Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Presidential Election That Almost Was... Or Why It's Difficult for Me to Vote, 2

True to form, many of the respondents to these posts will immediately launch into either their support or disavowal of the candidate in question. There will be right and loud concern about abortion; and the point of the post will be missed. There will be right and loud concern about the economy or the war; and the point of the post will be missed.

Let me put it this way: I think advancement on the abortion front and on the war front and on the economic front and every other front depends on Americans embracing a biblical view of humanity and human life.

Now before you say, "Right!" let me hasten to add that we can think of that statement in a purely tactical way (elect more pro-this or pro-that politicians), and/or we can think about that premise in its relation to the deep structure of culture, the strata of thinking and being from which tactical decisions sprout. We'll certainly do the tactical; but doing the tactical doesn't accomplish the latter. The latter requires we think differently about the nature of life in the abstract and about the nature of our lives and identities in particular. Such a re-thinking holds promise for all the tactical concerns--not only abortion but also for social justice writ large, just war theory in a paramilitary and terrorist era, and economic security. Who we are--or who we think we are--determines our position on all of these issues. If we achieve tactical victories without winning this deeper ground, our tactical victories will always be tentative. They will be victories, but they will always be threatened because of the more fundamental problem of unregenerate humanity and the unexamined self.

We'll miss this opportunity if we don't reflect more widely and deeply on the potentially seismic shifts before us. And the point of these posts (be it a weak or strong point; I'm not sure) is that these shifts are worth thinking about beyond the tactical.

The candidacy of John McCain presents one such opportunity for re-evaluation. Almost from the time he announced his primary bid, and certainly by the time he was emerging as the frontrunner, questions about his age abounded. Is he too old? Can he withstand the demands of the campaign trail and the office? What if he dies in office?

But these questions beg other questions. What do we really think about the potential and place of octogenarians (or almost octogenarians in McCain's case)? As a society, do we think older persons have any significant role to play? Or, do we imagine that age (at least past a certain artificial point, say 65) is a debilitating condition that gives more trouble than help? Have we forgotten that it really requires strength to make it to and to live in old age?

I think the McCain candidacy has potential for sparking conversation about these matters. And if I were an elder in the country, I'd be particularly interested to make sure that conversation was held, that seniors were seen as more than a tribal voting block necessary to please because of their voting record. Isn't there a loftier vision for elders? Do we not imagine a life and society that gives greater prominence to and gratitude for our elders than that?

Many people disdain or romanticize "tribal" cultures and traditions. But one thing seems patently clear to me: the "developed" world does not love its elders as well as the "developing" world.

I know. That's a sweeping statement. But it's not without merit.

It used to be that elder members of the family remained in the family home until the Lord called them home. Now they're stored in "retirement communities" where sometimes they're abused and often abandoned. A vision for intergenerational family has shrunk to parents and kids, the so-called "nuclear family." And that vision has in fact become nuclear for many older persons. They're exploded right out of the family, increasingly out of the community, and often out of our affections. Are we living up to our responsibility to care for our elders? Or is it really survival of the fittest--those Nike-clad, spandex-wearing young flocking to the nearest Bally's to "do battle" with the treadmill?

We should keep in mind that while abortion is on the front-burner of this election, not very long ago we were as a culture watching in stunned silence as Dr. Death promoted "physician assisted suicide" as an acceptable alternative to growing old and dying slowly. Our tendency to play God happens at both ends of the age spectrum. It's a bi-polar culture of death.

And even in the middle, age is largely viewed as an enemy. We want to delay it, slow it down, reverse it if possible. In the culture, women are no longer beautiful or sexy after about 30-something. They're no longer "leading ladies" or the subjects of romantic affection. Men last a little longer, but probably only because we write the Hollywood scripts and imagine that even as middle-aged, bald, fat guys "the chics still dig us." But the growth of the male beauty industry is an indication that men are afraid of age as well. In subtle and signficant ways, we despise old age.

Back to the election. Here comes a man in his 70s who is running with the young boys. He's full of fire and passion. Now too many people write that off as the 'cranky granddad' syndrome. But might it not deserve a second look? Not so much at McCain, but at ourselves. How do we value our elders? What do we think about growing old? What place do our elders have in our society? Are they relics? Or are they leaders? And by leaders I don't mean "advisors," but leaders.

Democrats have given us the first African-American presidential nominee. That's historic. Republicans have offered us the oldest presidential nominee. That's no less historic. Both candidacies prompt serious questions about who we are and the meaning of life. Dare we think about these things?


Hayden said...


Thank you, thank you!

I am a 'youth pastor' and have seen the disdain for those 'older' firsthand. Whatever happened to a Proverbs vision of old age and wisdom? I really think that we need to break down these barriers in the church before we can speak with any authority to the culture.

In the American church we segregate many activities from birth to death by age and that does not cultivate any sort of interaction between older and younger. It actually fosters a mistrust on both sides of the fence.

I find that many people who are demeaning McCain for his age are using it as a scare tactic. Questions like, 'What happens if he dies two months into office? oh no the 'hockey mom' will be in charge!'

We as the church need to demonstrate an affection for those who are older in years. We need to learn from their wisdom (which doesn't come automatically with age, but with faithful living for the Lord for many years). I call on churches to lead the way by not segregation the older generation from the younger generation. (Trust me, I have heard all of the arguments and they fall flat. Today's youth could learn much from the older generation if they would just listen)

The generations face sin in different manifestations in the culture but sin is still sin and the elderly have an important voice in helping young people grow in discernment!

OK I will get off of my soapbox now :)


PS I loved the line

'And that vision has in fact become nuclear for many older persons. They're exploded right out of the family, increasingly out of the community, and often out of our affections.'

It was stellar!

Anonymous said...

Removing the old landmarks, not honoring the ancient, not respecting life, etc,

Seems to be some of the symptoms of the adultlescent age, to use Piper,that we have come to.

Thabiti is correct. The problem is systemic, and not readily remedied by a vote, yes or no.

In fact it has never been the case, that the ills of our great country have eaver really been solved by the vote.

The dialectical process forehadowed by Hegels phenomenology, and implimented by social engineers,business, political and relgious, have found away to exploit this great system called democracy: to incrementally promote and advance change in the wrong direction.

And for Christians to seriously think, that the lesser of two evils repsonse is effective, is to disregard the facts.

There must be a return to a biblical process of cultural transformation.

But that work, might cause us to have to look too seriously at the problems in our own homes and Churches.

By Grace Alone,

GUNNY said...

I greatly appreciate the call to consider how we see age in this country.

I think the church tends to only value those folks with regard to giving and showing up, but rubbing elbows with a brother who's been walking with the Lord for 60 years has done wonders for me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, Thabiti. I'm not thrilled with either candidate this election year, although it is true and very notable that each man is an "historic" candidate, as you noted.

In the end, misgivings and all, I have to go with the candidate who will act most consistently to protect the lives of the unborn-- which, from what I can tell, means McCain. I have *no* misgivings about wanting to protect unborn lives.

On the subject of age, on a blog recently, I read a brother in the Lord referring to McCain as "McCain-o-saurus." I should have written to the brother about this sin, but I used the fact that I didn't know him personally, and the ever-present fear of man, to keep me from doing so-- to my shame.

John said...

Very good points sir. I was convicting while reading through them.