A plea for the Christian non vote – why you could choose not to vote this week

Who should I vote for? Who should Christians vote for?Are any of the parties any good?

With the general election looming closer and closer, and the prospect of some significant change at Westminster, there is a lot of talk around about who to vote for. In this post, I want to advocate the non vote.

In Christian circles I hear lots of people saying they want to vote for the candidate or party who best represent what they regard as ‘Christian principles’ in an attempt to reclaim a ‘Christian focus at the heart of government’.

But in my opinion this notion of Christianity at the heart of democratic politics makes no real sense. This is not easy for me to say, my background is one of committed democratic socialism, redistribution and so on. But in recent times I’ve come to see democracy as a fraud, and the underlying policies of military and economic aggression as profoundly anti-christian.

To tackle democracy as a concept first, I think its easiest to explain it thus: we dont accept dictatorship – the rule of one individual, nor yet oligarchy, the rule of the elite, instead we call for democracy – the rule of the people, which in our case we administer by means of a majority vote. This means on a small scale that if ten people vote, and six of them choose one way, and four another, then the four who are overruled have to give in to the six. The greater the numbers, the more people who have to submit to the majority opinion. I dont see this as much better than rule by an elite to be honest, hypothetically if those six people are weak minded or easily impressed, and the four saw through the spin, why should they submit to being ruled by the majority decision?

My other discomfort with democracy is that I feel its a veneer, as Douglas Adams (I think) described it – it’s there to make you think somebody is in control. What he meant is that it gives us an illusion of power, wheras in reality the power in our country is exerted by economic forces. Yes the governments can tinker with things which are relatively important, but they must work within a closely defined set of parameters.

Governments dont really have the power to go against the economic power houses which have become totally entrenched in society. Its these same economic powers, institutions and corporations which are often richer than many governments, which maintain the levels of global inequality through the delights of the capitalist system.

Voting then gives us an illusion of control over a system which at its core is not controllable by one government, unless its some kind of militaristic dictatorship (not a good option).

So to vote then is to legitimise the system, and to allow it to function in your name. The non vote is a vote against the sham of democracy. I apologise to those who feel democracy is hard won, whether by suffragettes or soldiers, sadly I dont think that their great sacrifice means that we should legitimise this flawed system.

On the other point, that of the party policies. There are no parties which are against the killing of others under certain circumstances. I recognise that I am very much in a minority as a pacifist, but in my opinion to vote is to legitimise the kind of wars which are waged around the globe, and that means to have blood on ones hands.

I have no interest in having blood on my hands, I dont think its loving to go to war, and I dont want to support any government that will do so.

My final point is on this idea of a ‘Christian society’. I think this is a false utopia. The church shoud not be at the centre, but at the margins, not being the establishment voice but the outsider voice. Yes we should be working to help the poor and dispossessed, but our voice is not strengthened by wealth, power and privelige. I dont think we should be trying to recreate a ‘golden age’ (if one ever existed) Christian society, but instead re-finding our place among the poor and outcast, the refugee and outsider, and making our home there.

So that’s a long way of saying that I wont be voting on Thursday, I may go and spoil my ballot, but I may not even do that, for that in its way is to legitimise the system. I dont expect more than about one or two readers of this blog to agree with me, but in case you are wondering who to vote for this week, I urge you to consider not voting at all.

By the way, apologies for the lack of posts recently, I have one wrist in plaster, which is making typing very hard indeed.  Ho hum.

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11 thoughts on “A plea for the Christian non vote – why you could choose not to vote this week

  1. Well put Simon. And an important reminder that the Church should be on the margins. The Church has an incredibly poor track record when it comes to holding the reigns of power.

  2. I also think that voting for someone who will most reliably say that they are a Christian is a terrible mistake. That’s how the USA got Bush – because Christians voted for him. We need to vote for the people we think will do the best job of administering our country. Our country is a secular country, so that will sometimes mean electing people who aren’t Christian.

    According to Christianity, God provides people with freedom to act in ways contrary to His will, so any government, Christian or not, should, using Gods actions as a template of what love is, also provide people with that freedom.

    In the early church, they had a government that was far worse than ours, but they prayed for the leaders and obeyed the laws in so far as they were compatible with their faith.

