Does God Take Sides? Why Political Partisanship Is Morally Obligatory Explore More Content
I want to talk about a principle that relates to this broader discussion of politics. In fact, I want to talk about two things that are related and are especially important ideas during an election season. The first is the question, Does God take sides? And the second is on the issue of partisanship, in other words, arguing for and defending your own view. Here are my two basic convictions regarding these two questions.
First, God does take sides. Second, partisanship is not only good, I think it is morally required precisely because God does take sides.
Now this whole issue of God taking sides comes up every election cycle. I think about four years ago there was a full-page ad taken out by Sojourners that said “God is not a Republican.” It also said in small print that He wasn’t a Democrat either. But then the whole article went on to argue in favor of particular views the sponsors believed that were God’s views—that’s why they stood for them. And the views all turned out to mirror at almost single point the Democratic point of view.
It’s fine if someone wants to advertise their views. I just think it’s disingenuous to argue explicitly that God does not take the side of one party or the other, and then implicitly argue that He does. But this really goes to my point. I actually think that God does take sides and I think that it’s appropriate for us to take sides in light of what we think God would think about the issue. In fact, it’s not just appropriate it is morally obligatory. And if such thing is morally obligatory, then it seems to put partisanship, at least one kind of partisanship, in an entirely different light.
The bumper sticker I saw the other day said “God is not a Republican” in big red letters on the top, and then beneath that in smaller blue letters it said “God is not a Democrat either.” These bumper stickers may be either disingenuous or meaning, but they turn out to be silly slogans because the people who use them haven’t really thought about what they’re saying.
All politics—as an enterprise of civilization—is moral. The entire debate about politics, pursued at least under the American system, can be reduced to a single question: What is the proper use of force to accomplish moral ends? People say you can’t legislate morality. All legislation is a moral enterprise. If there is not a justification for the use of power, then that use of power is illicit. That is what despots do. Aristotle said famously that all law rests upon the necessary foundation of morality.
Note that this kind of enterprise is a prescriptive notion. In other words, Aristotle is saying that this is the nature of law and government properly construed. It’s supposed to be this way even though we know that sometimes people use their power meant for moral ends as a means to immorally consolidate their own power and control over the very people they were entrusted to serve. So politics is sometimes used poorly. But if you take politics as a thing, as such, at least in the American system, the purpose of power is for the public good.
And the political enterprise is how we divvy up that power, how we use that power to accomplish those things that are good in light of the restraints on power that we have in the Constitution. The American political enterprise is a moral enterprise, and for those politicians who don’t want to legislate morality, well they should probably get out of the legislation business because this is their reason for existing. If they are not there to legislate morality that is consistent with the public good, then they’re not there for anything at all. They shouldn’t be in the business of politics.
Think about this carefully. Since politics is a moral enterprise, the proper use of power to accomplish moral ends—in our case, the common good—it follows that there are right and wrong answers to political questions if you’re an objectivist with regards to morality. Because with regards to moral issues there are right and wrong answers to those objective moral issues. There are moral and immoral responses regarding policy concerns. And if there is a right and wrong answer, morally speaking, since this is a moral enterprise, and if God is concerned about right and wrong, then on any given political/moral issue God would have a point of view, wouldn’t He? If God is always on the side of the right then He does have a side, He would take a side. And if turns out that your take on the political/moral issue is the correct take, then you have taken the same position that God has taken. You share the same view. You are on God’s side, and He is on yours.
I don’t know how you can avoid that unless you’re a relativist, and then this would all be nonsense. But if relativism is true, i.e., there are no objective moral principles, then all politics turns out to be is a raw exercise of power. It is the tyranny of the majority. I don’t think most people believe that. I think we know better and why we object to such tyranny when it’s done by the majority because we realize there can be a moral majority, if you will, of one. A majority of one. That is, one person could be in the right even if everyone else is in the wrong. But that could only be the case if morals are objective.
Having established that not only is politics a moral enterprise and, therefore, there are right and wrong answers to political issues, morally speaking, and God cares about that and He has an opinion about that, then He is on the side of what’s morally right. If we also choose what’s right, He’s on our side. Then it is probably safe to say that any particular party, their platform, contains policies that are both good and bad in some mixture. So even though there are right answers to particular issues, given that any party’s platform is a mixture of issues, it’s probably the case that they don’t get them all right in that one party. I don’t think any party gets it all right. No individual gets it all right even when he’s trying to. That’s just a reality. We’re all fallible.
