I decided ten months ago to drop off the social network grid. I stopped blogging and Facebooking. Cold turkey. I’d been blogging regularly for six years (still tweet-resistant). But eventually I found myself slipping into a narcissistic, subtle-but-creepy self-promotion. With only myself to blame. Like Dr. Jeckyll sitting in Regent Park months after trashing his darker-side drug, he congratulated himself for his good works and compared himself to his neglectful and nasty neighbors. Then suddenly with a wave of nausea, he was horrified to find himself slipping into the shape and personality of Mr. Hyde. Who needs a drug when pride can do the job?
Yep, that’s me. I needed a digital cleanser. And so I’ve been absent for a good while. I think I’m ready to return with hopefully a better heart.
But I have to admit there was a secondary rationale from which I wanted to protect myself.
As the presidential election cranked up, it gave me an excuse to avoid reading comments and links that made me embarrassed to be a Christian. And I didn’t want to jump into the fray. I’m old enough to have lived through many presidents and election cycles…and here’s the most common phrase I’ve heard from evangelical Christians and political groupies over all those years (drumroll, please): “This is the most important election in the history of our country.”
Really? I’m not sure how every four years we can have “the most important election in the history of our country”, but that’s what we’re frightened with. I’m totally into Christians being involved in politics, and though I’m fairly Wesleyan in my theology (at least this week…), it doesn’t negate the sovereignty of God. At some point when we’re filling in the little oval or punching the chad in the booth, we have to believe (without succumbing to spiritual nihilism) that God is bigger globally than the party of our choice and is Himself nudging the world toward His purposes. At some point when we’re praying for our country’s leaders and decisions, we have to trust God has heard us and taken our petitions to heart. Otherwise, what’s the use of praying?
Under an oppressive Roman government, in a pseudo-republic where self-obsessed caesars operated dictatorially, the apostle Peter emphatically wrote:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right… Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13–14, 17).
Frankly, I don’t always see “proper respect” or “honoring”—or even civil disagreement—happening with some evangelical Christians when it comes to politics. Elections seem to bring out the dark side: name-calling, blaming, rudeness, factions, disrespect, and really bad theologizing. Have we bought into the idea that if we can get “our guy” holding the reins of power, then we can legislate in our favor with a “power-over” approach, while somehow sidestepping the subtly cancerous effects of power and money?
In his classic book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter describes how politicization has trumped all approaches to change. Everything has become political.
He describes how each side uses a common story to forward their agenda, rooted in the French word ressentiment. Ressentiment encompasses more than the anglicized word resentment; it includes envy, rage and revenge that informs a political psychology.
“Ressentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds. The entitlement may be to greater respect, greater influence, or perhaps a better lot in life and it may draw from the past or the present; it may be privilege once enjoyed or the belief that present virtue now warrants it. In the end, these benefits have been withheld or taken away or there is a perceived threat that they will be taken away by those now in positions of power. . . Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity. Understanding themselves to be victimized is not a passive acknowledgement but a belief that can be cultivated. Accounts of atrocity become a crucial subplot of the narrative, evidence that reinforces the sense that they have been or will be wronged or victimized. Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating action. It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat. . . And so it is, then, that the injury—real or perceived—leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible. The adversary has to be shown for who they are, exposed for their corruption, and put in their place.”
It’s funny. From the conservative evangelical position, entitlement is usually a word leveraged against the other side. It’s a weighty buzzword to blast people supposedly taking advantage of the system. But we rarely think of ourselves—or our side—as having a sense of entitlement. Perhaps it’s the classic “two-by-four in your own eye” that Jesus warned us about.
But here’s a thought: when we feel our powerbase slipping, though entitlement may be the last word we apply to ourselves, what if it’s really what we secretly feel? Could that be what is behind the “taking-back-our-country” language that emerges during elections? Is it our fear of losing some sort of power we assume we have? Is it a longing for what we feel we’re entitled to?
Kierkegaarde warned Christians of the marriage of Church and state… and the dangers of blurring politics and faith, leading to a watering-down of the gospel. Shocking his contemporaries, he wrote:
“What Christianity needs is not the suffocating protection of the state; no, it needs fresh air, it needs persecution, and it needs God’s protection. The state only works disaster, it wards off persecution and thus is not the medium through which God’s protection can be conducted. Above all, save Christianity from the state. By its protection it smothers it to death.”
Okay, this has turned into a diatribe. All this to say: I’m getting back online after an extended hiatus. I’m still mostly avoiding FB, but I’ll check in periodically.
Gee, this could’ve been a lot shorter. But that’s what I meant to say…
The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.” (Isaiah 14:24)