How do we solve the problem of politics in 2020 and beyond?

I believe politics is in big need of a reboot. I believe much of the Western world (but particularly the US and UK) is suffering. Take, for example, the division in society about issues like Brexit, Covid, Transgender, etc. These have all become highly politicised. You can understand why an issue like Brexit would be political, but why Covid? Why should the country’s response to a pandemic become a political isssue, for example?

In a nutshell, I believe this is because politics has taken the place that religion used to occupy. Let me explain in a bit more detail.

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Politics has become a religion

A few months ago I wrote about cancel culture. I included this slide from Speak Life, which talks about what happens when you take away “The Sacred” (i.e. religion) from society. Glen Scrivener argued that this simply bumps everything up a notch: politics takes the place of the Sacred, and sports and entertainment move into the political area. This is why everything is preachy nowadays!

I think this is a hugely powerful explanation for what is happening in society. Let’s think about a couple of examples.

Who can solve a problem like Covid?

One of the things I find fascinating about the government’s response to Covid-19 has been trying to control the virus. It was part of the government’s official message in the early days of the pandemic!

What I find fascinating about this is the way that the government have simply taken it upon themselves to control this virus. Have any governments in history ever been able to successfully control a virus?

Not to mention, the opposition have used covid as a political weapon. At the start of October, Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister had lost control of the virus. Labour have called for stricter lockdown measures to be applied, and applied sooner. The message they are trying to convey is: “we would have protected you from this virus”.

And the things is – and this is more to the point – we’ve let them. Or at least, a lot of us have. We’ve just assumed that the government can and should control the virus. The government say we should wear masks, so everyone dutifully wears masks. The government say we should stop meeting, so we stop meeting. We accept these things because we believe the government are controlling the virus.

In the past, people might have gone to church to pray for an end to a plague. For example, the Book of Common Prayer includes prayers “in the time of any common plague of sickness”. These days we don’t pray to God for an end to plague – we look to our politicians to sort it out.

Sorting out the problems of society

Before the last election I posted up something on my Facebook about Labour and anti-semitism. Maybe that was unwise, as I don’t really like talking about politics on Facebook. Anyway, it led to an interesting discussion about the rights and wrongs of voting and political parties. One of the things which a couple of friends said was that it was morally right to vote for Labour due to economic reasons.

One person raised the example (from their own experience) of children coming to school who hadn’t been fed properly. Of course, this is a big issue. There are lots of big issues in society. What I found interesting was the assumption that the problem was the government. I see this time and again, especially from younger people on social media: there are deep problems in society (which there are) – and so the government should do something.

The thing is, if you look properly into a lot of these problems, it’s rarely the case that you can say “it’s the government’s fault”. This is an issue I’ve talked about a few times, e.g. on my post about “the poor”. A lot of the problems like this are actually caused by many factors. Is the biggest problem that they’re not getting enough help from the government? I would argue, that’s not the issue here.

If we go back to the Book of Common Prayer again, there’s another prayer “In the time of dearth or famine”. In the past, in this country, if there was a problem with people getting enough food – we’d pray to God about it. These days, we’re more likely to look to the government to help.

Prime Ministers & Presidents

As I write this, we’ve just had an election in the US. Donald Trump has lost the election to Joe Biden. (Well, that’s what it looks like right now… let’s just say it’s contested).

What’s been interesting during the campaign, and now the result has been announced, is the way that people think “their guy” is The Anointed One. They often treat “their guy” as the one who can sort everything out, while the “other guy” is going to cause all the problems.

Jeremy Corbyn

We had the same in the UK with the last election: some people hailed Corbyn as the one who was going to solve every problem (see above), and that Boris Johnson was some kind of fascist. Other people saw Boris Johnson as some kind of saviour, the one who would “Get Brexit Done”, whereas Corbyn was going to plunge the country into debt.

Whichever side you were on, only our guy was going to solve all the problems in the world. This is far too much responsibility to give to one problem!

Again – we are looking to political leaders to sort out all our problems. We look to them as Messiahs. When, as we should know from Monty Python:

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy
He’s not the Messiah… he’s a very naughty boy!

Woke: the new religion

I’ve already talked about how woke is a new religion. If you’d like to see someone with a bit more authority than me talk about these things, listen to Trevor Phillips instead.

What’s interesting about the phenomenon of wokeness is the way that many people point to the God-shaped hole which created it.

The God-shaped hole in society

One of the things I find most fascinating is that many people see there is a “God-shaped hole” in society. I saw this most recently, for example, in Douglas Murray’s fireside chat with Dennis Prager. A lot of people seem to have noticed this, for example Laurence Fox.

I think they’re absolutely right. The political problems we face are actually religious.

This is exactly what the Bible predicts. Romans 1:23 says when we don’t believe in God, we exchange God for other – lesser – gods. G.K. Chesterton put it this way:

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

This is the problem that we have in society. As Christianity has declined, we haven’t stopped believing. We’ve simply replaced God with other things – e.g. politics and the government. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says:

When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. 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.

If that was the case when he was writing a few years ago, how much more true is it now! And this is exactly the problem. We put the kind of faith in our political leaders that we used to reserve for God alone. We expect political leaders to be able to sort out our problems, solve the economy, feed, house and clothe everyone, and achieve a perfect society. Unfortunately – those things can only be done by God himself.

The only solution to these problems

Mathematical problems require a mathematical solution. Political problems require a political solution. Religious problems require a religious solution.

We all want to see a perfect society. We all want to see those who are hungry fed, those who are living in poverty lifted out of it. The problem is that the government is unable to accomplish those goals. Or at least, they can give it a good go – but there are limitations to what a government can do.

When we trust in politics and governments to do what only God can do, that is what the Bible calls idolatry: we’ve substituted something in place of God. The good news is, there is a solution for that problem. It’s a person – but not a politician, but a Saviour, Jesus.

Think about these famous words which are often read in Christmas services up and down the land:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

The government will be on his shoulders. Jesus isn’t some kind of consultant who tells us how we might think about living our lives better. He’s the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace – he’s the only one who has the power to bring about everything we want in society and in our lives.

And, even better news: he died for our sins so that we might be forgiven and transformed. He died so that we could be forgiven of our idolatry. Isn’t that amazing! God didn’t decide to just cast us aside – as he had every right to. But instead, he sent his Son, a Saviour – one who alone can save us from our sin and idolatry. He alone can set us free from our addiction to political solutions and help us to seek him alone.

The God who can satisfy

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:3-4

The other day I read this Psalm, and I was really struck by it. When we take delight in the Lord, then he can give us our desires. This is the case for us as individuals, and it’s also the case for us as a society. When we seek the Lord – then, all the problems that we face in society can be dealt with.

In Britain, as a society we used to seek the Lord. You can see that from the prayers included in the Book of Common Prayer. Even as recently as the second world war, King George VI called for a national day of prayer which ended up in the miracle of Dunkirk – see this video for more information.

I believe the question facing us as a nation – and across the Western world – is simply this: when we are confronted with all the problems in the world, are we willing to turn aside from our political idols, from our addiction to solutions in government, and seek God instead? Are we willing to seek the Lord, who alone can bring about what we are looking for?

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

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