Politics and Faith, Part II – Misplaced Religion

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.

OBAMA - A NEW HOPE Poster

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.

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9 thoughts on “Politics and Faith, Part II – Misplaced Religion

  1. It kills me that this is always so polarizing. And yet the election campaign structure makes that the natural approach. Saviors and demons. Not just a couple of smart guys who are both right about some things.

    Must…resist…apathy…

    1. I know exactly what you mean. Our partisan language furthers the seeming impossibility that they are two men trying to do their best based on what they believe.
      Fortunately, Christians know there are things which are more ultimate, but maybe this is somewhere we can offer a prophetic voice.

  2. Hey Matt, is Douthat actually able to show that political fervor increased as the western church declined? His thesis depends on that, doesn’t it? I’m just wondering if people are more engaged in politics now than they were 60 years ago. I know a lot of people would argue the opposite, at least in Canada where the church has declined even more.

    1. Craig, you’re quite right, his thesis does depend on that. If you want to know for certain, you could check out his book Bad Religion; I think that definitely in the US what has happened is an increase in partisanship – so people hold more strongly and passionately to their respective positions. That may not come out in terms of engagement (if we measure it merely by voting, etc.) but would if you were to survey for “how wrong is the other guy” concepts.

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