Since in this country it is not a pure democracy—we don’t get to pick and choose by voting on particular issues, generally speaking—we vote instead for a candidate who represents an amalgam of positions, some of which we may agree with and some we disagree with. If we disagree with some things, we think them wrong, and if wrong then they are things God would not support in isolation but are still part of this larger package of making a voting choice. Since we only get to vote for a candidate and not for the issues directly, and in a presidential race there are basically only two candidates, there is then one candidate who will represent on balance, when all the proper weighing of variables like means and ends and moral significance, etc, are all taken into consideration, the morally superior position from God’s perspective. Then that person becomes the right person to vote for and that person’s party becomes the right party to align yourself with, so that if God were voting, that is the way He would cast His vote. In other words, there is nothing unusual at all about saying that God is on the side of one party or the other, taken as a whole, which is the only way you can take it.
Please follow my reasoning here. I’m simply saying when we engage in politics we are involved in a moral enterprise. Political positions have to discern the appropriate use of power to accomplish the common good. It’s a moral question. And all the particular policies that any party takes turns out to have moral weight and, since they have moral weight, then there are good policies morally and bad policies morally. If some policies turn out to be morally bad policies, God is against those, and the good policies He is in favor of. When you align yourself on the side of the policy that is actually good, then you’re on God’s side and He’s on yours.
In politics we’re not just dealing with policies in the abstract or individually, we are dealing with parties who represent a package of policies. So then you have take the package of policies as a whole since that’s all we get to vote for. We have a moral obligation to vote for that package which, on balance, is better than the other one. When we do, if God were voting, He would vote the way we would if we got it right. That’s all I’m saying.
If we are Democrat or Republican we should be able to say that we genuinely believe we could be mistaken, but we’re trying to use our political decision wisely and morally. When we consider the options, I genuinely believe that God would vote with me on this one. If we can’t say that, friends, then we should change our vote. This is not arrogance. It’s careful, responsible thinking about the nature of politics, morality, and God.
We do have a moral obligation to vote for one candidate or another. There is no perfect choice in politics since no candidate or party is morally perfect, but there is a right choice and a wrong choice or a better choice and a worse choice. I’m not saying that one candidate is good and the other is evil, though that could be the case. I’m talking, for the most part, not about the candidates themselves but about the policies that candidates represent.
So this is all to say that God is a Democrat or He is a Republican or some other party in the nuanced sense that I just described. One party in any given election better represents the good and moral things that God cares about.
This brings me to the subject of partisanship. Senator Joe Lieberman said during the convention that we should get beyond party differences and focus on running the government. In other words, let’s get past our differences and try to get things done. This has a lot of appeal to lots of people because they’re tired of all the bickering.
There are two ways one can be partisan. One is a vice; the other is morally obligatory.
First, the vice. There is a kind of partisanship that is pure belligerence. I think when loyalty to one’s party is simply loyalty for the sake of loyalty to the party—these are our guys, right or wrong- that’s wrong. This loyalty is characterized by mean-spiritedness, deception, and malicious conflict. Partisanship has become corrupted and I don’t think it needs to be that way.
But I don’t think it’s even morally sound to say we should never be partisan because there is a type of partisanship that seems to be necessitated by the observation that all politics is moral. If our goal as public servants is to find God’s side, the right choice to the moral questions we face as citizens and public servants, then it seems to me we are obliged to defend those views to those who disagree because we’re convinced that our views are right and those are wrong.
I don’t know how that can be avoided because there are worldview considerations that are in play here. It’s as if someone is saying that we should get beyond our squabbling about what’s wrong with this machine and let’s just fix it. Well, of course, before you can fix something, you have to know specifically what’s wrong with it and have an idea of how it should function. That requires answering prior questions about what’s true and right, not just getting along. That is precisely the difference between different parties when the parties are operating at their best. They represent different understandings of how the political project works, how the optimum working of the political project has gone afield, and how we can fix it.
You cannot avoid taking side, nor should you. Here is the simple reason why you shouldn’t: God does take sides. If you have thought carefully about your political views, and you think your views of politics and the role of government in the life of people for the common good is right based on what is moral, then that will dictate certain policies that you think are right. By golly, if you think they’re right, and they are, then God is on your side. And their views are contrary to the public good and, taken as a whole, contrary to God.
Now, I’m not saying in this discussion who’s who in this debate in this particular election. I’m just trying to ennoble the notion of partisanship in appropriate ways and to underscore the fact that partisanship is justified by the fact that politics is about proper use of power for the common good based on morality. It’s a moral enterprise and God cares. He takes sides and our business should be to figure out which side that is.