    Personally I think that we all have a responsibility to vote. If you really want to say that all democracies are necessarily war mongering, you should provide stronger arguments, because there are plenty that don’t seem to be. To me, voting is a small way you can help move this country closer to your ideal. Voting isn’t legitimising war, not voting is, because by not voting you’re saying that you don’t care who runs your country. If you really care, put yourself forward as a candidate. There’s too little choice as it is at the moment, we don’t want viewpoints like yours excluding themselves from the debate.

    If you don’t like the choices you’re given now, vote for a party that will change the system and give you more choices.

    Also, if you are still convinced that you shouldn’t vote, then at least go to the booth and spoil your ballot paper. Staying home is not a protest vote, it’s a sign of apathy.

    1. Good to hear a dissenting voice 🙂

      To briefly tackle a couple of your points (and ignore/dodge the others):

      “The early church prayed for their leaders”

      yes, so should we, I have no argument with that. We should pray for the right decisions, people of conscience and so on. That doesnt however equate with supporting them in a political way, and we can still say ‘I love and pray for you’ to someone whose role we fundamentally disagree with.

      “Personally I think that we all have a responsibility to vote”

      I’d love to hear a good justification of this, I don’t find your statements convincing, and I’m sure you could come up with a better argument – so please do, I’d genuinely like to hear it.

      “If you really want to say that all democracies are necessarily war mongering, you should provide stronger arguments, because there are plenty that don’t seem to be.”

      My evidence is simple, all the text books will tell you that the state is founded upon the principle that it has the monopoly on legitimate force/violence. My argument is that for a Christian, there is no such thing. How then can I support such an institution? Surely it must be, according to my conscience, a question of ‘not in my name’.

      “Voting isn’t legitimising war, not voting is, because by not voting you’re saying that you don’t care who runs your country.”

      Voting IS legitimising war, if you recognise the fact that the state reserves the right to go to war if it feels it has to. By voting, you are giving that mandate. Not voting, according to principle rather than apathy, isn’t saying ‘I don’t care’ it’s saying ‘I care very much, too much to hand my suport to you’. Actually I am ‘politically active’, in terms of my personal involvement with issues and people at a local, and occasionally wider, level.

      “If you really care, put yourself forward as a candidate. There’s too little choice as it is at the moment, we don’t want viewpoints like yours excluding themselves from the debate.”

      I have thought about this in truth, but a) I think the democratic system is hopelessly flawed; b) I’d lose my deposit, who’d vote for a candidate who says ‘I want to dismantle the system’; c) if I was elected, I would be powerless to make the changes I would want; d) if I were elected, the power would probably go to my head and corrupt me.

      “vote for a party that will change the system”

      no party can change this system, its not a question of bringing in PR, its about changing who has the power, which would take some kind of global revolution.

      “Staying home is not a protest vote, it’s a sign of apathy”

      in my case it’s genuinely not apathy, it’s a rejection of the system, perhaps its wrong, childish, petulant and misguided, or just maybe its the only way to respond to this situation.

      1. all the text books will tell you that the state is founded upon the principle that it has the monopoly on legitimate force/violence. My argument is that for a Christian, there is no such thing.

        You appear to be conflating two things. Violence against those within society who refuse to obey its laws, and violence against other societies. It’s quite possible for a state to restrict itself to only the first. If you feel that is immoral in itself, then fair enough, but that’s a much harder argument – don’t try to fool people into thinking they agree with you on the basis of their disagreement with the second.

        I’d also welcome any kind of biblical reference to support your contention. The OT Hebrew society had both forms of violence, and it was not spoken against by Jesus or any of his disciples (who restricted themselves to how individuals should behave rather than states).

        Voting IS legitimising war, if you recognise the fact that the state reserves the right to go to war if it feels it has to.

        No. Recognising that the state has the right to go to war if it feels it has to is legitimising violence. It’s quite possible to vote and deny that.

        By not voting, you are not refusing to hand your support to someone, you are in fact increasing the influence of the crazies on the other side of the argument. If pacifists refuse to try to shape society in their direction by voting and fielding candidates then they have only themselves to blame when the only people prepared to make their voice heard are those who love war. Maybe you think that not voting is not legitimising war, but it’s only common sense that if pacifists don’t vote or field candidates, it makes war more likely. So now you’re taking an idealistic stance that in fact causes society to move in the opposite direction to your ideals.

        I agree that Democracy is hopelessly flawed, however I find myself agreeing with Winston Churchill on this: Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.

