Sometimes I think that American politics is simply a mechanism for finding one hundred different ways to promise the same thing.
Yes, there are differences between the various candidates for president, and the two main parties, but lately it has seemed to me that those differences are greatly exaggerated.
Points of dissimilarity, such as their stance on defining marriage or who gets which tax cuts, are pushed to the front to obscure the fact that they are all just offering us variations on the same narrative.
Almost every candidate, and the party platforms of both Republicans and Democrats, promise us year after year that they will grow the economy and secure America’s “special place in the world,” which is of course a not-so-subtle reference to our continued military superiority.
And this sounds right to us because we have convinced ourselves that our narrative, nationally and personally, is defined by consumption and war – what Walter Brueggemann calls “therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism” in The Practice of Prophetic Imagination.
Consumerism and militarism have come to play such an essential and interconnected role in the American story that Wendell Berry can justifiably refer to them in terms of impersonal forces, The War and The Economy, in his novel Jayber Crow.
“The War and The Economy were seeming more and more to be independent operations. The War, I thought, was just the single Hell that is always astir in the world…And the nations were always preparing funds of weapons and machines and people to be used up whenever The War did break out in full force, which meant that sooner or later it would … Also, it seemed that The War and The Economy were more and more closely related…The War was good for the Economy.”
We’ve decided that economic advancement at any and all costs, and America’s military superiority over any and all rivals, are worthwhile goals that somehow increase our peace, strengthen our communities, and advance the common good.
But instead we have unending wars and a whole “security” industry in our airports and public spaces, disintegrating communities from urban centers to the rural farmlands, and the shrinking of the “greater good” to nothing more than our collective ability to consume more year after year.
People are made for more than this, war and consumption may be parts of the human experience but they are not the most important parts. Such a view reduces our humanity, ignoring our souls, our loves, our neighborhoods, our environment, our art, our virtues and vices, our story.
As Gospel people shouldn’t we be offering a political vision of what it means that Jesus-is-Lord that is more than just a baptism of Right or Left wing promises of economic growth and national security?