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Friday, November 5, 2004

Politics and Idolatry

According to both American political parties, we have just endured "the most important" campaign and election in our nation's history, certainly in our lifetimes. This was the election that would "define American politics for the next generation." Campaign 2004 was the big one for all the marbles. To hear it from the media, it was as important as the defeat of the Axis Powers in World War II, the crumbling of the Soviet Union, and the discovery of a cure for cancer combined.

All of it was hyperbole, pure and simple.

There are several reasons why this political season was billed in such an exaggerated way. With a preponderance of the media rooting for John Kerry, it was a way to galvanize a certain segment of the population—Democrats and the anti-Bush crowd—to take action and flood the polls with supporters. The media, always in contention for better ratings, also played a game of one-upmanship amongst themselves, elevating the rhetoric as much as the candidates themselves did and maybe more. In addition, many partisans on both sides truly believed that 2004 was a make-or-break election for America, warning that the slide into oblivion would commence if the other side's candidate were victorious.

The biggest reason, however, springs from the attitudes and approach of these true believers: They are not just "into" politics—it is their religion. They worship at the altar of government, sacrificing their time, money, and effort to honor the god of politics, the party, and the state. Each side has its particular pantheon of demigods (Founding Fathers), saints (past presidents), and luminaries (party bigwigs) to point to for past glories and party principles. Each uses its own set of scriptures from which it pulls decisive quotations and zinging bon mots, as well as derisive condemnations of their enemies and their irrational ideas. Each party clothes itself with its own peculiar kind of zeal (patriotism), righteousness (laws, regulations), and good deeds (pork, entitlements), which they are not ashamed to flaunt before the masses as proof of their devotion. They even take tithes from the people to fund their righteous work!

Napoleon mockingly called Britain "a nation of shopkeepers." He likely thought of America as a nation of rubes and castoffs. If he were alive today, he would have to call it a nation of political partisans. We are either Reds or Blues, living in Red or Blue states. Americans watch political news avidly every day, as it fills most of the network news programs. This year a record number of voters turned out to cast their ballots, about 116 million people. Many of these stuck signs in their yards, stickers on their automobiles, or buttons in their lapels announcing their choices for president, governor, senator, representative, councilperson, or dogcatcher.

A good number of these same people made out checks to individual candidate's election committees or to local, state, and national party committees to get their candidates into the public eye via media advertisements, direct mail, and public appearances. Some of them volunteered their valuable time to stuff envelopes, distribute signs and stickers, and organize rallies. Many of the high rollers among them paid thousands of dollars for a plate of institutional food (rubbery chicken or too-well-done steak) and a few minutes of face-time with their political idol.

Hyperbole again, right? Don't be too sure.

What is religion anyway? The dictionary defines it in its general sense as "a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith." One's religion is what one believes and devotes oneself to following. It is what a person spends his time, efforts, and resources pursuing. It is his way of life. Understanding a person's way of life will point directly to that person's god. For a good many Americans who spent the past year or nine months devoted to the election or defeat of a particular political candidate, their god is politics.

The last time I checked, this broke the first commandment (Exodus 20:2-3). For those who think that the Ten Commandments are passé and Old Covenant, check out Jesus' own words in Matthew 22:37-38: "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment." And we call ourselves a Christian nation. . . .