I don’t want to disagree with anything Josh says in his post – I think he’s done a nice job of discussing how there are goals beyond this world, and how they don’t always reconcile with having goals in this world.
I really like how he brings out that at some level a sacred/secular divide is intrinsic to Christianity. While I like saying that “having religion” in a society committed to “religious freedom” first is a sketchy thing, there’s no doubt in my mind it stems from a logic intrinsic to Christian thought (nonetheless, it wasn’t Christians that got the “religious freedom” line of thought to prevail above all).
Our question has to concern his last paragraph: Is there a point of coincidence between transpolitical and political goods, and can that be used to get a better politics? He invokes Senators Kerry and Kennedy as successful politicians who have probably traded away their “Catholic heritage” to survive as politicians. Does the crowd-pleasing one must do as a representative mean that one cannot please God?
Josh seems to hint at an answer – knowing the tension between the two spheres of action, states of the soul (as Augustine said, the “city of man,” defined by the lust for glory, and the “city of God,” defined by humility) – that alone might be an ethic which creates better politicians. It certainly creates better humans: if people can respect religion truly and only back down from principles when they know the greatest good depends on consent, they might be able to see that acting practically is not all there is to life.
After all, the criteria for “success” in Josh’s last paragraph is rather low: being a successful politician in the mold of Messrs. Kerry and Kennedy would mean survival in politics alone is a good thing. And I know that’s not true – one gets into politics to do good, not merely make a career of being there.