19 Aug 2012
“Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” (Prov. 9:6)
In the name …
So did you hear that if Mitt Romney wins in November African-Americans will be returning to the chains of slavery? Did you hear that Barack Obama was a Muslim who was married to another man before he married Michelle? All of this silly political talk is taking place now, and we haven’t even hit the political conventions yet. We seldom read from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. That’s why I thought it would be nice to spend a little bit of time with this ancient book of common wisdom. We’ve only read the first part of an extended analogy. There are two women, Wisdom and Folly. They both have houses, and they have both set-out their meals. Wisdom, as we just read, calls out to passers-by and she invites them to her table openly and directly. Everything on her table is as it seems. It looks delicious; and it is healthy. Folly, the portion of the analogy we didn’t read, also calls out to passers-by inviting them to her table, but her invitation hides the nature of the food she sets before her guests. It may look the same as what wisdom has to offer, but Folly’s food is putrid and diseased.
Both wisdom and folly offer gifts that look the same, but whose underlying nature is as different as black and white. Presidential politics is just one example, but it’s a loud and clear one. There are two distinct, viable choices out there for President. They offer two competing ways of looking at our nation and the problems and challenges she confronts. These are complex issues and complicated debates. Both wisdom and folly are going to be inviting passers-by into their homes and to their tables. At first, they both look the same. Wisdom, however, is honest and direct. Folly is devious and manipulative. Wisdom speaks about the issues. Folly distracts from what’s important. As people of faith, let us try to raise the bar. Let us deliberately discount the political hyperbole and insult. Let’s not fall for the slick and the negative. Let’s concentrate on the issues and the positions of the candidates.
I grew up during the Watergate era. I went to civics class in high school learning about dirty tricks in politics and how a President had to resign his office because he got caught. As a result of that, I remember learning about the efforts to make politics more open and transparent. I remember checking off the box on my tax form when I made hardly anything working after school and during the summer. One of my own tax-dollars would be allocated to the matching-funds-collection so that politicians wouldn’t be indebted to large donors. They would be indebted to us citizens. Back in the 1970’s we learned the hard way that money corrupts politics and politicians.
Nowadays there is so much money in politics that neither presidential candidate has accepted the matching funds because they both feel they would be at a financial disadvantage. The whole country can’t equal the money that a few big donors are throwing into politics. Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig told Congress last month that in this presidential election cycle .000063% of the US population, that’s 196 citizens out of a population of over 314 million, have funded 80% of Super PAC spending so far. There’s so much money coming from so few people that everything I learned in civics class during the Watergate years has been completely reversed. This is not about any political party in particular or either candidate because both parties and both candidate are swimming in big-donor money. This is about politics and elections, and our place in this whole business.
The Book of Proverbs knew long before even Jesus was born that we are all faced with the choice of wisdom or folly. Both homes look the same, both invitations sound similar, and both meals appear delicious. But wisdom is founded on openness and honesty. Folly is built on the illusion of these things. Sometimes one can’t be separated from the other until it’s too late. But for thousands of years people of our shared Jewish and Christian faith, have known that it is a choice we have to make between the two of them, a free choice, and therefore, a choice with moral implications. Whoever any of us votes for is a choice of our own minds and consciences, but the morality of the whole business of politics, at least from our perspective as voters, is to try and focus on wisdom and to ignore folly.
When the candidates say something about their own position on the economy, immigration, defense, whatever, we should listen and think about what they are saying. When they talk about each other, we should maybe listen less. And when the .000063% throw all sorts of money at candidates, candidates of both parties, we should think about whether there isn’t some ulterior motive to their generosity and judge accordingly. If we paid less attention to the Super PACs, maybe money would not be such a factor in our democracy.
Politics is mean, but we, as Proverbs tries to tell us, don’t have to put up with the dirty of politics. We don’t have to listen to the folly. If Romney wins, African-Americans will not end up in chains. If Obama wins, know that he is not a Muslim, gay, socialist immigrant. As people of faith, let us choose respectful dialogue even when the ones we are talking about choose not to do so. That’s one of the ways that we as the people of God should be different from others. We should not be so partisan as to be unfaithful.
That we may, as Proverbs teaches, choose to enter the house of wisdom not of folly, that we may be more civil in our discourse than the trend and the majority around us give evidence of, that we may respect people of different opinion and hope that they respect us, it is for these things, these practical, religious lessons, that we pray this day in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo