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Voting? Seriously? Capitalism anyone?

So, apparently it’s about time to vote again in the good old U.S. of A. and I, of course will not be voting.  And for the first time I’ve been castigated by a few of my acquaintances over my non-voting status.  I’m curious to see what people here might think about the whole matter.  Obviously for folks outside the U.S. there may be some different dynamics at play in how such questions are evaluated in various contexts.

Fundamentally, I simply find it ridiculous that Christians would consider voting in the U.S. a viable way of “making a difference”.  The “elections” that we have here are utterly obvious in how they are bought, regulated, and sold.  The idea that we can somehow “influence the system” by voting plumbs the depths of absurdity as far as I’m concerned.  It’s tantamount to saying that the early Christians should have tried to work within the “proper chanels” to influence the emperor, or the senate.  Or even more appropriately, its tantamount to the eight white religous leaders who told MLK to back off and go through “orderly” and “legal” chanels to bring about justice. 

I think that for many evangelical Christians in the U.S. the idea that you must “vote your conscience” is inseparable from the meaning of good citizenship.  (As and aside, if you find all that many issues or candidates that you can authentically “vote your conscience” on, then you’ve reached a level of moral clarity – or superficiality that is far beyond my humble abilities.)  At its core I feel that the common sensibility that we have a moral obligation to vote just utterly fails to acknowledge the way in which our entire “democratic process” is circumscribed within the framework of global capitalism.  The idea that we can influence the shape of our political-economic life by voting is ridiculous.  All of our elections are either determined in advance by who has the capital, or rendered innocuous by ensuring that candidates are fundamentally no different from one another.

As the chracter Mac said on a great episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Who am I going to vote for?  The Republican who’s going to blast me in the ass or the Democrat who’s blasting my ass?  Politics is just one giant ass-blast!”  Or, perhaps more poignantly, in a great episode of South Park, when the elementary school children are responsible for nominating the new animal for their school mascot (PETA forces them to dispense with their evil mascot, the South Park Cows, that’s why they need a new one).  So, Kyle tries gets everyone to write in “a giant douche” as their mascot, while Cartman tries to get everyone to vote for “a turd sandwich.”  In the meantime Stan gets sick of the whole process and elects not to vote, since he sees no difference between a douche and a turd.  He subsequently gets hunted down by P. Diddy and his “vote or die” posse and eventually exiled from the town for being undemocratic.  The show reaches its climax when Stan finally realizes that every election is a choice between a “douche and a turd” and he then comes on back and casts his vote for the turd sandwich only to see it beat out by the giant douche by some hundred-odd votes, leaving him still questioning the importance of voting.  Fortunately, the whole process is brought to a happy end when P. Diddy and his posse slaughter all the PETA members and South Park elementary is free to bring back the Cows as their mascot.

With Stan and Mac, I find the whole idea of voting in the U.S. to be pure theatrics.  The idea that who we vote for, rather than global capitalism actually determines the shape of our lives is just silly.  That’s why I’m not voting.  I’m trying instead to do what I think really matters in terms of reshaping human life in the face of global capitalism: participate in the re-shaping of human social relations in Christ.  Being the church, the place in which the human desires which stand deformed by the forces of production and consumption are healed and made whole is the most important political action that Christians can take. 


  1. Halden,

    I caught a preview of that CNN documentary “God’s Christian Warriors”. Did you watch the whole thing? Anyway, there was this one evangelical pastor who was preaching a sermon on a Christian’s civic duty. “Not voting is sin!” he said. I was horrified! I thought to myself, “What the hell was he preaching? He’s a moron!” This man is one of many other so-called Gospel Preachers caught up in the political wave being distracted from the mission of Gospel preaching.

    The Evangelical subculture is in serious danger being wed with political power. Why haven’t Christian learned history?

    I think the whole defense of marriage amendment is a sham. There are weightier matters than “voting values”. Everybody has values. Christians need to know more of the Savior than who’s sharing their values.

    Marriage to the Christian is not a contract, it is a holy God-ordained covenant.
    God doesn’t need us to defend a covenant He established. Evangelicals need to get their own house in order before trying to stop others from pursuing civil contracts. I affirm the traditional Church teaching on marriage being a binding covenant between one man and one woman. It would be apostate for the Church to recognize a union in which God has not ordained from the beginning.

    I am a registered Independent who voted for Bush in 2004. I regret it. There a whole lot of fear tactics in the Christian Right movement and it is paralyzing if one is not informed. But the Christian Left is no better. They jumped the “tolerance” bandwagon and compromised the core tenets of the Christian faith to advance progressive ideologies. Humans don’t need progress. We need Jesus. We need to be truly born again, of the Spirit.

