The Most Important Part: A Plea to American Christians on Election Day

votersguide_logo2016It is four years since I wrote this post, long before most a this blog’s great readers have helped to make A Pilgrim in Narnia a unique conversational space. Thinking about Tuesday, I reread it today to see how my own views have shifted over time.

As it turns out, my views haven’t shifted at all. What has changed, though, is the tone of the American political conversation. What looked like rough and tumble in the Romney-Obama battle of 2012 now looks like a Black Friday Walmart price check.

As it stands now, we cannot say for sure who will become President on January 20, 2017 (though I am a secret fan of data analytics and have been testing the models). What seems certain is the result tomorrow will only serve to separate Americans even further. Some will contest  clear results. Some will react by seeking to drive the wedge of division even further. Some will begin different kinds of exiles, either by leaving behind American soil or by emotionally leaving behind the American project. A few will commit themselves to shaping a new kind of America, but very few, and perhaps not the right few. 

As Christians, who believe that our faith can bring hope that transforms the world, we cannot help but be moved by the conversation of the last few months. American evangelicals, in particular, have been torn up by this campaign–and by choices that challenge their understanding of faith, truth, and politics–in a way we haven’t seen since the late 1970s. It is a tough time.

As Christians, though, we share a citizenship beyond borders and beyond the seasons that seem so pressing in the moment. I want to resubmit this post as a reminder of what we share, and what will still be true on Wednesday morning. It is also interesting that during this election there was a fake Screwtape meme. This post, copied and pasted from 4 years ago, should set that pretty unimportant record straight.

Americans will go to the polls today and will elect “the leader of the free world”—the promotion the President of the United States gets in Hollywood films. As a denizen of this same free world, I am surprisingly unable to vote. Despite the fact that the entire globe is impacted by today’s vote, it is a tremendously local affair.

And it is an affair that the locals take seriously. Many of my American friends are quite passionate about expressing their partisan voices. Whether Democratic or Republican, the Americans I know are much more open about sharing their political leanings than my fellow Canadians. This passion is increasing, I think. As each election passes—and there seems to be an election in the U.S. every few months—the rhetoric grows exponentially more intense as this election is the one that will make or break America (and the world as we know it).

It is not only the intensity of the moment that is growing, but the inability of the political voices I hear to understand how anyone could possibly vote ____________ (insert your least preferred party name here). Obama is the anti-Christ, and Romney the whore of Babylon, from what I hear. Obama uses Lenin’s dentist, and Romney is the bastard son of Ayn Rand. Obama hates people who love freedom and Romney hates  people who aren’t rich–which adds up to a lot of people! The 99% are, apparently, 100% sure of their positions.

Now, I do get it. I understand why people get upset and invest so much in party politics. I have trouble understanding how people can be so committed to a political system based one or two key issues, but in a democratic society we get to choose. Neither party satisfies me, honestly. But, of course, I don’t get to choose—I’m Canadian, remember. So I want you Americans to choose well. I want you to get involved in the process, throw yourself into the system, think intelligently about the issues, and then passionately draw others into the moment of seeing things from your angle. I grew up in a family of politicians. I get it.

I would like to offer a caution to Christians on this path, however. If you are authentically invested in your Christian faith, you will vote (or volunteer for a candidate, or run for office) in such a way that you express your Christian worldview. You may find a party or candidate that best reflects your understanding of faith as it works out in your community. As you do this, though, do not forget what is “the most important part.”

In his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon, Screwtape, is offering advice during a time of war to a junior demon, his nephew Wormwood. Wormwood has asked his uncle whether he should encourage his patient (the man he is trying to tempt into hell) to be a Patriot or a Pacifist—quite sensitive positions at a time when a Patriotic party (the National Socialists of Germany) were at war with England. To be a Patriot was to stand behind England but risk the same errors of their enemies; to be a Pacifist was to turn one’s back against neighbours who had just sent their beloved sons to war. It is an important fork in the ideological road, and Wormwood wants to know which road will most likely lead to destruction.

Screwtape, however, is not impressed with either path in and of itself. The ability to draw a soul into destruction, according to the senior demon, did not rest upon getting him to choose a particular path, but getting him to choose that path in a particular way. “All extremes,” Screwtape argues, “except extreme devotion to the Enemy [i.e., God], are to be encouraged.”

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

In today’s partisan culture, we could easily make some substitutions for Patriotism and Pacifism: Left and Right, Conservative and Liberal, Progressive and Traditional, Republican and Democrat. Any of these dichotomies can threaten to come to the centre of our faith-perspective, with commitment to these expressions being essential to our Christian practice. Screwtape paints a picture of what it looks like when one makes these extremes central to faith, when we make our Cause “the most important part” of our faith:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, crusades [and blogs like these], matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here….

