Gorging On Politics

 colson2If you’re not already weary of the 2008 presidential election campaign—some 18 months before we vote—you must be living in a cave without cable or Internet access.

The 2008 campaign began the day after the 2006 election, making this the first non-stop presidential campaign in history. The media, desperate to sustain interest in it, is reduced to pursuing such earth-shattering stories as: Which candidate owns the most pets? The answer: John McCain with three turtles, three parakeets, two dogs, and a ferret. Even Christians, this early, seem frantic over who’s going to be nominated. Have we finally succumbed to what Jacques Ellul, the eccentric French reformed thinker, prophesied in the ’60s? Ellul foresaw the Information Age and the need of the media for a steady flow of information to feed the populace. It would therefore gravitate, he said, to covering centers of power. Politicians would be willing accomplices because they’d gain fame and clout. All of this has created what Ellul titled his prophetic book, The Political Illusion, the idea that every problem has a political solution. He warned that this would lead to increasing dependence on the state by ordinary citizens and decreasing citizen control of government. This has proven prophetic. From Kennedy’s New Frontier to LBJ’s Great Society to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative, the challenger promises new programs, and, when elected, has to deliver. The result is that program piles upon program, agency upon agency; the whole structure of government becomes so unwieldy it can hardly function. We saw this happen in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I fear we might see it again during another terrorist attack. While a political obsession might be good for keeping the talking heads busy on television, citizens are the ultimate losers. Virtually everybody has to deal with government, whether obtaining a driver’s license or opening a business. We often end up locked in bureaucratic gridlock, even over minor issues—just what Ellul predicted. But the real evil of the illusion is that it distracts us from other aspects of life. Politics are important, of course: Christians have a duty to be the best of citizens, bringing concerns of justice and righteousness into public life. But we have to keep political activity in perspective, seeing that it fills the proper role in what Protestant reformers labeled “sphere sovereignty.” Each sphere—family, church, and government—must carry out its own responsibility before God. This means we must guard against government encroachment on other spheres. And we must not let the political illusion blind us to what makes life rich and meaningful: family, church, and community. In short, culture. Politics is, after all, only an expression of culture. It can never be the ultimate source of meaning and influence in any society if people wish to remain free. Perhaps, after this endless and exhausting presidential campaign, Americans may be so gorged on politics that we’ll finally say “enough!” I’m already saying it, and I refuse to speculate about the campaign. And then maybe we will reject the promises of political messiahs in favor of building up crumbling cultural infrastructure—our families, our churches, and communities. And Christians who understand the balance between politics and culture can help open our neighbors’ eyes to the fact that there is more to life than non-stop politics.    
Today's BreakPoint Offer
Chuck Colson, God & Government (Zondervan, 2007).  
For Further Reading and Information
2008 Campaign: Little Changed After 6 Months, But Get Ready For a Long, Hot Summer,” Austin-American Statesmen, 3 June 2007.   “Presidential Race Off to an Early Start,” Online News Hour, 12 February 2007.   “In Campaign 2008, Candidates Starting Earlier, Spending More,” Washington Post, 7 February 2007.   David Wayne, “Politics and the Problems in Our World,” Blogcritics Magazine, 6 June 2005.   Anne Morse, “Sphere Sovereignty and Girly Drinks,” The Point, 12 May 2007.   Breakpoint Commentary No. 070606, “Mudslinging and Dirty Politics: Should Christians go into Politics?”   Breakpoint Commentary No. 061101, “Is It a Sin not to Vote: Christians in the Public Square.”


Chuck Colson



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