Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Providence, Probability, and Politics

Being a heretic does have it's advantages.

Take, for example, this particular hypothetical.

Imagine, for a moment, that America had elected a president who lacked any moral core.  It's a stretch, I know.  But hear me out.

This hypothetical president would be a boor and a brute, a petty troll of a man.  He would be serially unfaithful, profane, and a pathological liar, exhibiting none of the moral virtues of authentic Christian life.  He'd have odd connections with foreign powers, and flagrantly defy the standards and norms used to prevent the corrupt from gaining power.  As I'd envision this imaginary person, he'd exhibit none of the moral virtues of any culture or faith, with the possible exception of LaVeyan Satanism.  And even there, he'd be pushing it.

Now imagine that he'd promised American Christianity...not the sweet fading oldline, but the megachurch evangelical movement that now defines the faith in the United States...complete "protection" of their political agenda.  Every one of their material goals, he'd pursue.  All they have to do is give him power.

He would not, in his words or deeds, actually hold or live out those values, sure.  But he's offered the world, and Lord, that's a hard offer to turn down.

If you view Creation as linear and divine providence as holding only one possible outcome, supporting such a leader would not be difficult as a Christian.

You have a political goal, which you honestly believe to be part of God's singular purpose.  You trust that God is completely in charge of everything, and by "everything" you mean the One Great Story He is telling.  From that basis, you can look at this human being who bears none of the marks of Christian morality, and say...huh.  God works in mysterious ways.  Maybe this is how He's getting it done.  The workings of providence are known only to God, after all.  Sure, this guy seems immoral and brutish and venal.  But, or so traditional and deterministic providence permits, we must be otherwise on track towards God's intent.

There is a logic to this.  It isn't stupid.  It isn't necessarily evil, although it tolerates evil.

It simply assumes that what appears to be very wrong right now can be part of a larger plan.

That isn't my theology.  I used to hold to a version of it, being that I grew up in a Reformed and Calvinistic tradition.

I set that aside, years ago, as an offense both God's creative power and divine sovereignty.

Instead, I view God's work as encompassing an infinite multiverse in which everything is made manifest, and where the liberty and agency of sentient beings is integrated into God's manifold providence.  From that perspective, things look a little different.  In the case of our hypothetical president, this creates two key differentials.

First, if every situation contains within it the seed for every possible outcome, then Christian moral action isn't just about one's "end."  It is equally...and perhaps more intensely...about living out the Kingdom right now.  There are patterns of being and thought that conform me to Jesus, and I must live them out no matter what.  That's my duty as a follower of Jesus.

The outcome of my actions, ever uncertain and shrouded in the irreduceable complexity of God's creative work?  That's of less significance to my choosing than the Spirit and the moment.  I do not know with certainty if my moral action will bear fruit.  I cannot.  So you choose the right, right now.  To the best of your ability, you speak the truth, and do what is kind and honorable, no matter what.

You don't give power or encouragement to the cruel, or the callous, or the braggart, because that's a violation of Christian moral duty.  Every moment, every single one, is precious to...or a horror to...God. 

Second, multiversal ethics require a different frameset for considering the future.  If the future is not set, but open, you choose from probability.  Again, none of it is certain, and it is subordinate to duty.  But with every action, you are morally obligated to consider the most likely potential outcome.  Not the dream.  Not the fantasy.  Not the self-serving rationalization.  But the most likely outcome.

If you elect an amoral fool, it is possible God's best graces for America might manifest.  A blusterous bullying debt-addled sybarite could possibly through random happenstance create moral and economic growth in a nation.  Similarly, if you chug a fifth of Pappy Van Winkle and then get behind the wheel of a 2018 Dodge Challenger...Hellcat, with over seven hundred snorting, tire-melting horsepower...you might possibly make it home just fine.

The Lord God who makes and does all things knows what those unlikely realities would look like should they occur.

But from a moral framework that rests not on rigid linearity but on probability, it ain't likely.  It is highly improbable.

What is considerably more likely, considering the Bayesian priors when making a probabilistic decision, is that you'll run that Hellcat off the road.  Or wrap it around a tree.  Or, if you're lucky, get pulled by the cops before you kill someone. 

And if you elect a fool, most potential futures involve that fool making a total mess of things.  Someone with a cavalier and self-serving attitude towards debt will make a debt slave of our nation.  Someone whose "work" tends to involve greed, appetite, and chaos-muppet flailing is more likely stumble into disaster.  Someone who is fundamentally untrustworthy in both their business and personal dealings will do damage to the mutual trust that must exist for a nation to be healthy of spirit.

Or it could be worse.  Far, far worse.

If you're oblivious to the dialectic between duty and possibility, and choose to ignore the shaping energies that arise from that dynamic tension, you will choose wrongly.  You will sacrifice both your integrity in the now and the most gracious possible future.

That's the fat wide path we have chosen, blind to both our moral obligation and the likely result.

And the Lord who made and knows all things respects the freedom of persons...and nations...to choose the wrong, and to fail.