We can be sure of two things when we wake up Wednesday, Nov. 5: The political ads that have flooded our televisions, radios and computers will be gone, and fewer people will have gone to the polls Nov. 4 than in the 1960s.
In that decade, about half of eligible citizens voted in mid-term elections. Today, the figure is less than 40 percent. Declining voter turnout is only part of a trend of decreasing involvement in civic society. Fewer people attend church, join civic groups like Rotary and marry today too.
One reason often given is that people no longer trust our institutions.
The media bombard us with seemingly endless stories of church scandals, political corruption and marital infidelity. While the details differ, none of these are new in human history. All of the major religious traditions recognize our human fallibility.
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Another argument is that television, which became the dominant mass media in the 1960s, seduces us with the illusion of involvement. We sit in our recliners, cocooned in our air-conditioned homes, and watch our favorite DVRed shows, remote control in hand, fast-forwarding past the commercials and the world.
I am not suggesting that we throw out our TVs or disconnect the Internet. In 1 Chronicles 29:4, the Bible says that everything comes from God. These media are gifts that have in many ways enriched our lives. The question is whether we are passive recipients, seduced by the illusion of engagement, or active participants, involved in the life of our society.
We are social beings at heart. In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make human beings in our image” (New Living Translation). While there have been endless debates about how we are created in the divine likeness, Christians generally agree that this reflects our basic social nature and the social nature of God, who is one being in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the essence of all reality. We deny our essential being, our inherent social nature, if we fail to participate in our common civic life.
In get-out-the-vote campaigns, people sometimes say that who you vote for is less important than that you vote. False.
As we have seen in our state over the past two years, whether you support or oppose them, it makes a difference that Republicans control the state legislature.
Who we elect Tuesday makes a difference, and that is the real point. In Spanish, there is a saying that the last drop makes the cup overflow. What we do or do not do makes a difference. We are all connected with one another, which is why it is important to vote, to join a house of worship and to commit our life to another person – to take the leap of faith and to be engaged with our world, for all of its messiness and brokenness, because that is who we are, and we are less otherwise.
We can say one other thing with certainty about when we wake up on Nov. 5: The world will be different. Whether we are a part of that difference depends on us.
The Rev. John Gibson is pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Clayton.