Chesterton once said, “It is only by believing in God that we can ever criticize the Government. Once abolish the God, and the Government becomes the God.”
One might be tempted to think him wrong considering the vehement criticism of our current government by relatively “godless” leftists. However, closer consideration reveals the truth that they are not criticizing a government…they are denouncing a demon.
For them, Trump has arisen like Mephistopheles at the call of a Faustian political right that has despaired and bid “Divinity, adieu!” in exchange for power to do all we please and “resolve [ourselves] of all ambiguities.”
There is some truth to their vision. Those on the political right, having found that God still prefers to point out their own plank eyes, have turned to a strong man…one who is bully enough to use the bully pulpit. And our Mephistopheles has taught us the magic of ‘alternative facts’ once only effectively wielded by the left.
Never mind that our God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” He merely offers to comfort us “in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” But since we must “share in his suffering” if we are to have his comfort (II Corinthians 1:3 & ff), we’re more comfortable with the strong man who offers us protection…and greatness. We have no need of God’s comfort. We can look on the affliction of others with pity from a distance.
Yet those Christians who would turn to the political left in alliance against this administration are sadly mistaken. The weeping leftist street preachers offer no salvation. Like Faustus they bid their farewell to Jehovah long ago. They worship the elements and know no god else…except “me,” a fact that becomes obvious when we consider their persistent mantra screamed with all the passion of an enraged toddler:”Not my president!” “My” government would obviously do what I want. Since Trump isn’t, he must be illegitimate. After all, there is no absolute, so the only measure of injustice is that “I” am offended. Be certain, they will, like all effective magicians, use you until you are useless…and then what?
Of course the great mass of the offended will contest that this is bigger than simply their own desires. In the minds of many left-leaning and moderate Christians Trump is evil incarnate, having arisen like the beast of Revelation “uttering haughty and blasphemous words.” Meanwhile some on the ‘Christian’ right are so convinced and terrified that something nefarious is still in the works to seize defeat from the jaws of victory that they are willing to embrace even the wildest lies…um, alternative facts. Don’t you know, Obama is running a shadow government in an effort to sabotage Trump and seize power at the moment of greatest instability like some all-powerful Muslim anti-Christ. Extreme times call for extreme measures, whatever extreme version of alternative reality you care to accept..
No doubt, Trump is a misogynist, and that needs to be addressed by Christians, without equivocation. His willingness to play political games with the lives of refugees is simply wrong. People who care about justice (on the right and left) need to grasp that misogyny, racism, abortion, euthanasia, and xenophobia are rooted in the same demonic spirit–the refusal to value each human as God’s image-bearer. But the Trump supporters haven’t had time to think about such things because he has shown no shame in the use of his ‘alternative facts,’ and the press that should serve as the fact checkers sold their souls and rightfully lost credibility years ago. After all, what can the left really say to Trump’s wrongdoing after having ignored the philandering and abuse by Bill Clinton and the hypocritical failure by the Obama administration…the one that promised to be the most open actually becoming one of the least transparent in history?
We are left with two political mobs fighting about who did what to whom first and who is the bigger hypocrite. The whole of the American political process has degenerated into little more than warring barbarian hordes vying for the supremacy of their tribal gods. And, for each side, the other group is a threat to their chief god, “me.”
This, of course, is all about “me,” on the left and the right.
As I have written before, the ultimate American idolatry is the radical commitment to self-realization. But the reality, even the ubiquity, of this self worship would not be so troubling if it were not so entrenched among American Christians. After all, what does it matter which false god masks mammon for the unbeliever. In some sense it is refreshing when Meghan Trainor sings “I Love Me.” At least she makes no pretense as to who her god is.
The problem is that sadly we are seeing more and more Christians for whom Trainor’s song could be a personal anthem, and it shows up in a dangerous tendency toward Faustian delusions and godless politics. Having loved ourselves, we love self to the end that we trust our assumptions that our political enemies are not simply wrong but demonic. We are all convinced we are fighting Hitler.
