It was just minutes after the 2020 US presidential election was called for Joe Biden that Van Jones, a political commentator, lawyer and founder of various non-profit organisations, tearfully gave his first comments about the fact that a new president had been elected: “It’s easier to be a parent this morning. It’s easier to be a dad. It’s easier to tell your kids that character matters. The truth matters. Being a good person matters.”
Jones was relieved for something more than just Donald Trump’s failure to get re-elected. Trump’s election four years ago and the close race that this year’s election proved to be, manifest something worrying that goes even beyond the US’ borders. Perhaps we are at a point where character, truth and goodness do not matter so much anymore, or perhaps these ideals have become relative to other more urgent things we are looking for.
Jones was right, character does matter. It matters what kind of person I wish to be, how others might be affected by my choices, how I use my authority and how much I am willing to give life to others instead of just seeing them as mere instruments for the sake of my individual interests.
Every Christian has to come to the consciousness that an inner battle is being waged all the time in his or her heart. It is a battle between self-centredness and self-giving love. In St Paul’s language, it is a battle between the old and new self. It is not a battle the Christian fights alone or with the sheer force of the will. If it were so it would be a battle long lost. Unless a constant renewal is in place, a transformation at the level of the heart, there can be no ethical improvements. Only a new self can manifest a different way of speaking, choosing, working and living within our human communities.
Our ethical discourse has long been reduced to hammering out ‘a good individual’. Starting from abstract values we have attempted (and failed) to construct an ideal way of living. The bad news is that nobody wants to be moulded according to some moral form. Such moulds are only an oppression or the perfect smokescreen for self-justification.
Who will show us a new way? Who will go beyond an abstract ethos and incarnate a life that is not self-centred? Who can convince us that character does matter?
Christians have been sent in the world like yeast inside dough, like salt in food or like stars in the night sky, always meant to be a minority. They have not been given a political manifesto, nor do they follow a set of rules different from their fellow citizens. What is different about them (or what should be different) is the new life they have received in their baptism, a life that needs constant nourishment to be sustained. They have been set free so that the fear of death (source of all egoism) would not control them anymore.
Perhaps we do not need Christian political candidates or representatives who promise to protect ‘Christian values’. We need concrete manifestations of people who are driven by a new hidden identity, as beloved sons and daughters of God, for the life of the world.
Fr Alexander Zammit, member, Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP)
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