An Apologetics Primer:

Caribbean Apologetics Issues, No. 2

GEM ’85, this rev. Aug. 2002a

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect . . ."     (1 Peter 3:15)

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3.2       Political Messianism

Often, politicians in our region project themselves as messiahs, anointed to lead us into new promised lands.  However, as Christians, we know that it is only God who can save us from all the bitter fruit of our sin and selfishness, and it is only God who knows what is in men's hearts and can thus know the exact motives or attitudes of those who question or oppose him.  (See 1 Sam. 16:7.)

Therefore, when mere men project themselves as messiahs able to deliver our people into a new age, free of want, misery and suffering, and thus demand unquestioning support, or claim that politics is a sphere in which questions of right or wrong are irrelevant, they demand loyalties which properly belong only to God.

The first commandment still stands: "You shall have no other gods before me."  (Deut. 5:7.)

Marxian ideology — now lying in a shallow and noisily stirring grave — added to this potent idolatrous brew a philosophical framework, based upon materialism.  For, starting from the basic stance of rejecting any notion of a personal, Sovereign God, it asserted that matter and the purposeless laws that govern matter are all that exists.  It then claimed that social injustice is due to how some men have invented the notion of property and have used it to steal the fruit of other people’s work to fatten themselves, inventing complex social structures, notably religious and political/economic ones, to legitimise their action.  The proposed solution was revolution: the oppressed must throw off their chains and violently seize what "rightfully" is theirs. 

Unfortunately, as the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 – 1991 revealed, Marxist revolutions have simply substituted one oppressive, unjust and often incompetent ruling class for another. So, the collapse of the East Bloc has for the moment settled the debate over whether centrally planned economies outperform market-based economies: across time, they have not. 

However, as Bob Goudzwaard points out in Capitalism and Progress, the underlying greed and oppression issues first raised by Marx and other Socialists remain unresolved.  For, those who own or manage the capital assets of a firm often think only in terms of maximising profits.  They thus tend to neglect the legitimate rights, needs and interests of other stakeholders: workers and their families, suppliers (especially when their bargaining power is weak), customers, the wider community, even the environment.  

Therefore, in recent years, the ideological and moral controversies that have dogged capitalism from its inception have simply moved on to other grounds.  These include: market failures and environmental damage; [un-]sustainability of development and North/South globalisation agendas; capitalist/patriarchal oppression of workers, women, black people, and other racial/cultural minorities.  (Nor have the usual noises about profit maximisation as an efficiency measure put the critics to flight, for the key theorems relate to idealised, not real world markets.)  That is, the underlying theme of oppression/liberation remains unresolved, and the underlying materialistic thinking and hankering after political messiahs still set the agenda for public debate. 

This is fundamentally problematic, for secularist political messianism/liberationism rejects God, as its first step in thinking.  So, however good the analysis may be at particular points — and it can be uncomfortably close to the truth, even though such thinkers have more than their fair share of misleading arguments — such thinking has no clear and firm basis for respecting truth, rights, and values; even though it often reflects a splendid sensitivity to the cry of the oppressed.  

Now, it is an easily observed fact that we naturally become angry and complain or quarrel when we are treated unfairly, though we often fail to live up to the standards we thus set for others.  That is, as C. S. Lewis was fond of pointing out, how and why we quarrel reveals that we expect other people to respect our rights — binding moral claims on others.  In short, in practice, we all accept that at least some moral principles are objectively binding.  Unfortunately, at the same time, we often wish to escape the force of such claims against our own selves!  

As a result, it is an all-too- common human failing to be busy about sawdust in the next person’s eye, when we have planks sticking out of our own eyes.  [Matt. 7:1 – 5; cf. 18:15 – 18.] 

It is therefore quite easy for political messianists to highlight the failings and hypocrisies of others.  But, more importantly, it is quite another thing for would-be saviours of society to give an adequate basis for the binding nature of our rights. For, what “rights” can “an accidental by-product thrown off by the random chaos of a chance world” ultimately claim against those who hold the levers of power in the community?

This is crucial, as secularist thinking naturally tends to reduce morality to subjective feelings driven by accidents of genetics or of culture, religion and history.  Would-be political messiahs therefore typically resort to manipulative media and political power games as they attempts to deliver their promised utopias.  But, since secularists reduce truth to subjective perceptions, and cut rights down to being mere entitlements granted through control of the levers of political, legal and regulatory power, they are usually blind to the planks in their own eyes — their own fallen, sinful, deceitful and desperately wicked hearts.  [Cf. Jeremiah 17:5 – 11, esp. 9 – 10, and Deut. 8:17 - 20.]

Consequently, secularist utopian reformers all too easily fall prey to the corrupting temptations of power.  For example, they often ruthlessly exploit media access and academic/ideological power to push through their policy agendas — often based on questionable or even deceptive scientific, factual, moral or legal claims.  In some instances, they have even abused the power of police agencies and the courts — and not just Nazis and Communists, either. 

As a result, public policy dominated or controlled by such ideologues soon drifts away from sound foundations, in pursuit of ever-receding mirages, often ending up in shipwreck.  This has already become all too clear in the case of the Marxists, who have now left behind the daunting challenge of repairing the political, social, cultural, economic, educational and environmental havoc created by forty to seventy years of ruinous rule by tyrannical Communist Dictators.

Similarly, should they gain or hold power for long enough, bitter fruit will also come from the current crop of would-be political messiahs, precisely because they have lost sight of their own inner corruption and need for redemption, inner renewal and transformation through the only true Messiah.  For, as the great Russian writer and dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, observed — consciously echoing the ancient prophets — the line between good and evil passes, not between classes and nations, but right through the individual human heart.

The main question, in short, is NOT over particular issues, theories, rights and policies, but rather over who is Lord: man, or Jesus?  (For, as Rom. 13:1-7 points out, governing authorities are servants and stewards of God, responsible for upholding justice, rewarding good, and punishing evil.  When those who hold power drift from this mooring, they inevitably follow a road to ruin.)

In short, the state is, and must always be, accountable to God.  For, it is only he who can truly establish justice in the community. 


NOTICES: This course module was originally created by Gordon Mullings, in 1985, for use as part of a manual for Cell Group Leaders for the UCCF, in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. It has been subsequently revised and developed, to date. (DISCLAIMER: While reasonable attempts have been made to provide accurate, fair and informative materials for use in training, no claim is made for absolute truth, and corrections based on factual errors and/or gaps or inconsistencies in reasoning are welcome.) FAIR USE: The contents of this module are intended for use as a support for learning about responding to the typical intellectual challenges to the Christian Faith and gospel that are commonly encountered in the Caribbean, especially in tertiary education and in commentary in the regional and international media. Permission is therefore granted to link to this page for fair use under intellectual property law, and for reasonable citation of the linked content on this site for church- or parachurch- group related training and/or for personal or academic use; this specifically excludes reproduction, linking or citation for commercial, controversial or media purposes without the Author's written permission -- especialy where matters relating to the validity and value of Faith/Religious/Atheological Commitments and Truth-Claims are being debated or disputed. PDF version available, under similar terms. COPYRIGHT:GEM 2002. All rights are reserved.