The God That Failed

When I got off the train from work the other day, there werea couple of people sitting at a card table registering voters for the upcomingelection. I had to fight a sudden urgeto run as fast as I could in the opposite direction.

Ten years ago, I would have been those people behind thecard table. At this time in 1996, I was inNew Hampshiredoing GOTV work for the state AFL-CIO. Ispent two weeks eating cold pizza and doughnuts and telephoning as many unionmembers as I could

Politics was something I learned literally at my mothersknee. One of my earliest memories is mymother taking me to an envelope stuffing session at a campaign office. The day I turned 18, she slapped a voterregistration card into my hand and said fill this out. I eventually followed in her footsteps, andfrom 1988 through 2000, I dutifully volunteered for (or was assigned to) a campaignevery two years. For most of thatperiod, I lived in Washington, DC, where we followed pollresults the way that baseball fans follow box scores.

So what happened? There was no single cause. The deepening of my faith in my 20s led me tofeel a greater tension between some positions taken by my politicalpartypositions that at one time I had sharedand those of my Church. But I felt no attraction to the oppositioneither. I began to feel a sense ofpolitical homelessness that many Catholics seem to share today.

But it wasnt only that I had changed my mind on a fewthings. I was also growing increasinglydisenchanted with the way that politics was being practiced, and at my role inenabling that. Two decades of advocacyfor a variety of causes and candidates had turned me into a person who caredmore about winning than the truth. Ifound myself writing talking points I no longer believed in and finding ways todiscount evidence that didnt fit my preconceived worldview. Id become an ideologue and after a campaignwhere I was depressed after my candidate won,I realized that it was time to get out.

As Lemony Snicket might say, this is not a story with ahappy ending. Ive become so cynical andsuspicious of advocates for causes and candidates that sometimes Im paralyzedwith indecision. I tend to assume that Imnot getting the whole truth, and all too often I can find evidence to back thatup. Even when I see candidates andelected officials embracing the things I believe in, I tend to grimace. I am certainly not recommending this as amoral stance; its an emotional cul desac in which I seem to be caught.

In their statement Faithful Citizenship, the U.S.bishops argue that participation in the political process is a moralobligation. This may be true, but thereare moral dangers here too. You can getso caught up with a cause, a candidate, or a party that you start shaving smallbits off the truth and sanding down the sharp edges of the Gospel.

In an election where issues of great moralimportabortion, war, torture, poverty, marriageare at stake, it may seem absurdto suggest that there is something more important than who wins this Novemberor how these issues are dealt with in the months to come. But there is. First and foremost, we need to be faithful and we need to betruthful. We need to preach the fullnessof the Gospel, even ifperhaps especially ifit embarrasses our comrades andgives comfort to our opponents. We needto remain committed to the search for truth, even if the truth we discoverundermines our arguments. We need totrust enough in eternal victory to risk temporal defeat.

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