Volume 7, Issue 1, September 1997


Anyone who isn't interested in politics isn't religious.

Politics affects almost every area of ones life. Who we vote for influences the running of our community, the care and attention given to us as citizens, how we treat our needy, and what we do with our resources.

Politics even affect our religion. Our love toward our neighbour, our loyalty to our God, our religious motivation, are empowered or diminished by our politics.

"We owe each other love, and the action that flows from that. We express that love in deeds, in actions, in laws, institutions, entitlements," declared the former premier of Ontario, Bob Rae. The religious person has a deep concern for the welfare of others, especially the poor and the disadvantaged.

"Politics in Canada has always been the art of making the necessary possible," wrote Canadian author Peter C. Newman. The fathers of the Canadian Confederation spoke of "peace, order, and good government," not of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Peace, order, good government, these sound like goals that can be attained with diligence and prudence. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are transcendental goals. It is as though the boredoms and frustrations of social life, inequality and exploitation, subjection and domination, all that seems to stand between us and the realization of the good society, can be overcome by a single liberating act. The pursuit of transcendental goals may breed violence, often rhetorical, sometimes physical. So declares the historian, J.M. Cameron.

The religious person wants to do all he or she can to try to help one another out of sheer humanitarian impulses. Christians who have experienced the divine love which inspired the first Christians have an obsession to reach out and help their needy neighbours.

The New Testament tells a story about "a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and lead a life of daily luxury. And there was a poor man called Lazarus who was put down at his gate. He was covered with sores. He used to long to be fed with the scraps from the rich man's table." (St. Luke 16:19f).

There is a picture of our world now. Some of us suffer needs our richer neighbours do not suffer, and all of see thousands who are very much worse off than the worst of us. At our doors lies a needy multitude requiring our assistance.

We may well declare that we did not put them where they are, therefore they are no responsibility of ours. We are not stealing the food of those unemployed or on welfare. We gave the poor no invitation to look to us for assistance.

The more we can avoid thinking about the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, staying within our borders, living our own lives, the less pain they cause us. However, such a position sometimes makes one a bit angry that someone isn't doing something about the problem of poverty and disadvantagement.

Religion cures us of blindness, compelling us to see our needy neighbour. It causes us to see the pleading faces of those in need of our help.

In the New Testament story both men died. However, the poor man was more justified after death than the rich, non-caring man. When death comes to us, as it does to all of us, how awful to think, or have others think, of what we might have done and might have been, the opportunities forever lost, the human relationships neglected, the stirrings of conscience that used to come but then were smothered until they came no more. When it is too late we may wish that all were different, wish that the light of the spirit had been kept burning in our souls.

Religion leads us to clean up the dirt - wherever we find it - also in political life. "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good people do nothing," said Edmund Burke.

We can have a tremendous influence in politics by informing ourselves on the issues and voting responsibly and by taking part in local politics. And the higher one goes, the more influence one can exert.

Politicians have great responsibility, but also great opportunity, and with our help and guidance can be powerful leaven in the affairs of humanity.

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.