Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your TV, there it was again—another mind-numbing story about politics.
You might have thought we’d catch a breath after President Obama’s historic election. But no, we’ve been treated to daily doses of political news ever since—the “historic” election of Republican Senator Scott Brown, Tea Party events, and weekly political scandals. Now, we’re looking ahead to November and the next “most historic election ever”—the one that will finally save America.
Are we all losing our minds, spending half our lives watching politics on the tube? I’m reminded of the words of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher. Almost 100 years before the invention of television, Kierkegaard predicted what would happen if such a thing were invented. “Suppose,” Kierkegaard wrote, “someone invented…a convenient little talking tube which could be heard over the whole land. I wonder if the police would not forbid it, fearing that the whole country would become mentally deranged.”
He was right: We are becoming deranged. We are succumbing to what French philosopher Jacques Ellul prophesied in the 1960s—the politicization of all aspects of life. Ellul foresaw the Information Age and the media’s need for a steady flow of information to feed the populace. Media therefore would gravitate to covering centers of power. Politicians would be willing accomplices, because they’d gain fame and clout.
We’ve succumbed to what Ellul predicted—the idea that every problem has a political solution. This, he warned, leads to increasing dependence on the state and decreasing citizen control of government.
The result: The structure of government becomes so unwieldy that it can hardly function. For example, we’ve spent billions fighting terrorism—but we couldn’t stop “the underwear bomber” from boarding a U.S.-bound plane, even though his name was on a terrorist watch list.
Ellul also foresaw that when government becomes all-intrusive, the intermediate structures that keep societies vibrant—families, churches, and voluntary associations—collapse and tyranny follows.
What’s the answer? First, we better recognize that politics is not the be-all and end-all. Politics is merely the expression of culture. Clean up culture—that’s our job—and politics will follow.
This happened when God’s people were awakened in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. England then was in worse straits than we are today, with slavery, child labor, and rampant political corruption. But along came William Wilberforce, the Oxford movement, and the Salvation Army. What followed was a great, century-long revival of Christian faith. England was not only saved in the Wesley revivals, it was stronger than ever.
So we as 21st-century Christians must do the same thing. And there is no time to lose. If, as I believe, the political illusion has America by the throat, there are only two likely outcomes—revolution, which is what the Tea Party people suggest (albeit peacefully), or tyranny.
God has acted again and again through His people to change history’s course. But for that to happen, the Church had better sober up, summon its spiritual resources, expose the political illusion, and begin to defend and live the Christian faith in our culture.