The Idolatry of Politics

As the posters go up for the elections in our streets, and unwanted bits of paper are thrust through our doors, I ask the hardly new question: Why does nothing seem to change? There are doubtlessly passionate commitments from all parties to various concepts: Unionism, Republicanism, Environmentalism, ‘Shared Future’ and so on. But it all seems so incredibly negative and oppositional, and progress is almost entirely absent. Switch on coverage of Stormont, and it is always the same old, same old. Why does such passion not seem to translate into action? There is a clear case of psychological inflation in the political graffiti around the elections – the politician presented as Messiah, with pseudo-religious iconography inserted to support his/her claim to deity. Each one represents a clear, delineated commitment to a prospective future, in which we are led across Jordan to a land flowing with milk and honey. Not that they know this, of course; the symbolism is being lived, but not experienced – it is unconscious. The true content of their own political desire is unknown to the politicians, because it has been unconsciously devoted to non-ultimate ends, and therefore takes on this poisonous quasi-religious appearance. The Union, the Republic, the Environment, the Shared Future – none of them necessarily bad, but none of them ultimate, and all of them wanting us to hand over the complexity of human individuality and meaning to regimes based on things that are purely political constructs, but which are incapable of doing what I believe is actually in the heart of each politician. Because all of these political categories (Unionism etc.) are fundamentally about unity. With whom? is the tricky question. But by investing this symbolic yearning in secondary categories, we are left foundering in the shallows of an uneasy present which does not lead into a transformational future that is about the reality of human individuality and collectivity. In part, this is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘... seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ (Matthew 6.33). One dimension of the ‘kingdom of God’ is the ultimate unity of all that is, not only in the human realm, but within the cosmos. The ultimate must be sought – only then can all the rest actually begin to fall into place. Speaking to culture in general, it must be said that primary commitment to Union, Republic or any such category will never result in a future that is transformed and transforming. As Christ lived out this seeking, he had to tread the path of sacrifice, suffering, and death – of ideals and earthly expectation, as well as of his body – before experiencing the new life that opened up before him. The political population of Northern Ireland have shown that they cannot bring about meaningful change. But it isn’t their fault – no-one, including the churches, including ministers like me – has taught politicians to sacrifice, suffer and to die, so that the people might live. Simon Richardson. Simon Richardson has been an Anglican minister in England and Northern Ireland for 11 years. He has just begun postgraduate research into the relationship between Jung's theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious, and the theology of the Image of God, and how a new metalanguage of faith might arise from this.
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One Response to The Idolatry of Politics

  1. Puran Agrawal says:

    Rev Richardson timely reminds Chrisitians that politics both as an ideology and practice can easily become an idol. But then most things in the world we humans feel attracted and attached to except loyalty to God can and have become idols: self (in the form of narcissism), money, career, family, culturer, nation, father, mother, children, friends, all can be idolized. The Bible provides numerous examples of such idols and the history of the Christian Church is littered with examples of such idols.

    From the very beginning Christians have faced the temptation of such idols. One antidote, if not “the” antidote, is provided by Paul in Romans 12:2-3. Yet for most of us his injunction to live in the world without conforming to its patterns has proved to be a very challenging and difficult, if not an impossible, task. One can so easily make a new idol even without the intention to do so..Commenting on the recent controversy re extremism in certain schools in Birmingham, the Education Secretary Michael Gove announced in the Parliament that the schools in Britain should above all promote BRITISH culture and values! Leaving aside the difficult question of “What is British culture and what are British values?”, doesn’t that injunction, come close to being idolatrous? Why not Christian culture and values? Are all of the Muslim values or Hindu values or Buddhist values, anti-British? What he probably meant was that they should promote RIGHT values! But for many politicians, church leaders, civic leaders, journalists, academics, “British values are “the right” values!

    Politics as an idol should be avoided but it cannot be avoided altogether. The econmoist John Maynard Keynes made the well -known remarK: Those politicians who despise economics are more than likely to fall victims to the third rate economists and economics ideas! Politics, in one form or another, is integral to any kind of social and collective living. What is needed in order to avoid it making an idol is to be clear about own’s fundamental aims,values, and loyalties. The problem with the current politics in Britain and other Western countries is that most people are not very clear what are thre right values and loyalties. This is exemplied in the voting patterns of the majority!

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