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Religion Versus Politics

I am in selective agreement with almost everyone. That is to say, even the people whose opinions I despise, on multiple political grounds, have usually some opinion, or some idea, some taste or aesthetic judgment, with which I would be happy to agree.

This can be a source of pleasure, often on both sides. Let me give a couple of innocent examples.

Once, at a party in late Cold War days, I got into what must have looked like a fight, “exchanging information” with an actual, card-carrying, Communist lady. It went on until each had had enough of the other, and so walked out – both to our host’s back porch, as it happened. There we met again, and quickly discovered that we were the only two smokers at the party. We became, for the moment, good buddies. We agreed that non-smokers are a curse.

The conversation soon turned to other topics, through which I discovered that my new Marxist friend had extremely conservative views on art, but did not mind if I teased her for being incurably bourgeois. We re-entered the house laughing.

Or another Leftist crazy (my characterization, not his), and a similar situation. We were at the point of hurling bottles at each other, when a restaurant jukebox began playing a 1960 recording of “Black Coffee.” Our argument was deflected into the question of jazz singers, and in the course of the next half-hour we came to complete and enthusiastic agreement that Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, should be ranked respectively the first and second ladies of song.

Hatred, of a certain kind, can be a concealed form of love, as such incidents reveal. Perhaps this is so of every kind of “hatred,” short of the pathological; and even madness may give way to sanity in unpredictable moments of grace.

I think of the moral genius of a beloved old friend (John Muggeridge, 1933-2005), a man who was hardly without Opinions. He had a preternatural tendency not only to get along with, but actually to be liked by his most natural adversaries. This I attributed to his gift of vision. He could see, in the most unlikely characters, virtues that were hidden, possibly even from their own mothers. Mention a name to him – the name of some utter deplorable – and he would be ready with what was not quite a defense; more like a kindly acknowledgment.

Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, c. 1950

And he was always right. One realized immediately that this was so: that one had not oneself spotted the virtue, only because one was not looking for it. Yet John had no illusions. On the one hand, when he spoke, for instance, of the overweening vanity of a certain famous person (not to be named), one could see he was pained. On the other hand, he could enjoy the most vicious satirical wit. (We took great pleasure in reciting to each other the cruelest passages in Swift and Pope.)

John was, incidentally, the character who, more than any, “accompanied” me over the Tiber when, after decades of resistance, I finally crossed. “O Grave! where is thy victory?”. . .We still pray together.

But politics, politics; we were both immersed in politics, over the years. Basic decency required a man like John to be engaged in what he found distasteful – like so many in the battle for “life.” On a continent where countless millions of babies have been sacrificed to ease, feminism, and career, it is not possible to be apolitical. How many people I know in the “pro-life movement” who would rather be doing almost anything else; including a priest who says he “does not even like babies,” but feels obliged to speak up when they are being slaughtered.

Beyond the life issues, there is no peace. We live in an age – have lived, through a century – in which politics have infected every particle of life, so that the man who hates politics will have to wade in, to defend his right to be left alone. And he will lose, for by the invention of the income tax, Big Brother established his right to intrude, inspect, molest – on a presumption of guilt that flies in the face of all our ancient liberties.

I know that today, only cranks are opposed to such things. I am a crank, and am still opposed. My own experience of being maliciously audited taught me much about how things really are, in a country that heaps flattery on itself for transparency and “human rights.” Indeed, it has been my lot to experience, more often than most, truly demonic bureaucracy in action, on issues that go well beyond taxes. I cannot be impressed by the blather of “democracy.”

We are flies in the web of our elected spiders. This is the very “safety net” I believe that they have woven – a world in which no one can escape the tyranny of “good intentions.” As C.S. Lewis patiently explained:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

He describes, to my mind, the extraordinary divisive force of politics, corroding the human heart, and beyond this, setting factious men against each other in defiance of divine goodwill.

Why has this happened? Why did “the people” allow it?

In thinking on this question over the years, I have come to realize that it is, now as in previous centuries, the consequence of lost faith. Politics replace religion, so that even within the Catholic Church, religion dissolves in a political battle, by which the faithful are progressively divided.


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David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.