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Jesus is Politics

October 29, 2012

Imagine a hypothetical person named Jeremy. Jeremy always votes for Democrats. He puts up signs on his front lawn for every candidate he can legally vote for who is a Democrat. He goes to Democratic fundraisers. He knocks on doors for Democratic campaigns. His polar opposite is hypothetical Tina. What Jeremy does for the Democrats Tina does for the Republicans.

Now, technically I’ve only told you about who Jeremy and Tina vote for. But the fact is that if you bet money that Jeremy drives a Prius or wishes he did (while Tina probably drives a truck), or that Tina thinks gun ownership lowers crime rates (while Jeremy thinks they do the opposite), or that Tina will be more likely than Jeremy to think that both children and criminals learn from punishment (and that Jeremy might let his kids run wild to explore their inner natures), you’d probably win that bet. The fact is that our political labels ship with a lot more than candidates attached. Some of these things make a lot of sense, like economic views and positions on the essential nature of foreign relations. Others are less clear, like views on what it means to be human and the nature of freedom and justice. However, political labels have all these things attached.

Of course, there are two ways politics could be attached to these views. Perhaps these viewpoints are entirely natural – that the conservative economic views only make sense given a conservative anthropology, or that liberal ideas about foreign policy only make sense given liberal ideas of what it means to be free. (Personally, I don’t find this compelling and think that political ideologies frequently pair agendas that are diametrically opposed on a philosophical level but that’s a debate for another time.) Perhaps politicians have merely chosen sides in a battle that would exist anyway. However, whether politics created these worldviews or merely attached itself to them we now have a situation in which politics are firmly welded to worldviews. For people who really care about politics (which isn’t everyone) political figures become leaders of a larger movement, a movement that is about all the components of the worldviews each party claims to support.

Let me put this another way: politicians are the Messiahs of kingdoms of their own devising. Politics is religion. What’s more, religion has become politics.

Imagine a world in which things made a lot more sense. In this world identifying who someone voted for would only tell you who that person trusted to get this very specific job done. It wouldn’t tell you any more about their worldview than their other choices to appoint people to management jobs would. However, religion which, after all, claims to be about the fundamental nature of reality would tell you a lot. People who believed that the nature of God was shown most clearly in self-sacrifice would believe that this was reflected in manifold ways throughout the universe. People who believed that the nature of God was to defend His sovereign honor would have completely different views on these same issues. What we have today, though, is exactly the opposite. Our religion is compartmentalized into one small issue – who do we trust to save our soul? – and our politics stand for larger worldviews.

Jesus is politics. Jesus is a frame of thinking about the entire world. Jesus is not a ballot choice for a specific job, Jesus is about what it means to be human, what the world itself is about, the nature of freedom, justice, and, indeed, everything else. If we have switched the position of religion and politics then embrace the truth – Jesus isn’t religion as we live it in America today; Jesus is politics.

Of course, there’s another side to this too. If we are to embrace Jesus in the manner that we currently herald the high priests of our political religions then we must also decry the usurpers. Frankly, I think most Christians who have the problem I describe would let Jesus fill in the gaps in their worldview if they would only send the false messiahs packing. Ultimately, this is what underlies my deep suspicion of Christian involvement in politics. Some of it is well and good – we should vote for those who will establish justice, for instance – but a lot of it is overzealous. Politics is simply an easy idol.

Ultimately, I write this to make a point often voiced shortly before elections: Jesus saves, political candidates don’t. Frequently, though, this phrase is both used and dismissed as a statement about the afterlife – “Remember, folks, this decision is less important than the big decision about who you entrust your fate beyond death to.” I don’t mean it that way. I mean it in a way that doesn’t merely say “politics is not the biggest game in town” but, rather, that politics is playing a game at which Jesus is actually better. As an election draws near people get excited and tense. The eschatological hopes of two competing worldviews (and those neglected third parties, too) are about to be realized or shattered. So hang on a second before getting too excited or tense and ask yourself a question: why do our hoped-for eschatons draw so little from Jesus?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2012 9:25 am

    I think the best example of politics-as-religion was Glenn Beck’s rally a few years ago. I suspect many in his (Christian conservative) audience who trusted his political commentary wouldn’t be comfortable with the religious leadership of a Mormon (or, really, any other religion than their own). The mark of religious orthodoxy wasn’t the traditional tenets of one’s own religion, rather, it was a claim to any religious faith and the “right” ideas about what’s really going on in the world.

    That sort of politics-as-religion is creepy because it can reshape the religious landscape of a group of people very quickly without regard to their actual religious tradition(s).

    “Why do our hoped-for eschatons draw so little from Jesus?”

    In many ways they do, but it’s a very limited idea of Jesus. We imagine when Jesus returns he’ll put the government, corporations, gays, abortionists, fundamentalists, or whoever else we see as the primary oppressors in their place. We see that as being about what he does rather than who he is, so we think we can get a head start.

  2. October 29, 2012 9:11 pm

    Agreed. I follow politics fairly closely, and it has been become clear to me in recent years that many people – including many Christians – treat their favorite politicians as messiah-like figures. They expect politicians to right all social wrongs, establish peace and prosperity, and even uphold the moral order. To some extent, such expectations are reasonable. After all, policy can shape socio-economic structures to a remarkable extent. However, it seems to me that many people place too much confidence in politicians. Incidentally, I suspect that such overconfidence explains why partisanship is often so bitter, and why so many conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats have a hard time tolerating any criticism of their own party’s politicians. After all, if the fate of the world hangs on your guy getting (re-)elected, then it’s only natural to be extremely defensive about any criticism of your guy. it seems that many of my blog comments have been negative lately, but here’s another one – if even half of the supposed Christians in this country really took the gospel seriously, would our political culture be anywhere near as dishonest, mean-spirited, and immature as it is? I tend to think not. Geez, that was pretty negative. Sorry!

    • Eric permalink
      October 30, 2012 3:49 pm

      It may be negative but it’s spot on. Lots of Christians openly support viciously unChristian bastards who says the right things in stump speeches.


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