I realize we would all feel better if our political enemies were the demons we imagine. But they are not. Our insistence upon seeing them as such is nothing other than a self-glorifying semblance of political heroism. It makes us feel good about our selves to wage so fierce and brave a battle against evil.
Yet it is dangerous, because when we are fighting Hitler or some other embodiment of absolute evil, we assume that anything goes. It is arguable whether the attitude that anything is permissible to stop a Hitler is right at all, but for the present it is more important that we realize that WE ARE NOT FIGHTING HITLER…or Stalin or Mao. So, at the very least we Christians must change the tone or better yet the entire process and message.
The secular political left has been nasty to their adversaries for decades, but often those Christians among their ranks were honest and compassionate…actually trying to live out what the godless leftists made empty claims to being. No doubt there have been moral hypocrites on the right decrying the left’s sexual perversions for political gain while wrecking their own marriages, but I have always found a large number of generous and genuine people concerned with living and promoting virtue and compassion among Christian conservatives as well. But now there is so much nastiness from both sides. Our fear has driven us into godless politics.
Of course we talk about God, but we don’t believe in him as truly sovereign. Those on the right have basically said that Jesus is moving back into the White House…because what? The First Lady opened a meeting with the Lord’s Prayer? And if he was there in the first place, who ever kicked him out? President Obama said “God bless you” quite frequently and we weren’t so deluded as to think it was sign of a deep faith to be lauded (well most of us anyway). Simply put, Seventy per cent of this nation is still self described Christian…it is the rare politician indeed that could get elected without giving some lip service to the Almighty. So we have got to get past our political naivete as Christians. Jesus told us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” but it seems politically we have become dumb as an ox and just as dangerous.
How is an American Christian to escape this political mess? If we care for the well-being of our nation as we ought then we cannot simply withdraw from it. However, as I hope the above makes clear, we cannot merely join in the political tribalism and power games that dominate the current political process. Above all, we must “not love our lives.”
And then what?
Theologian Simon Chan in his book Spiritual Theology discusses our political involvement in the context of “Spiritual exercises focusing on the world.” He argues that outside of an eschatological approach that can lead to total withdrawal there are two primary approaches to social engagement in the western Church, the political theology of Moltmann and the “Theological Politics” of Hauerwas and Yoder.
In the Moltmannian approach, “One is spiritual by being full of spirit, not necessarily by being full of the Holy Spirit.” The church in such an approach is often “enslaved to current ideology, be it liberal democracy, feminism or green politics” (186)…and now perhaps we should add national security. Since intensity is spirituality in this model, there is a tendency to participate in political power games for self-righteous and misguided motives.
Chan argues that the better choice of the two is obviously the “Theological politics” of Hauerwas and company which, “eschews the ways of the world, such as violence and power politics, in pursuing biblical objectives.” The impact of the church depends upon character formation of the individual Christian and the Church as a whole (186).
Still, he goes on to offer a superior model to either of these which he finds in the work of Indian theologian Vishal Mangalwadi. As Chan explains it, Mangalwadi’s approach to corruption in government as set out in his book Truth and Social Reform combines “social reform with evangelism and exorcism.” He quotes, “Evangelism liberates by spreading truth i.e. by undercutting the theological foundation of an exploitative system and by creating an alternative social structure which seeks to live out the truth” (187). As Chan goes on to explain, “Evangelism, the proclamation of the good news that Jesus is Lord, implies that there is to be no human ruler who is above the law” (187).
This brings us back to where we started with Chesterton…real and effective criticism of the government requires belief in God and submission to His truth. Everything else fails to be anything other than power politics, which is, quite frankly, a form of sorcery…an effort to control by manipulation another person made in the image of God. And it is wrong even and especially when my side does it.
In the end we Christians only overcome by the word of our testimony, the blood of the Lamb, and not loving our lives (Revelation 12:11). And while our current national political situation may seem hopeless considering all that has been said above, it is not because in the end Chan is correct. “As long as the people of God pray, there is hope for the world” (189). That statement concedes nothing. It doesn’t signify retreat or withdrawal from the process because Jesus instructed us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” Therefore ,“Prayer is a highly political act” (188).