Identity, Politics, and Stuff

Politics is the only area of life or nature where failures seems to be consistently rewarded. The more wrongheaded a policy proves to be, the more necessary it becomes for the political class to prop it up, if for no better reason than appearance sake. (It must appear to the voters that I am “doing” something, regardless of unintended, or possibly intended, consequences.) And as a result of many years of thoughtless (and sometimes even malicious) policies, society today is saddled with failed schools, a failing foreign policy, failing criminal justice, and saddest of all a rapidly growing number of failed families, And one has only to observe the present toxic political climate to realize that no meaningful reform is anywhere on the horizon. Too many special interests have doubled down on demands to even permit rational, civilized dialogue, much less any movement towards intelligent reform.

Both major political parties share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs, although nowhere nearly in equal proportion. The party of populism has been leading the “progressive” charge to deconstruct the social order for decades while their counterparts have been merely content to slow the train down a bit. Incrementalism is not the same thing as true opposition, however, and dragging one’s feet a bit is a far cry from heroism. When some new idea is either deceptive to common sense, contrary to the common good, or just plain bad it needs to be exposed, opposed, and disposed. Otherwise, the proverbial camel who began by merely poking its head into the tent will soon be standing full bodied inside your living quarters.

I believe that the reason so many otherwise well intentioned politicians, Phds, various bureaucrats, and technocrats can’t seem to cobble together a social policy that strengthens rather than tears apart the fabric of society (particularly the family) is because they no longer have a clear and correct understanding of the human person. This is because in their specialized expertise they have pulled human beings out of the Christian context and placed them in a purely materialistic one. The results have been disastrous. Ordinary people have been gradually “depersonalized” as little more than a case study objects or poll respondents. Our buying, sleeping, eating, and various social habits have been micro-analyzed to death so that the wizards of merchandising can sell us more products and services that we really don’t need. Of course the spiritual man gets easily forgotten about in such a process. (Government, being no exception, is itself in the business of “selling” the public their own brand of “indispensable” services.)

But listen to what the Church fathers said about the human person as recently as the 2nd Vatican Council. “Man is the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake. Man can truly discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.”(Gaudium et Spes no. 24) Does that sound anything like the social/political culture of mass consumerism that today’s society trumpets endlessly? If all of man’s energies are spent gathering more benefits and other things unto himself, then his existence has no meaning because he will not have anything of himself left to “give.” We find our true identities only in the giving of ourselves. This does not mean mere philanthropy (we can always write a check and feel good about it) but rather the true giving of the self which implies a deeper, sacrificial kind of love ~ that sort of love that Christ gave to mankind on the cross.

We live in perhaps the most affluent, self-absorbed, narcissistic civilization since the Roman empire and this “culture of excess” grows fatter and more materialized by the day. Meanwhile as Christianity withers on the vine, students are systematically being taught in the schools that they are merely animals with more sophisticated brains. A practical atheism has descended upon the culture that, rather than to deny God, simply ignores him altogether. Many have truly come to believe that we are autonomous creatures who find meaning only in the consumption of lots of stuff, which of course is a gross distortion of our humanity.

But if we are not children of God, then who else would be our true father but the one called the “father of lies” (fairly synonymous with the “father of advertising). Man cannot find his true identity simply within himself, for the I must be joined to the thou if it is to know itself fully. That is why social policies that prioritize the individual above the family, above the common good, and even above God are bound to have a devastating effect on both the individual and society.. Such policies will leave the individual lost and confused because the focus will always be on the self and not on the other, particularly the Supreme Other who is God. No political system can long survive if it refuses to center itself on a Supreme Being, and we are no exception. Even collectively, humans must be joined to that Supreme Other in order to know themselves fully. Our very identity depends on it and no court, president, or political party will ever change such a fundamental reality..

Fran Pierson  +a.m.d.g.

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