and the guidance of the Holy Ghost can lead us to the same goal, but it won't necessarily be in the same way.

Back to uncertainty, if we could all be certain about everything in this life, what is the point of coming here to learn?

We need to be continually checking our speed and direction (as in the story President Uchtdorf told of the plane that got off by only a few degrees, but ended up crashing into a mountain) to make any little course corrections needed along the way? If we already have it all figured out for now and forever, we might as well be translated.

And maybe it is just me. I apologize if I've been harsh or abrupt. There are things going on with AML that I am finding more than a little frustrating. I just keep hoping for a middle ground that is closer to the strait and narrow (see Rod Dreher's CRUNCHY CONS as one "political" possibility).

Jennifer B. said...

I just want to thank myimaginaryblog for the clarifying that for many issues there really is just one right answer. This is especially true in legal issues that involve morality. We all agree that stealing should be considered criminal, for example.

My comments refer to issues that I don't consider to be strictly moral issues. For instance, both Democrats and Republicans believe that education and healthcare is important, but they differ on how to improve them. I'm not sure that one way is really the "right" way--although I may argue that one way is better.

I certainly agree that in issues of morality, citizens have a duty to stand for truth. I do not condone criticizing church leaders and I agree that it is proper and necessary for people to insist on morality in public policy.