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“True Believers” and the Religion of Politics

I call them “true believers” (a phrase coined by Eric Hoffer). You see it in their teary eyes, their wide smiles, their intense frowns, their enthusiastic poster-waving.  They’ve heard every canned phrase a thousand times before, yet applaud as though it was a new revelation each time it’s repeated. “America is the last, best hope of the world!” “Country first!”  “We’re going to change the way things are done in Washington!” “We’re going to keep America safe.” “Our opponents say… but we  know…”  “We have the answers and our opponents just don’t get it.”  “God bless America!”

The true believers passionately embrace all this. The hope of the nation and even the world hangs in the balance — if only they can win. It’s almost as if these sincere folks have forgotten that these exact same sentiments, hopes and dreams — almost always in the name of “God and country” — have been around since the dawn of human history. It’s almost as if these committed devotees have forgotten that these same sentiments, hopes and dreams have fueled most of the bloodshed throughout history.

Whatever they know about history, true believers are convinced that this time things will be different. Our candidate, our ideas, our country, this moment in history — they’re all different. Others have been and continue to be wrong, but we’ve finally got it right!

Which, by the way, is the exact same conviction every true believer of every ideology in every country throughout history has believed, killed and died for. Sure, the particulars are unique. But the true believer sentiment that fuels the whole enterprise is the least novel thing in history.

We live in a scary, painful world and people need hope. We feel helpless and long for a savior. It’s hard-wired into us. It’s what fuels religion and politics. In fact, after watching both national conventions the last two weeks, I’m beginning to think these are not two distinct things. Both conventions seemed a whole lot like religious revivals. With religious zeal, people were given hope and the promise of salvation. And just as in religion, the insiders who know the truth and really care rallied against those who are deceived and who merely claim to care. Devotees of the candidates and parties responded to sermons and music with passionate religious zeal bordering on worship — just as true believers of religions and political systems have done throughout history.

We do need hope and we do need a savior. Yet, when this natural longing for hope and salvation is directed toward anything or anyone other than God, the Bible calls it idolatry. Our hope is not to be placed in the eloquence this or that politician, but in the loving self-sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. We’re never to put “Country First” but are rather to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”

I encourage you to be a true believer, but not in the religion of politics, nor in America, nor any political party, nor (what is close to the same thing) any religion. Be a true believer in Jesus and the small mustard seed revolution he inaugurated into the world. Join with others in passionately living a Jesus-looking lifestyle, sacrificing your time and resources for others on a daily basis. Invest all your hope and confidence in the foolish weakness of the cross rather than in the wise power of Caesar’s empire.

This is where the true “last, best hope of the world” lies.


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