Sunday, March 7, 2010

Power Corrupts, part one: I Think Your Politics Are Stoopid

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." [Mark 10:42-45]

Maybe I'm just getting weak and shallow in my old age, but I've come to realize that the more attention I pay to politics, the less I seem to behave like a disciple of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit, which is supposed to be evident in the life of a Christian, just seems to shrivel up and die. I'm less patient, less compassionate, less loving, less likely to turn the other cheek (which isn't easy to begin with).

I've also noticed that such seems to be true of a lot of other people as well. And I hear all sorts of arguments for why the neglect of such things is excusable (if not acceptable) in light of the current direction and climate of American politics and culture (e.g., the situation we face is too grave and perilous, and the issues too important, to bother with such niceties). Yep,...when Jesus said to love your enemies, he didn't mean your political enemies. Those idiots on the other side are trying to destroy God's Kingdom...the New Jerusalem...*ahem*... America. If we don't stop them, who will?

More and more, I am appalled at how often political involvement seems to consume and corrode peoples' souls. I think a lot of people get involved intending to make some kind of positive difference. Unfortunately, by the time they go through the seemingly unavoidable gauntlet of partisan abuse, that must be endured to rise to any level of influence, they're so warped by the ordeal that they've forgotten whatever high-minded ideals they may have started out with.

Such corruption is troubling enough, in and of itself. But it troubles me even more when professed Christians succumb to such corrupting influences. And one doesn't have to be a mover & shaker to be affected.

I believe that any political system devised by humans will inevitably become corrupt and fail. And, looking at history, humanity's track record doesn't exactly inspire optimism about our chances of finding a political solution to the ills that beset our country and the world. That doesn't mean that some systems aren't better than others, or that it's wrong for Christians to get involved in trying to make things better. But when allegiance to a political party or ideology creates the kinds of angry divisions between believers that have become so commonplace that most don't even notice, then something is seriously messed up.

So I've finally stumbled upon a solution that's so simple I think even I can manage it.

I think your politics are stoopid.

That's it.

Republican? Stoopid. Democrat? Stoopid. Independent? Stoopid. Socialist? Libertarian? Anarchist?
Stoopid. Stoopid. Stoopid. ___________? Stoopid.

You may sincerely believe that if Jesus were here today he'd be a Conservative Republican – with all the rugged individualism and pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps ethos that goes along with that – but you'd be hard pressed to square such thinking with Jesus' call for living sacrificially, and in humble dependance on him and each other.

You may sincerely believe that if Jesus were here today he'd be a Liberal Democrat – with all the take from the “haves” to give to the “have-nots”, and the-ends-justify-the-means ethos that goes along with that – but you'd be hard pressed to square forcibly taking from some to give to others with Jesus' call for loving your neighbor as yourself, and in humble dependance on him and each other.

The truth is that every political/economic ideology that attempts to appropriate Jesus for the cause ends up with some Frankenstein's monster of a Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament is offensive to everyone at some point, so bits of him have to be lopped off. It's easy to claim affection for an amputated Jesus. But, in reality, he eventually managed to alienate just about everyone that claimed to believe in him. He taught a message that was so radical – and such a threat to those in power (both political and religious) – that it got him nailed to a cross. And the fact that he wouldn't stay dead put the powers of this world on notice that the rules of the game had changed completely. He said that following him would not endear us to the movers & shakers of this world, but would (more likely than not) do just the opposite. He never promised his followers a nice, safe, comfortable life (in fact, he seemed to promise just the opposite). But that Jesus doesn't always make us feel good about our ambitions, so we build ourselves a new Jesus (one created more in our own image).

Jesus said that if anyone wanted to be his disciple they should deny their self, take up their cross daily and follow him. But when was the last time you heard of any seriously involved politico actually doing anything remotely like that? It usually comes down to the old, “Well, sure I'm a Christian – but we have to fight fire with fire, if we're going to get this country headed in the right direction. The other side must be defeated by whatever means necessary. The stakes are too high to blah blah blah....our children's future...blah blah...vast blah blah conspiracy...blah...war on blah...blah.....bleh....” zzzzzzzzz...

