Whether or not you supported President Obama’s 2008 campaign, you have to admit it was effective. Hope. Change. He tapped into the core of who we are, our deepest desires – to hope for a change in this world.
In the recent Faith and Politics Conference at Regent College, Ross Douthat suggested that since the collapse of institutionalized religion over the last sixty years (and still going on), Americans have had to find a new outlet for their religious energies.
These unaffiliated individuals are not spirit-less beings with no religious energy; they have just lost faith in the institutions that used to receive them. The result has been a void, a void that politics has stepped in and filled.
One need only to watch a little of the party conventions, or a stump speech to recognize the deeply religious overtones of such moments. They have their liturgies, the people cheer (worship?), the individual promises hope for the people.
Politics has become, in part, the place where religious energies get expressed.
We ought to be cautious here. The great temptation is to point to some right or left-wing idealogues who idolize their party candidates. Yet we often use religious language of politics, even if we consider ourselves more moderate.
We talk about the changes that a certain candidate will bring: either they will save America, or they will destroy it. They will preserve values, or they will desecrate the sanctity of the family. They are the messiah, or they are the antichrist. Of course, we may not express it so bluntly, but inherent in much of our talk of politics are these religious overtones.
Of course, we know politicians cannot save us. Yet the subtlety of the language and the entire political project often gets the best of us.
It’s not enough to simply declare Jesus for President. Jesus will not be President of the United States come 2013. It will be either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. But Jesus will be our sovereign King. Our struggle is to realize that there is only one from whom salvation comes, only one about whom we ought to speak religiously.
It is our struggle to go against the religious-political fervor of our time, recognizing the only answer for our deepest needs is in Christ, and to ensure that we are people marked by the correct placement of our religious energy.
Next week in the series, What Politics Is Not.