I am slowly working through God in the Dock, a collection of some of CS Lewis’ essays, and a few days ago read the essay “Meditation on the Third Commandment.” In this essay, Lewis discusses the desirability of a Christian political party. I’m not sure if this was something people wanted in mid-century Britain, but the idea would be that all Christians come together in one, explicitly Christian, political party. Lewis begins by discussing ends, or goals, and means:
“The Christian Party must either confine itself to stating what ends are desirable and what means are lawful, or else it must go further and select from among the lawful means those which it deems possible and efficacious and give to these its practical support. If it chooses the first alternative, it will not be a political party. Nearly all parties agree in professing ends which we admit to be desirable – security, a living wage, and the best adjustment between the claims of order and freedom. What distinguishes one party from another is the championship of means.”
Lewis assumes that all Christians agree on the ends. I am sure Christians do not agree on every end, but I will be optimistic and say that for the most part, agreeing on the goals remains true today. That said, part of the challenge with having political discussion is that our political climate is so divided that we have trouble assuming the best of the other. We righteously assume that only our side cares for people having enough to eat or decent housing or freedom or whatever.
Lewis shines the light on something important that can only help our political dialogue. If we are going to argue politics, we should pause before the yelling starts and figure out if we are discussing means or ends. For example, and Lewis alludes to this one, but I assume all Christians agree that the goal is for all people who work to make a living wage. How to get here is the debate: do we increase the minimum wage? Allow competition in the market to drive up wages? Those are discussions where Christians may agree, and those are discussions on means to the same end.
Lewis is writing this essay to discuss whether there should be a “Christian” political party. He thinks it is a bad idea, arguing that putting all the Christians join in one party would end up backfiring. This is because Christians are naturally going to disagree on the means, even while agreeing on the end. Such disagreement will lead some to leave the party. Then the so-called Christian party will include only one sort of means to the end, and this party will think they are the only Christians:
“But there will be a real, and most disastrous, novelty. It will e not simply a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian party, it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal”
A Christian party that not only agrees on goals but is not open to more than one idea on how to reach those goals will do more harm than good. Lewis imagines worse can happen than just some Christians leaving the party:
“The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost; the formation of a Christian Party means handing over to him the most efficient make up we can find. And when once the disguise has succeeded, his commands will presently be taken to abrogate all moral laws and to justify whatever the unbelieving allies of the ‘Christian Party’ wish to do. If ever Christian men can be brought to think treachery and murder the lawful means of establishing the regime they desire, and faked trials, religious persecution and organized hooliganism the lawful means of maintaining it, it will surely be by just such a process as this.”
When one party is baptized as Christian, Lewis fears they won’t have to worry so much about actually seeking a Christian ethic. They can even go along with the less than Christian elements in the party who are now emboldened by their holiness. Assured they are correct, being in the only “Christian party” after all, they will commit all sorts of crimes in the name of the good.
This essay reminds me that we need Christians in different political parties. Not all political parties, for some parties represent ideas (ends) far beyond anything relating to a Christian ethic (Nazis, Marxists). But in America, we need Christians in the Democrat and Republican parties.
We need Christians who remind us that individual freedom is vital to a functioning society and that government will encroach on that freedom, as it has done since forever.
And we need Christians to remind us that individuals are fallen and will take advantage of their fellow men and women so we need institutions, including government, to work to keep the peace and ensure fairness.
America, like any nation with Christians in it, can only benefit from Christians speaking from Christian principles – primarily humanity as created in God’s image and broken by sin – in both the Democrat and Republican parties. Hopefully, Christians in those parties can also lead the way in talking to one another – which requires recognizing the other might have something good, humility is also a Christian virtue.
At this point in our country, just talking to people convinced of different political means may be the place to start.