July 30, 2019

The Divine Authority of Politicians

crown resting on pillow

Even though I have little patience for politicians who go out of their way to tell everyone how Christian they are as many times as they can (because many people still think that confers a higher level of morality than the rest of us possess), I think there is a world of difference between this and those who claim some sort of divine authority. What do I mean? When I refer to divine authority here, I am thinking about politicians who explicitly claim that they are carrying out the will of some sort of "god." Those of you who are old enough to remember the presidency of George W. Bush may recall that he informed the public that some sort of "god" instructed him to invade Iraq. He was not the first politician to claim divine authority, and he would not be the last.

We don't need to refer back to ancient history in which royalty cloaked themselves in Christianity to excuse pretty much anything they wanted to do to see how destructive this is. It should be easy to comprehend why this has been and continues to be such a problem. If a leader is being guided by various gods, who are the rest of us to question what he or she does? And it isn't just us (i.e., the peasants) who aren't allowed to question; it is everybody. Divine authority cannot be reconciled with democracy, not even the sort of representative democracy we are supposed to find in the United States. This is a big part of why there was no mention of gods in our Constitution and why our founders went out of their way to avoid divine right and everything it entails.

On one hand, I remain baffled at how any self-professed freedom-loving American could hear a leader claim divine inspiration and not immediately take to the streets. On the other hand, I recognize that this sort of thing continues to be extremely appealing to some fundamentalist Christians, regardless of what it means for democracy. That is because they have little use for democracy, except to the extent that it serves their larger goal of establishing a Christian theocracy that would likely take the form of a dictatorship.

Were Trump or any future president who had the support of the Christian right to make explicitly anti-democratic statements or claim divine authority, hordes of Christian extremists would celebrate it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to argue, as many on the left want to, that it is hypocritical for evangelical fundamentalist Christians to support Trump like they do. Sure, it is hypocritical if we focus on what evangelical fundamentalist Christianity was about in the 1980s (e.g., serving as sex-crazed morality police, burning heavy metal records, condemning board games as demonic). That was before the big theocratic push.

While some Christian extremists still like to obsess about those afflicted with "teh gay" and what awful punishment their "god" has in store for wherever they live, others are far more interested in packing the state and federal courts with conservative judges, rolling back civil rights, and abolishing any meaningful separation between church and state. How can it be hypocritical to support someone who is doing exactly what they want? What sort of sense would it make for these Christian extremists to turn their backs on someone who was carrying out their agenda?

For those of us who are not Christian extremists, how should we react when an elected official or someone running for office claims anything close to divine authority? We should not stand for it. It should be disqualifying. But since it clearly isn't, the burden is on us to figure out how best to persuade our neighbors to recognize why it is problematic.