Another troubling thing is how cynical Christians become who get really committed to some political ideology. I think cynicism is a coward's refuge, so it was very disturbing to feel it taking root in my own mind. Of course, cynics rarely admit there's anything wrong with such a mindset. Or they attempt to excuse it with the old, “You're damn right I'm a cynic – I've seen too much!” But the truth is, they really haven't seen enough. Cynicism seems, too often, to be the result of a constricted view of the world – it's what happens when the soul doesn't get enough fresh air and exercise.

Christians aren't to be myopic about the world. The bible claims that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – and even encourages a healthy skepticism – so we have no excuse for being surprised by how bad people can be. But, unlike most cynics, neither can we sit looking down our noses at how stupid other people are. We are those other people. I don't know about you, but I am often astounded by the stupidity of the dude living in my mirror.

Jesus said that anyone who wants to lead should serve sacrificially. He said that following him would bring his followers into conflict with the way the rest of the world operates (even in America). But what most politicians call service doesn't look like anything I could picture Jesus or the early Christians doing. When politicians talk about the sacrifices they make while in office, it often sounds about as convincing as when celebrities complain about how rough it is being rich & famous. And far too many politicians seem to leave office much wealthier than they went in (funny how that works).

Again, I'm more concerned about the corruption of professed Christians – we're supposed to be living by a different set of priorities (as citizen's of another kingdom). Political power, financial gain, and all the perks and prestige that go along with being a mover & shaker are things that followers of Christ are to be wary of. Power really does corrupt, but it seems like too many Christians think themselves immune.

The Old Testament offers some powerful lessons in just how easily power corrupts. Every system of governance that Israel tried eventually failed, and no amount of prosperity ever seemed to be enough. But in the New Testament, Jesus came to set the world on its head and give it a spin. He was a big disappointment to those looking for a political/military Messiah. Instead, he initiated the most subversive revolution this world has ever seen. He called the powerless to follow him (the outcasts, downtrodden, drunks, whores, crooks, tax collectors, children), while seeming almost indifferent to the powerful and elite. He said it's easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. So why, then, do so many Christians today seem to think of their wealth and power as Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Is our hubris that delusional – or is it, perhaps, just a pathetic excuse to sample forbidden fruits, thinking feigned ignorance or false magnanimity will fool God into thinking our intentions are good?

Jesus said the world would know his followers by their love for each other. But sometimes that love seems to be disguised as political porno (we've gotta screw them before they screw us). Theological and doctrinal disagreements can get ugly enough – but nothing can compare to a good, old-fashioned, politically partisan free-for-all. Grace, Mercy, and Love-for-one's-enemies are usually the first casualties of such conflicts (and are even looked upon by many as weaknesses). Good humor is rarely to be found (unless it is a “Kick Me” sign, stuck to an opponent's back with a knife). Turning the other cheek is only done when speaking out of the other side of one's mouth. We let the concerns of the world overwhelm our faith in the One who has overcome the world. We've decided that Jesus' way just doesn't get things done fast enough (and with nearly the degree of punishment our “enemies” deserve).

When more attention is paid to the words of pundits than the words of prophets; when Christians are more interested in political elections than God's elect; when Ron Paul gets Christians more excited than the Apostle Paul; when military casualties are confused with Christian martyrdom; when revolution is preferred to revival; when American patriotism becomes synonymous with Christian discipleship; when we can't tell the difference between the sin and the sinner; when a Christian can say, with a straight face, “Give me liberty, or give me death”; when the least-of-these are reduced to some-of-those; when protest replaces prayer; when canvassing replaces witnessing, then something has gone terribly wrong. And I think it's evidence that we no longer believe God is really on the job.

Jesus said we can't serve God and the things of this world. Maybe some people think they can pull it off (and maybe they can), but I'm not one of them. I found it necessary to give one or the other priority in my heart and mind, and it seems to have made a big difference in how I relate to those with whom I disagree strongly on various issues – not to mention improving my attitude in general. And (much to my surprise) it's been easier than I expected. So...

I think your politics are stoopid. I just can't take them that seriously.

Oh,...and in case anyone's wondering:

I think my politics are stoopid, too!

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