    The Kingdom of Heaven is coming and we are busy too caught up living “here and now”. I don’t think I’m a pietist, but I do believe Christians live righteously in the here and now because our hearts are set on Jesus and His coming. We do good works towards all men for Christ’s sake, not for score points to earn God’s respect.
    Christians really need to be theologically educated about our true responsibility towards civic government.

    All in all, confessing the Lordship of Christ is enough politics for me. Great post and great Blog!

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  2. Daniel wrote:

    I have never voted either and do not know if I ever will. However, I do not think that my reasons are the same as yours. I suppose for one that I am not as disparaging of political processes as you seem to be (though I am somewhat disparaging). For instance, perhaps bigger than anything MLK accomplished was the Supreme Courts decision in Brown v Board of Education that was brought about entirely though legistlative processes. Of course, the Supreme Court that voted in favor of Brown was elected by various presidents who were elected by voting citizens. And of course, the recent decision by the Supreme Court to read the Brown decision as to not imply racial intergration of a certain type (turning Brown on its head according to many) was the consequece of voters who elected Bush who then appointed Justice Roberts and Alito.

    I am half black, am agnostic about affirmitive action, but I do realize that the new court will probably overturn much affimitive action legistlation
    that could be detrimental towards conditions that are more easily attained under the present intepretation of the law. So from a rational choice perspective (which I do not endorse, but is quite common in dicussions concerning voting) it is basically absurd for someone like me not to vote. Likewise, under the current regime my student loan interest have increased higher than ever before due to Bush´s recent measures regarding higher education.

    I do not know Halden what is at stake for you if you do not vote. Perhaps you think voting processes are so corrupt as to make your vote obselete or unnecessary. I can tell you, however, if a liberal candidate was voted in my affimative action rights would not be endanger, and my student loans would go down.

    Now how can the church, not working through secular channels bring about the changes you desire? Martin Luther King always used secular channels. The fact that the police often protected the civil rights marchers, that extra funds had to be spent to do this, etc. testifies to this (not to mention Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act).

    Now if you were a pastor (and maybe you are) how would you go about justifying your views on voting to someone who was say, poor and black. If the church without working through secular means can assist her more in this life than democratic processes then I would agree that there is no reason to vote. In the end, though, I have just as much reason for being disparaging of the church as in political processes.

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 5:29 pm | Permalink
  3. roflyer wrote:

    Good post, Halden.

    “Obviously for folks outside the U.S. there may be some different dynamics at play in how such questions are evaluated in various contexts.” What do you have in mind here?

    It is interesting. I always say it is relatively easy to be an “anarchist” in the U.S. because the gov’t doesn’t provide you with anything anyway. I found it much more difficult in Canada, which is by no means perfect, because the gov’t actually did something for the people.

    You are right that the voting process in the US is a complete sham and that capital almost completely controls the outcome. And perhaps this is true of Canada. In fact, it probably is. It is a very different political landscape with five parties (that are quite different) each getting a good share of votes.

    I don’t know. I tell people that I’m rooted for Kucinich, if Obama is on the Democratic ticket I’ll vote for the son of a bitch, but I will not vote for the war monger Hilary. I can’t do that in good conscience. I don’t know; I don’t think it really even matters. Obviously, voting shouldn’t be our primary mode of political action. But does it really hurt to cast a vote?

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  4. adamsteward wrote:

    I don’t do my voting under any kind of assumption that I’m going to change much in the world. Essentially, I feel like I’m being asked my opinion on the issues. In Oregon the ballot even shows up right in my mail box, basically saying, “Hey, what do you think about measure 49?” And I respond, “well, since you ask, it seems to me that it would be pretty bad faith on the part of the government to tell these people they can’t build their strip malls when they had already given them the permits, so I don’t think its a good idea.”

