Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"The Signs of Political Idolatry"

                I came across these “signs of political idolatry” the other day as I was working my way through Timothy Keller’s excellent book “Counterfeit Gods.”  Considering the current political climate, especially amongst Christians, these couldn’t be more relevant (On a side note I dealt with this topic from a different angle during the last presidential election in my post “Politics and Idolatry”). 
Before looking at these signs it worth noting that our working definition of idolatry is best defined by Martin Luther in his Small Catechism.  He writes:   
"A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him from the whole heart… That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god."
So without further ado, here are Keller’s “signs of political idolatry.”

“One of the Signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characters of life.[i]
                What Keller means is that when we center our lives around a political idol, we become dependent on it.  Thus, if our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is always one of fear.  Keller observes, “This may be the reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way.[ii]”  As an example Keller points to the reality that when a party loses an election a certain percentage talks openly about leaving the country.  From my own observations I can’t believe the amount of negative Facebook trends concerning both candidates.  This is especially disturbing amongst Christians who profess an allegiance to the Kingdom of God.  They don’t just disagree with the other candidate’s views, they demonize him.  Another place to observe this phenomenon is to simply change the channel to Fox News or MSNBC.  You only have to watch both networks for a matter of minutes, usually less than that, before you come across political idolatry.
Keller believes this is all a reality because we have put the kind of hope in our political leaders and policies that should be reserved for God and the work of the gospel.  As a result of this:
When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death.  They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart.  They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement.  The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.[iii]
I think it goes without saying that this quote perfectly describes our current political environment.

“Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered simply mistaken, but to be evil.[iv]
                As a proof for this observation, Keller quotes his mother who after the last presidential election said, “It used to be that whoever was elected as your president, even if he wasn’t the one you voted for, he was still your president.  That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.[v]”  I saw this point played out in my own backyard about a month ago.  President Obama was coming to Maumee OH and much of the community was in an uproar.  Ignoring the fact that it is quite an honor to host the president of the United States in your own suburb, many used his visit as a chance to demonize him.  So, how does idolatry produce this demonization?  Keller exclaims:
In the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin, and the only solution is God and his grace.  The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy.  That demonizes something that is not completely bad, and makes an idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.[vi]
Keller Continues:
Many describe the current poisonous public discourse as a lack of bipartisanship, but the roots go much deeper than that… they go back to the beginning of the world, to our alienation from God, and to our frantic efforts to compensate for our feelings of cosmic nakedness and powerlessness.  The only way to deal with all these things is to heal our relationship with God.[vii]

                In light of Keller’s observations I think we all need a heart check as the presidential race heats up and becomes even more polarizing.  Ask yourself, “Am I placing my hopes for love, security, and prosperity in something other than God?”  “Is my visceral reaction towards other’s views a hint that I may be committing idolatry?”  “In demonizing Obama/Romney I’m I really revealing the fact that I’ve put my hope in another human?”  Also, keep Luther’s definition of idolatry in your head:
"A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him from the whole heart… That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god."
This bombshell of a quote should make you aware of all those areas in your heart where idolatry is present.  Lastly, we must always replace our idolatry with Christ who:
Colossians 1:15-20   15 …is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.  17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
When it comes to any form of idolatry, it’s only the amazing supremacy of Christ and the good news of the Gospel that simply puts created things in their right place.

[i] Keller, Timothy.  “Counterfeit Gods.” pg 98
[ii] Ibid pg 99
[iii] Ibid pg 99
[iv] Ibid pg 99
[v] Ibid pg 99
[vi] Ibid pg 100
[vii] Ibid pg 107

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