In the community sphere, all of these extremes lead to these further dichotomies: Right and Wrong, In and Out, and, of course, Me and You, Us and Them—the kinds of things we fight wars over. But in one’s spiritual life, the subtle shift of our favourite Cause to the centre of Christian faith is spiritually deadly. It makes our Christianity the means to an end—whether that end is personal fulfilment, community betterment, family security, or societal revolution. Once we have done that, I believe, we’ve left the Christian faith and converted to whatever “ism” we thought, some time before when our faith was young, best expressed the things central to the heart of God for our world. It is a tragic, and increasingly common, exchange.

Parties and Presidents, cultures and civilizations: these things will come and go, and future generations will judge us by whatever lenses they use to view their world. Being a Christian bigger than this election, bigger than this Now that seems to dominate. American Christians: I encourage you to choose well, not least because the entire world will experience the benefits and deficits of your choice. But as you choose, remember that your choice is the expression of your faith, and not the determinant of it.

For in the end, I don’t believe Christians are called primarily to Conservativism or Liberalism, but to Faithfulness.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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17 Responses to The Most Important Part: A Plea to American Christians on Election Day

  1. Mary Moylan says:

    Faithfullness is what all christians are indeed called to, but that also involves choosing to vote for candidates who are closest to the moral ideals of Jesus. In this election, there is no question of which platform is closest (not identical because that would be impossible). The problem comes in when christians don’t take the time to look deeply into the candidates positions and actions and instead allow themselves to be manipulated by soundbytes and headlines, and then act by emotion. Sadly this ’emotion’ too often replaces the faithfulness of which you write. I would bring up the ‘engine’ of the press that CS Lewis also writes of in ‘That Hideous Strength’ which so easily manipulated the populace, so easily, in fact, the evil side was surprised. In short, if a christian truly is faithful, he/she will take the time to seriously look at and ponder the candidates and not be ruled by shallow emotions, ieading to the wringing of hands and the refusal to vote for an imperfect candidate, thus allowing greater evil to take hold. Let us pray this will not happen on Nov. 8, 2016.


    • I think you are right both on the process of decision and by the main influences for decision (i.e., media as the priests that bring us knowledge, instead of sourcing things our self, as an example). There is also an overlap of allegiance that doesn’t always get questioned. For example, one view is more credible in the south and another in the north. One view is more credible for conservative Christians and another for progressives. The inability of a person to see past his/her contextual credibility structures is a problem.
      On the question of what platform or candidate is closer, there are different ways to look at it. Looking through the lens of the Beatitudes will give us different metrics than through the lens of religious freedom or liberation for the weakest of us (like refugees or the unborn). Based on surveys by folk like Pew and Barna (who actually know how to survey religious people), American Christians as a whole do not agree that there is a clear choice–even if there are clear differences.
      I am a professor, a pastor, and a cultural theologian. My role is not to steal from people the process of difficult thinking by getting them to the moment of decision. I am one who is working on those credibility structures to inform the process, rather than the end. While it is important for you to share your opinion, on this one it is unfair for me to do so because of what I am called to do in this world.
      And, yes, pray.


  2. L.A. Smith says:

    Amen to this, Brenton. I will be watching and praying on Nov. 8th, but not voting, as I am not American either. May God bring wisdom to His people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I keep meaning to brush up – and read more – about the history of Roman citizenship. St. Paul seems to have possessed it (Acts 16:37-38, 22:25-29), as St. Peter and Jesus (the Pantocrator!) did not. What was the scope of Roman citizens voting, at that point, in contrast to non-citizens ‘subject’ to Roman Procurator or a sort of ‘client king’ – in their own homeland? We don’t know exactly when Sts. Peter and Paul died – presumably killed by the Romans in both cases. But probably around the same time, Nero had been deposed by the Senate – and in some sense – People of Rome: the sort of thing Roman citizens could do, circumstances permitting (which they seldom did).

    I have a collection of Canadian essays, with George Grant among the contributors, entitled The New Romans – by which it means, guess who? Grant often used the language of ‘Empire’ with reference to ‘the Great Republic’, tartly discussing Canada’s place in it, among various other countries, including the UK (!) Who is ‘under the sway’ of whom, in what way(s), and surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, nonetheless unable to vote, for what or whom?

    Which somehow reminds me of a fascinating lecture on YouTube, “Military History Night with author Bill Galbraith on ‘John Buchan: Model Governor General'”, very much concerned with Buchan as Governor General of Canada under new circumstances.


