The Candidates and Causes We Worship

By Mark A. Taylor

In her post this week, Eleanor Daniel offers one warning as we face the claims and counter claims leading up to another U.S. national election: Look carefully for the truth instead of believing the latest rumor or accusation.

In his powerful little book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller suggests another: Be sure you avoid the error of some people who have turned politics into an idol.

Keller’s thesis is that even good things become counterfeit gods when we look to them for the fulfillment, security, salvation, or hope that can come only from God. He speaks incisively about how many in our society have made gods of money, sex, or success. In his chapter on power, he suggests clues that political power has become an idol. One sign is panic when the God-substitute doesn’t perform as expected:


This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. . . . They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel.


A second sign of political idolatry, according to Keller, is labeling one’s opponents as evil, not just mistaken.


After each election, there is now a significant number of people who see the incoming president lacking moral legitimacy. The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion.


Keller’s theory may explain some of the gridlock we’re seeing in Washington these days. If I worship (rather than just advocate) my position on the economy or health reform, I cannot see the value of an opposing position. If my party or my candidate has become like a god to me, I’m left with little room to compromise.

None of this forbids Christians to argue a particular political point of view or passionately to support the candidate they’ve chosen. None of this means there may not be contenders or causes more Christian than others. Certainly every issue and position must be examined in light of what the Scripture says.

But the greatest biblical truth is that God reigns. Presidents come and go. Legislatures make good laws and bad. Sometimes we get our way, and sometimes we don’t. Regardless, we hope and trust in the creator of time and the universe. No one governing some little part of this earth for a blip in the grand continuum of eternity offers us the promise that comes only from God.

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