We'll know today whether or not the federal government will be forced to shut down.
Senator Harry Reid, who ought to know, lamented yesterday that the budget process is being held captive to ideology. By which he means, of course, someone else's ideology, not his own.
It was not ideology, however, but politics - raw public pragmatism - that has brought about this impasse. Democrats could have passed a budget last fall, when they were supposed to. They didn't however, knowing that, if they were to pass their budget before an already angry electorate, the rout they experienced in November would have been much worse.
So it is convenient now for Democrats to agree to a figure but not to specific cuts, and for Republicans to risk the smooth operating of the federal crank by insisting that NPR and Planned Parenthood should be defunded.
Of course the budget process is captive to ideology. It always is. But I must say that the ideological direction which Republicans seem to want to head is more agreeable to me and more in line with what I understand the Bible to teach about the fairly limited role of the civil magistrate.
One of the worse things about big government is that it discourages people from caring about and for their neighbors, at least, in practical, day-to-day ways. More specifically, it lets the churches off the hook from majoring in good deeds to invest in facilities, programs, and staff instead. It's not that churches would not rise to the occasion and discover ways of being the joy of the whole earth to their local communities. It's just that they don't have to. Government is there to do what, prior to the last century, churches, families, and local voluntary associations typically did - care for the needy.
Perhaps if an ideology begins to obtain in Washington that not only shuts down the federal government, but pares it back significantly, we might see the churches, with all their considerable wealth and human resources, begin to do more of what churches should do, and that is embody the love of Jesus Christ to the last, the lost, and the least in their communities.
Many churches already are, of course. But more could be done, and perhaps will be done, if the federal government can just be persuaded to get out of the way.
But there is an ideology of government "service" to the people, the bottom line of which smells much like bribery. And men who cannot get themselves elected to positions of power on the strength of their character and sagacity will always try to do so by promising to do for their constituencies whatever they ask, and always with somebody else's money.
This particular ideology has infected both of our political parties. Let us pray that the malady is not fatal.
Additional related texts: Psalm 48; Romans 13.1-4; Matthew 22.34-40
A conversation starter: "Do you think that people would love their neighbors, and care for them more, if government were not always trying to meet everybody's every need?"