A curious exchange today at American Conservative between Alan Jacobs and Noah Millman over voting for a party that both supports religious freedom and wars on behalf of liberty. Jacobs, the Christian, writes:
Now, some Christians might also argue that the Church exists for others, so that promoting religious freedom, even at the cost of lives lost overseas, is still the selfless thing to do. And that could be right, but I think we all ought to be very wary of arguments that provide such a neat dovetailing of our moral obligations and our self-interest.
I honestly don’t know what I think about this, and still less do I know how to apply the proper principles to our own more complex political scene. But I do think it’s right to conclude that there are at least some potential circumstances in which religious believers, in order to be faithful to their religious traditions, would need to refrain from direct political advocacy for those traditions.
In other words, voting simply on the basis of religious convictions may be an oversimplification of electoral politics and of public and foreign policy. Say hello to 2k.
But Millman responds that self-interest is the wrong way to frame the question:
I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with the underlying premise that voters should aspire to cast their ballots in a selfless manner. Indeed, I think “selfless” is a red-herring. The objective oughtn’t be to deny the needs or wants of the self, but to see beyond them, to feel other selves as equally worthy of care (and yourself as equally unworthy of supremacy), and thereby to achieve a feeling of solidarity with those other selves. (Then again, I’m not a Christian, so your mileage may vary.)
So is it the case that Christians, even when they recognize the limits of faith-based voting as Jacobs does, come across as inherently selfish when they vote according to their beliefs? Millman’s point is especially pertinent when he talks about seeing others “as equally worthy of care” and feeling solidarity with them. If people who have a heightened sense of the anti-thesis, Christians, that is, people who are also keenly aware of God’s law and those who break it, are also supposed as members of a civic community to feel solidarity with other citizens, is faith something that impedes or assists such fellow-feeling? Not to put too fine a point on it, but can Christians feel solidarity with gays or advocates of same-sex marriage?
Maybe Millman is wrong about a sense of belonging with other Americans, though any small dose of Aaron Sorkin’s television series West Wing or the Newsroom should confirm Millman’s point. But if Christians judge Millman wrong, then what hope have we for a free society if it consists of Christians and non-Christians?