We are going to an election in increasingly dark days; we look at Putin’s massacre in Ukraine, the potential militarization of the Pacific on our doorstep after the Solomon Islands signed a deal with China, and the ravages of climate change seen in fires and floods that are seemingly uncontrolled.
It seems foolish to ignore these big existential issues and consider a “self-interest” election. But that’s what we have. And based on borrowing from future generations to spend now and locking up huge intergenerational debt to throw electoral dollars at our self-interest or ‘what’s in it for me?’ Neither side is promising additional taxes, so forget serious spending on climate change or raising Australian aid, whose deep cuts in Abbott’s 2014 budget fueled the failure in the Pacific and opened the door for China.
There is no doubt that democracy is wavering.
Does my vote matter, and is democracy failing? Given that the American research and advocacy group Freedom House estimates that less than 20 percent of the world’s population lives in a full democracy, there is no doubt that democracy is faltering.
But we’ve been here before. Until December 1941, with Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Britain was on its knees, despite the support of a few small democracies such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Recall that the rest of Europe was fascist; the Soviet Union was communist while the colonies were under imperial rule. Remember what was done after democracy was secured? Massive post-war spending on rebuilding and reviving democracy has all come with increased taxes, especially on the wealthy, to provide universal services to honor those who fought for and saved democracy. The political leadership spoke to us about the need for joint sacrifice and shared justice to rebuild the democratic contract.
In 1944 the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the book The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In it, Niebuhr wrote: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s propensity for injustice necessitates democracy.”
Only God’s power is imperishable, and all human power corrupts over time.
I think democracy is worth saving. But Niebuhr pointed to the ambivalent nature of human governance. Democracy is needed to control hubris. Governments of any color that have been in power for too long become arrogant and grow in their propensity for injustice. As Christians like to see ourselves, children of the light should be swinging voters. Regardless of times and policies, lifelong partiality to one political side is unworthy of our calling. Only God’s power is imperishable, and all human power corrupts over time. And yes, that’s why I favor a federal ICAC. Democracy doesn’t always give us the best leader or government, but it’s a bloodless way to weed out underperforming governments. Bloodless because the archaic hint behind a Democratic majority is to remember that we are the greater force, so we settle this with votes, not violence.
There is another consideration for the Children of Light. British author Jonathan Sacks begins in his book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times: “A free society is a moral achievement…A market economy and liberal-democratic politics alone cannot sustain social freedom. It needs a third element: morality, concern for the well-being of others … a willingness to ask not only what is good for me but also what is good for all of us. It’s about us, not me.”
Rabbi Sacks believes that we are lost in democracies because of the dominance of self-interest over the common good. We’ve lost morale. In nature, we see the will to power and authority of the strong rather than caring for the weak and vulnerable, so it takes faith and morality to shape those concerns. The egoistic gene of evolutionary materialistic nature cannot produce selfless individuals. That requires faith building to dominate nature and a moral emphasis on serving others, not ourselves. But without the morality taught by faith, all of which bear the image of God, we fall into competitive selfishness and lose the common good and a free society.
“It takes…a willingness to ask not just what’s good for me, but what’s good for all of us.” – Jonathan Sacks.
We may come to different political conclusions about the common good. Still, I am proud that Christians have banded together to force the government to take in an additional 16,500 Afghan refugees, as announced in the budget. I am pleased with the Christians who ask about the care of creation and the sacrifices needed to protect and save the environment by preventing more fossil fuels from being pumped into the atmosphere. I am pleased that Christian leaders have called for the abolition of TPVs (Temporary Protection Visas), which serve no general purpose but to demonize refugees here and make their lives hell.
The strong will always find a way to justify their tax havens and rant about why they shouldn’t be punished for owning multiple homes with existing tax breaks. Still, if we want to give young Australians a share of this housing market, we’ll recapitalize the need to look at income tax and negative gearing. And why is Australia almost the only one in Western democracies with no wealth or estate tax? None of the major parties dare suggest this, but the public good (and the repayment of our huge debt) has to be financed from somewhere.
So may I say to the Children of Light: Please cast your vote as influenced by your faith. Don’t do the reverse. Don’t let your preset political wiring cast your vote. Let your faith shape your voice – don’t let your politics shape your confidence.