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Hate is in vogue. During the latest American election campaign, it was an entirely acceptable position, among certain conservative Republicans, to hate Hillary Clinton. Now it is not only commonplace but perhaps even expected among certain liberal Democrats to hate Donald Trump. Some Canadian social conservatives hate Justin Trudeau.
I am grieved by the dissolution of civilized discourse in political life, yet the electric shock to my system came from meeting certain conservative Catholics who also seem to hate Pope Francis! Christians have always hoped that the Church (Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic) would be the light of the world: the fraternal charity that reigned among Christians would shine on the faces of outsiders, softening the hearts of all, even influencing politics for the better. But when a nasty, brutish spirit begins to poison even the food of Christians, we too become sick and impotent, and our light dims.
We need to wake up and strengthen what remains, as a Church and as a society.
Pundits have remarked that Donald Trump was elected in part as an expression of frustration among lower and middle-class white males with the elites of our political class. Hillary Clinton became the lightning rod for much of this discontent, and people felt justified in hating her. She had to go. Whoever could get the job done would be our man. However, he had to be greater than the media. If he were too kind - or too conservative - they would crucify him.
Now, on this side of the border, some commentators identify Kevin O'Leary as the closest Canadian equivalent to Trump. Kevin O'Leary for leader of the Conservative Party? Kevin O'Leary for Prime Minister?
The Church cannot, and does not, officially endorse any candidate, but we can reiterate the hope, the call and even the requirement that our political leaders be men and women of authentic moral convictions, with a proven capacity to transcend naked self-interest, displaying a firm commitment to the common good. I can think of a few candidates for the Conservative leadership who fit the bill.
But already certain Conservative strategists are suggesting only O'Leary has the "personality" to defeat Trudeau. What does "personality" mean in this context?
That he is already known to the Canadian public? That he has appeared on TV? Is that how we now define "personality"? Or is it a euphemism for a sort of will to power?
Is this what we now call "politics" -- based on "personality" rather than substance, the pushing of agendas rather than the pursuit of the common good?
One wonders if our common life could revert to a factionalism and chaos reminiscent of medieval Italy. Dante's Florence, for instance, was torn by power struggles and vendettas between the aristocratic Ghibellines and the democratic Ghents. (Further divisions within Dante's own party of Ghents, between the "Blacks" and the "Whites," precipitated his exile from Florence). Perhaps 14th century Italians could be excused their blood feuds, claiming they were still spiritual adolescents emerging from barbarism, needing more time for grace to penetrate their hearts, so that Christianity could be incarnated in their way of life. How do we defend our case? Are increasingly bitter rivalries simply another tragic indicator of the de-Christianization of our society?
After the fall of Communism, the West’s hopes were revived for the onward march of civilization once energies formerly diverted into self-defence could be turned to authentic human development. However, any utopian dreams were dashed by 9/11 and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, presented as the primary external threat to Western civilization. Now we must ponder if internecine conflicts present a greater danger.
Saint Paul once reminded the Galatians of the commandment "you shall love your neighbour as yourself," then he added, "if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another." In the history of Israel, on occasion God granted victory to His chosen people without any of them lifting a finger. They simply stood on a hillside and watched their enemies destroy each other, as in the case of Gideon and the Midianites: "The Lord set every man's sword against his fellow."
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There is another way, a better way. As God once said to Moses, "The command which I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you . . . it is something very near you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out."
Yes, we know that the human heart can be devious and treacherous, but also tender, merciful and just. People need to be given the opportunity and option to choose the good, the true, and the beautiful. If they are provided a choice between a modernist, nihilistic work of art - such as Fountain by Marcel Duchamps, which is a picture of a urinal - or a Renaissance portrait by Raphael, most people will point to the beautiful. Is it not possible, in the same way, to set aside for a moment the calculus of power and choose virtuous candidates to Canadian political office?
We need to balance hope with realism. Our hope must be humble, patient, persevering, unshakeable -- ultimately because it is supernatural, based on our sure and certain faith, that in Christ, God is for us, not against us. He is the Good, the True, the Beautiful, dwelling not only in the heavens but in every human heart. Therefore, no human being is a lost cause and no politician is beyond conversion. Such conviction inspires all the Churches to continue to follow the injunction of St. Paul, "I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for . . . all those in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." Christian hope and prayer can also inspire calm but determined political action, as we patiently seek the common good, while constantly resisting the pull of our fallen nature to indulge our anger and seek revenge.
I suggest an alternative to the politics of revenge that can actually supply labourers in the vineyard of our common life with an irrepressible vitality and new vigour. It is the contemplative side of the Christian life, in which we not only strive for social improvement, but also take time to enjoy the fruit of redemption won by Christ. It is the Sabbath rest, the contemplative enjoyment of the Good, the True, the Beautiful, which can assist our culture in recovering a receptivity to the lavish mercy of God, a child-like repose in His love. If we know we are loved, it is much easier to forgive, and forgo the desire for revenge.
A short drive north of Parliament Hill, nestled among the green hills of Gatineau Park, lies the estate of Mackenzie King. The former Prime Minister enjoyed the peace and beauty of this mountain retreat, far removed from the pressures of the government. A quiet walking path weaves along an escarpment with a breath-taking view of the Ottawa Valley. We do not know the subject of King's meditations, but this fresh outlook must have been restorative, a reminder that life in its essence is not squeezed between the four walls of the House of Commons, combatting arguments from the Opposition.
So much that surrounds us is a pure gift, if we only have the eyes to see it, the heart to receive it. Let us pray we can all recover this perspective during this anniversary year of the founding of our country, overcoming the politics of vengeance with a gesture a friendship, a human face, and a touch of grace.
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Convivium is not an expressly political magazine in the narrow sense of process, strategizing and marketing that has come to define what we think of as politics. But it most definitely does concern itself with the polis—the city—with that shared space where the common life of citizens is lived out.