Political Religion

Looking at the great political battle before him in the election of 1912, Teddy Roosevelt reminded his supporters that they “stand at Armageddon, and [they] battle for the Lord.” His political crusade was couched in religious terminology. As we approach Easter, which looks back upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, it is worth reflecting upon how we likewise often turn politics into a religion.

Have you ever reflected on why the politicians who promise the most also disappoint the most? President Barack Obama promised to arrest the tides of the ocean and heal the divisions in our society. Today, the tides of the ocean continue apace and the divisions are more pronounced that ever. In turn, Republicans vowed to repeal Obamacare and stop the growth in government spending. The sucking sound of the fiscal black hole that is Obamacare has not dimmed. The entitlement shopping spree of government spending is more frantic than ever.

You see, these politicians promised things they can’t deliver. They drew themselves up to Messianic proportions so that anything short of some form of political salvation would inevitably disappoint. For President Obama, sin was embedded and death was wrought through the free market system, so he invoked a mandate for “change” that only he could fulfill. For many Republicans, sin was embedded in the socialist pretensions of the opposition and only they could enable people to restore America to its pristine, Edenic past. Such campaigns were inherently divorced from reality and left disillusionment in their wake.

Have you ever wondered why our country is so bitterly polarized? Could it have something to do with how we have intertwined our personal politics and spirituality? We see victims on one side—child workers, the environment, personal liberty—and a sea of evil, exploitative “Bigs” on the other side—Big Business, Big Oil, Big Government—and see ourselves as the Messianic figures who have the divine call to overturn the mighty expressions of evil in favor of the meek and meager.

There is no such thing as true atheism (literally, “without theism”). Every person is more than a mechanical cog in the machine, more than a biological expression of chance. Our hearts are hard-wired for spirituality—either one that baptizes our every desire or holds us to account. With the erosion of traditional religion in our society, we have replaced a divinely-appointed Savior for sinners with a self-appointed savior of victims. Conveniently, our hiring process for savior brings us back to ourselves or the causes and politicians that really represent mere projections of our own felt needs.

Have you ever considered why it is that you get so worked up and even angry with the state of politics? Do not blame the politicians or your political opponents. They do not have the power to make you angry. Rather, it quite possible to disagree without being disagreeable or be disappointed without being bitter. You get angry because you have invested politics—a valuable but temporal aspect of human living—with heavenly importance. Your anger is a reflection of the reality that your political gods will fail and fall and that you have nothing to stand in their place.

During this Easter season, perhaps you should question rather you should put your trust in princes. Is it proper to fall at the feet of your politicians or simply to render unto Caesar what is due him for his valuable but temporal work? And if your political savior cannot bring about the salvation that you desire, perhaps you should stop looking for a substitute savior and worship the real thing?

The true God has ordained the state for justice and the common good (Romans 13), not for salvation. Instead, He sent His Son in decidedly humiliating fashion—in a manger at the margins, far away from the political and cultural centers of this world. And Jesus Christ did not come to wield earthly power, but rather, to be crushed by it in order to offer His life as an atonement for sinners. He simultaneously suffered the wrath of the human race and due the human race in order to bring salvation for the very people who murdered Him.

Under God’s guidance, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the more important things are in the heavenly realm, where God’s people find their true citizenship, identity, and hope (Colossians 3:1-4). On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the great historical marker of this world—the resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, from the grave. To remember this truth is to remember that there is a hope that transcends politics.