    • I know a little, David. Roman Citizenship was:
      1. Given at birth
      2. Granted through political connection
      3. Granted to officers who retire to a free city
      4. Purchased by the merchant and aristocratic classes–often because they provide services to the army or crown.
      Citizenship gave them the basic rights we expect–a right to the courts, due process, free landholding, independence of movement, etc. It was key for Paul, but he was still martyred in the end (prob. by Nero, like Peter–James was assassinated).
      Leave it to George Grant to pretend that Canada levels up at the international table!


  4. L. Palmer says:

    I had a conversation with a friend of mine from my religion questioning whether we were liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats – both moderate, but leaning one way or the other. I’m currently having a hard time with certain political parties claiming they uphold certain ideals and then taking actions which undermine those ideals.
    While the public rhetoric is divided, I am also seeking to find ways to unite us. I feel if I can strive to practice even-handed and open-minded conversations in a spirit of kindness, that we can use the underlying Christian values most share – whether they are religious or not – to build the bridges.
    On a side note, the partisan issues we are facing today are frustrating, but at least politics aren’t like in the 19th century where arguments were settled by duels and some congress members physically attacked others while in the public chamber.


  5. I greatly appreciate this post. I strongly agree; I just got back from voting, the only way my faith would allow me to, and while I’ve spoken to a number of Christians in the last few weeks that reject this view (talking about the political disaster that will result if we let candidate X or Y be elected, and scoffing at the notion that obedience to Christ could call for anything that doesn’t agree with that political strategizing), it is good to see a godly worldview espoused here.


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    If we can count week by week from 2 May 1941, Letter 7 (which you quote) would have appeared on 13 June, nine days before the Nazi-Soviet Treaty of Non-Aggression (in force since 23 August 1939) ended with the German invasion of the USSR. In your “How Screwtape was Introduced to the World” post of 25 April 2016 (where I went to check publication dates) you note “Meditation on the Third Commandment” (Jan 10, 1941) as the last of three pieces Lewis published in The Guardian prior to Screwtape. That is an interesting article to reread and ponder in the context of this post (as well as just about anytime, as far as I can see!).

    In it, he imagines Philarchus and Spartacus as British Christians the first of whom thinks “Fascism not so much an evil as a good thing perverted” and the second of whom is “certain that the ‘historical Jesus’, long betrayed by the Apostles, the fathers, and the Churches, demands of us a Left revolution.” Yet they, among others, are imagined to “come together to form a Christian Party.” This is interesting at a point when the Nazis and the Marxist-Leninists had in fact come together successfully to destroy Poland in the first place, and with world-wide repercussions of various sorts and sizes, such as Ron Radosh notes in a 25 November 2015 review of the film, Trumbo, about the author whose novel, Johnny Got His Gun, “is about a World War I veteran who lost his arms, legs and eyesight in the war, and who cannot talk. The gruesome novel was meant as an anti-war statement. The Communist newspaper The Daily Worker serialized it during the years of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Aug. 23, 1939 to June 22, 1941) when the Soviet line was for America to stay out of the war. When Nazi Germany broke the pact the Communist Party line changed, from calling FDR an ‘imperialist’ and Churchill a warmonger, to demanding military intervention and an alliance with the Soviet Union. Trumbo immediately scurried to withdraw the book from circulation, and bookstores were ordered to send their copies back to the publisher.”

    Lewis’s imagined Party has a third strand, that of Stativus, who “is tempted to accept aid from the champions of the status quo whose commercial or imperial motives bear hardly even a veneer of theism.” With these three strands, Lewis supposes, “Either a deadlock ensues […] or else one if the three succeeds in floating a part and driving the other two, with their followers, out of its ranks.” He adds that, whichever ‘wins’, the resulting ‘Christian Party’ will, in practice, “ave to attach itself to the un-Christian party nearest to it in beliefs about means”, continuing, “It remains to ask how the resulting situation will differ from that in which Christians find themselves today.” I leave his answer to recommended (re)reading. The Nazis and Soviets mutually accomplished a lot of self-aggrandizing destruction before they reached “deadlock”. Then, in effect, Stativus allied with Spartacus against Philarchus in the ‘same old way’ of working with “champions of the status quo” now allied to the One-Party-State ultimately demanding “of us a Left revolution.”

    The Inklings in their various ways and varying degrees were involved in that war effort as Patriots rather than Pacifists (in we work with that distinction), so far as I can see trying to find their way as best they could as Christians.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Corrections: “one of the three succeeds in floating a party”; “have to attach”; “if we” (!)


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Interesting to juxtapose to Stativus, Spartacus, and Philarchus (not in any exact order or correspondence) are Straik and the Catholic priest (whose name and place(s?) of appearance I cannot exactly remember!) in That Hideous Strength: both working in the same organization, NICE.


    • David, I never acknowledged what a cool thought this was. You supplied a lot of background to the 3rd Commandment essay that I hadn’t considered. Well done!


  7. Pingback: How to Pray for America on Election Day | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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