Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cause and Effect

Actions have consequences. That's a basic fact of life that everybody (hopefully) learns early in life. Some actions result in positive consequences, some in negative, and others in a mix of good and bad. Every gain comes with a cost; that cost may be borne by someone else, or it may be deferred far enough into the future as to be meaningless to us now, but even most 'free' things come with a price tag of some sort.

That basic equation is one of the reasons that I lean toward the libertarian end of the spectrum politically. Government action can seem, on the surface, to be the most expedient way of solving any given social problem, and the up front cost often makes it seem like a bargain. Over time, however, the hidden costs quietly accrue and, in many if not most cases, ultimately outweigh the benefits.

Government is a necessary institution in an imperfect world; wisdom lies in figuring out when and how to use it while maintaining adequate restraints to keep those who would abuse its power in check. Unfortunately we've become so accustomed to looking for a 'quick fix' for whatever problem we're facing at the moment that we don't even pause to consider what ramifications a new law or government program might have in the long run, or whether there might be a better (if more difficult and not as immediately gratifying) solution that doesn't involve using the blunt instrument of government power.

A parallel situation (with the same underlying attitude) exists in our overuse of pharmaceutical drugs. In some cases drugs really are the best possible solution, particularly when emergency situations arise. In many more cases, though, it's just another attempt to find a 'quick fix'; make the obvious symptoms go away for a while, and one can ignore the underlying problem.

Unfortunately drugs seldom resolve the actual problem, and almost always come with negative side effects of their own. Many health issues can ultimately be resolved by changes in lifestyle - eating healthier foods, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, etc. But why make such sacrifices when there's a drug that promises immediate relief? And when that drug creates another problem, there's another drug to help with that, and so on. It's a downward spiral that gets progressively harder to escape.

Today, even those who once valued freedom have succumbed to the 'quick fix.' Rather than taking care of the problems in their own lives, rather than modeling positive community, rather than offering compassion and healing to a hurting world, the church would rather address what it sees as moral decay by picketing abortion clinics, slandering GLBT individuals in public forums and lobbying for all sorts of laws to force 'moral' behavior on others.

Even when the religious right has succeeded in passing laws, however, it's done little to check the 'moral decay' that prompted their crusade in the first place. They may succeed in deterring a few individuals from certain activities (while driving the rest underground), but they pay dearly for that limited success. While most moral crusaders would sincerely describe their actions as loving and compassionate, the rest of the world has received a much different message.

When millions turn away from the church in disgust, it's not the majority's perceptions that are to blame. By assuming the role of a stern parent disciplining a rebellious child, Christ's message of unconditional love has been drowned out by one of condescension and condemnation, and no amount of protestation about the purity of its intentions will soften the ugly face the church has turned to a watching world.

But even as the religious right's power begins to wane, its legacy secure as one of the greatest producers of atheists in world history, the church runs the risk of swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Many on the religious left similarly view government power as a primary means for advancing the Kingdom of God, merely substituting a slate of social and environmental issues for the religious right's moral agenda. The consequences of going for the 'quick fix' will differ, but in the end our society's root problems will remain unaddressed, just as they have under the current regime.


KJ said...

I'm afraid that the left will fall prey to the siren call of political power, as did the right.

Libertarian, any one?

Communion of Glitches said...

I am always so saddened when someone tells me they left the church because "Jesus said X, Y, and Z, and none of the people at my church ever did those things." Christ's followers are now the reason people stop following Christ! I am also interested by the fact that the people who have said this to me (an admittedly very small sample size) always left churches that were majorly into evangelism.

Eugene said...

It is interesting how a focus on evangelism can so often lead to neglecting a lot of the other virtues that Christ preached about. I wonder how much of that is tied into an attitude of fear - fear of hell both for oneself and for others.

KJ - good to see you. I was beginning to wonder if MadPriest was holding you prisoner...