        You might not think it, but you actually are apathetic, so perhaps it’s right that you stay home and not vote. You suggest that political acts such as voting are futile, and it doesn’t really matter who governs the country. That’s apathy.

        If you want to register your disapproval of the system, staying at home is exactly the wrong thing to do. Consider the company you keep with people who also don’t vote. Those who are too busy consuming to even have an opinion. A non-vote is success for the entrenched interests that want to manipulate society, because it tells them that they’ve succeeded in making you not care. Only a spoilt ballot shows that you care enough to get off your chair and say that you aren’t happy.

      2. My understanding of Weber (and as a non German scholar, I rely on others for translation) is that he means violence or coercive force, in as much as an entity which allows private armies or militias to operate in or from it, is not an operating state. The state therefore has an army for the defence of it, its citizens and their interests. This, I think, is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus. I understand the theology of ‘just war’ but I humbly disagree with it. Perhaps I’m guilty of conflation, but I dont think so.

        Your second point rather backs me up I think, Jesus moves us away from the idea that the state or nation is so important, and treats us all as individuals, belonging to his kingdom. That’s how he operates, out of love and forgiveness, and prefering the needs of others, and calls us to do likewise.

        I too agree with Churchill, except I also agree with Chesterton who said that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

        In terms of apathy, I think here you are guilty of wrongful definition – apathy is a lack of interest and/or motivation. I am highly interested and highly motivated, hence this discussion. I just refuse the options Ihave been offered, and prefer to take a personal approach to politics.

        You may still be right about spoiling the ballot, however I am still inclined not to participate. One thing that’s always discussed is voter turnout. If indeed we all refused to turnout, then the system would have to be addressed.

        Yes, I am an idealist, that doesnt seem likely to change…

  3. My argument is that for a Christian, there is no such thing. How then can I support such an institution?

    The most direct way you support institutions is by providing the money for them to function. The fact that Jesus apparently endorsed paying taxes to the Roman government (a government by the way much more war mongering than ours) indicates to me that he did not view the Roman government as quite so illegitmate as you do.

    I can give a bible reference too: Romans 13.

    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

    If God is involved in the establishment of earthly authorities, then why is it so wrong for his children to be also, where the constitution provides for it?

    1. Again, this is a matter of conscience and conviction. As usual I speak in extremes of language, I shan’t apologise for it, as I will continue to do so anyhow.

      However, in terms of Romans 13, there are a number of perspectives on that passage which we might consider. My personal preference is for a wider look at the context of the chapter. If we were to take it that ch 12 and 13 are intended to be read as a whole, with Paul taking us on a journey from loving our friends, through strangers, to our enemies, and overcoming evil with good, this would make the most sense of the passage for me. It would say that we must even respect the authorities, even though as Tolstoy put it, ‘Christianity in its true sense puts an end to the state…’

      I would also inerpret established as ‘allowed’ rather than ‘ordained’ for otherwise how can we explain Hitler, Pol Pot et al, or indeed ever justify a war between states of any sort?

      Thanks for the debate 🙂

  4. Me suggesting conflation of the two different kinds of violence (within the society and against other societies) was the most charitable view I could take of what appears to be your argument, because to me it’s self-evident that it is possible for a government to reject the validity of violence against other states. Some states even have it written into their constitution. This seems to be such an obvious point that I suppose you must be saying something else, but I’m not sure what.

    As to Romans 13, ‘allow’ doesn’t quite capture the sense of it given the context (I can play that context game too…). The context is that we should obey earthly authorities, and the reason he gives is because God has established them and we owe God obedience. Saying we should obey earthly authorities because God has allowed them makes his entire argument fall apart.

    Let us suppose you’re a member of a club, you pay dues every month, and the money gets spent in a particular way depending on the decisions of the officials of the club, whom you have a right to participate in the election. I believe that any member of the club who cares about how that money gets spent has a duty to participate in the election of the club officials.

    Now I get that you don’t want to be part of the club, but as long as you continue paying your dues, you should be involved in choosing how that money gets spent, otherwise you’re partly responsible for the stupid, destructive stuff it gets spent on.

    1. haven’t paid tax for years – lol.

      thanks for your input, you always make good points, but of course, you are also always quite wrong 😛

    1. I think that really VAT is taxation without representation, I’ve paid VAT in other countries where I have absolutely no right to vote. So yes, I have of course paid VAT, but I think its a different case.

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