    Friday, November 2, 2007 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  5. bobby grow wrote:

    I’m having a hard time with voting this time too. I always have voted in the past, unfortunately I voted for Bush last time (if I hadn’t voted for him then I wouldn’t have voted at all). It’s apparent to me, at this point, that whether a candidate claims to be pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, etc. doesn’t really matter—nothing really changes (we are still living in a culture of death, i.e. abortion is still legal, etc.). I’m becoming very pessimistic this time around . . . I think I’ll cast my vote for Jesus, along with Halden.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 1:56 am | Permalink
  6. Pierre Benz wrote:

    I completely agree with you. Seeing as I am a German citizen living in South Africa, where I only have permanent residence status and thus can’t vote in South Africa, and I can’t vote in Germany cause I haven’t lived there. So for me the issue is pretty much solved. However, I probably also wouldn’t vote even if I had the chance.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 2:05 am | Permalink
  7. David wrote:

    I’m not American so this doesn’t really affect me per se, but as regards the issue of whether voting is a ‘duty’ I found this article my Alasdair Macintyre (written at the time of the last US election, I believe) very interesting.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 3:20 am | Permalink
  8. Lee wrote:

    The example of MLK is an odd one since one of the ultimate aims of the Civil Rights movement was to pass laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which required votes in congress, and which required congresspeople willing to vote for it and a president willing to sign it. It wasn’t like the civil disobedience magically resulted in a more just society by completely bypassing the “official channels.” So those two approaches are by no means mutually exclusive.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  9. I vote. I sometimes wish I had a great theological underpinning. But I don’t. This is, against my usual better judgment, an experiential choice.

    I lived/work/play/commune with the developmentally disabled. Some great Bush administration-driven choices caused Medicare prescription drugs to go from $0 to $5 a prescription in 2005. I’m sure W was thinking, “hell, I’m healthy as a horse, what’s $5 a month for Lipitor?”

    That is unless you can’t work, can’t get private insurance and, worst of all, can’t advocate for yourself. And when you’re on 20 different prescription meds, you’re screwed.

    I don’t vote because it’s my patriotic duty or because someone died for my right to vote. I don’t vote because I think things are going to radically change or because that’s the answer to all our ills.

    I vote because I want someone in office who will drop med prices back down to $0 a prescription.

    But mostly I vote because I’ve yet to see Christians organized to enact grassroots change in Portland (unlike when I was in Durham and was marginally participatory in Durham C.A.N part of the IAF movement). I vote because you aren’t giving me a good answer to how my friends are going to get their meds. I vote because you haven’t been donating to l’Arche. I vote because it’s easy for white Evangelical men who are making 30 cents more to my white female dollar and even more to the black female dollar to talk about not voting and manage to get away with ending the conversation there. Talk about living in the world as you want it to be without ever addressing how it actually is.

    Of course, when I say “you” I mean me. If you call yourself a Christian you are complicit in this. We are as complicit as those who vote, I would say more so.

    An influential moment for me in 2004 from ethics with Hauerwas: “I feel like I have to be accountable to you as my class. So I want you to know I voted for John Kerry. I voted for unchecked spending and the death of unborn babies. But this year I had to vote for a gentler foreign policy. And that’s what I did.”

    All this to say, I’m real tired of discipleship as political responsibility with no teeth. And I’m very tired of thinking you can ever get out of being complicit with powers.

    Saturday, November 3, 2007 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  10. Halden,

    I am an anarchist, and I vote. It sounds ridiculous, I know, and it probably is. You are right that America is in fact lead by capitalism, and that the only way we can hope to resist capitalism is by means of the Kingdom of God. These things are undoubtably true. I recognize that my vote is insignificant, and at least ostensibly, meaningless – this may have something to do with the fact that I always vote for losers, I know full well that those whom I vote for don’t have a snowflake’s chance of actually getting elected.
    I see my vote as a subversive act: when I vote my eyes are not on the interests of the nation-state, but on the interests of the Kingdom where my allegiances do lie. As a political body the church has an agenda which may or may not be opposed to america’s political agenda (okay, it is). Some of the churches political commitments: expanding our numbers, countering injustice, being an advocate for the oppressed (in the Bible, the widowed and the orphaned), and being an Eden/Heaven-valued people. The key here, for me, is that my allegiance is to Jesus; further, I use my rights as an american citizen to “smooth the path,” as it were, for the churches political agenda. Notice I did not say that I vote toward “christianizing” america, or that I use my votes to combat immorality, but that I vote so as to make the world a place wherein the church can more easily live out it’s purpose. Worship, missions, social justice, catholicity (ecumenical-ism); which candidate will make the world a place where we (the church) can do these things most easily?
    Its a fool’s errand, I know. If my voting has anything of worth, it is as a symbolic act, perhaps on par with placing a sticker on your bike. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

    Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  11. Scott Lenger wrote:

    “…early Christians should have tried to work within the ‘proper chanels’ to influence the emperor, or the senate.”

    Perfect example, I couldn’t agree more. I also think the private and individual nature of voting makes the whole process a little counter-intuitive to what the church is supposed to be.

    Monday, February 11, 2008 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

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