Tuesday, October 28, 2008

on Obama and I Samuel 8

Laura Hollis at TownHall.com with an essay on American idolatry toward politics (hat tip: Ed Basquill)-- and in particular, the strain of idolatry running through Obama's campaign.

Idolatry among Republicans has been diminishing in recent years. (A notable counter-example is the increasingly shrill and partisan talk-radio hosts and their support of Republican candidates, despite their staggering warts.) Ironically, perhaps the reduced idolatry has led to less passion from GOP voters and will lead to Obama's victory this year.

The good news? Assuming he's elected, whether Obama fails or not, the idol will fail.

The question: how will the worshipers respond?

As one who has taught entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking for nearly ten years, I am distressed by the apparently overwhelming sentiment sweeping Americans that they must now be taken care of....

...it is profoundly immoral to set yourself up as a secular messiah of sorts, assuring people that you will take care of them, eliminate hardship, heal the planet, and hold enemies at bay by the sheer force of your own hypnotic rhetoric....

The bulk of her article is built around the Israelites' idolatry toward politics as manifested in the staggering and yet poignant classic passage in I Samuel 8. Then, she shares these insights...

The comparisons are telling: Americans are understandably fed up with corruption, greed, and perversion of justice in our leaders. But till now, we have asked for no king, because we could take care of ourselves...

And then after listing a number of social ills, she concludes...

This is what we, as a nation, have brought ourselves to. These are problems that no amount of social spending will cure, and any promise to do so is a lie, because no amount of money will change people’s hearts. And yet, instead of reaching deep within ourselves to find the solutions, we now whine and mewl for someone to save us.

And here he comes, Barack Obama, on a “righteous wind.”

As with anyone who would be king, Obama will take our money and our property in ever-larger amounts. Our children will be saddled with debt and beholden to a bloated government that will enslave the very people it promised to help. We will be at the mercy of our enemies. And no matter how bleak or desperate our own lives becomes, the leaders in Obama’s government will always thrive; such people always do. Nor is any of this is unique to Obama; it is in the nature of every king, and every government, which is why our government was originally set up to be limited, both to protect us, and to ensure our own self-reliance.

John McCain will not be a perfect President. But it is not necessary for the leader of a free, righteous, and entrepreneurial people to be perfect. I can support John McCain because he asks only that I vote for him, not that I worship him. And I will vote for John McCain on November 4th, not because he would be a better king, but because he does not claim to be one at all.

Neither McCain nor Obama is a king who will save us; we must turn instead to the only One who can.


At October 28, 2008 at 9:49 AM , Blogger The New Albanian said...

Neither McCain nor Obama is a king who will save us; we must turn instead to the only One who can.

Al Gore?

At October 28, 2008 at 12:32 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...


or PeeWee Herman...

At October 28, 2008 at 1:32 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

The fact that Obama excites people and gives them hope doesn't make him the messiah nor his followers idolators. Obama draws tens of thousands of people to campaign events and he has raised a phenomenal amount of money through small donations. This is a sure sign of a healthy democracy—but one the Republicans have cleverly derogated by using words like messiah or celebrity. (These are the same clever people who tried to deflect early criticism of Gov. Palin as sexism. We haven't heard that one lately.)

And I would argue that it isn't idolatry to support good government or government solutions to problems. Believing that trust in government is idolatry seems like a great way of getting bad governments. The present economic crisis is the result of decades of special interest derogation of government and promotion of "free" (unregulated) markets. Now we have a McCain economic advisor (Carly Fiorina) suggesting that we should let the domestic auto industry fail because the auto industry shouldn't be insulated from its own mistakes. Thus the free market is more important than critical heavy industries (and the millions employed by them). That's idolatry.

At October 28, 2008 at 3:06 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...


I think my original post was ok, but I could have been clearer-- so I appreciate the op to clarify.

I agree that not nearly all Obama supporters are idolatrous. However, a significant number of them are. My comments are only relevant to them.

Likewise, there can be idolatry toward govt policy that is good-- or, more likely, policy that is perceived to be good (by definition).

And yes, there can be idolatry toward markets. If directed toward a specific industry, I wouldn't call that idolatry toward "markets". If directed at markets in general, it's a rare thing (especially among public officials).

This is akin to people who see my car's "I Love Capitalism" bumper sticker and say they agree. But if I press them on their thoughts on free trade, the minimum wage, a variety of govt programs, etc., it's obvious that they are no capitalist!

My favorite observation on govt vs. mkts is from those who blame mkts (or deregulation) for something (e.g., the financial crisis, health care, the Great Depression) when the govt was/is *heavily* involved. Of course, mkts might bear some blame, but only ignorance/blindness/idolatry could lead to exonerating govt or fully implicating mkts so easily.

At October 28, 2008 at 10:53 PM , Blogger William Lang said...

>only ignorance/blindness/idolatry could lead to exonerating govt or fully implicating mkts so easily.

Perhaps we should neither exonerate government or fully implicate markets, but instead seek a middle path. Both private enterprise and government can cause serious problems or accomplish extraordinary good. We can deal with this.

At October 29, 2008 at 8:48 AM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Exactly...But how often does one hear someone ignoring the role of markets vs. the role of govt in causing trouble?

It is far more common to hear the latter: to lay the blame on markets and capitalism, without specifics, without any mention of govt policy, without much/any understanding of economic theory.

The most ridiculous historical example is to blame the Great Depression on markets. The most recent contemporary example is the debate over health care.

At October 29, 2008 at 12:10 PM , Blogger Shawn Loy said...

How about this definition of idolatry (as defined by the first commandment): giving anyone but God the first tithe of your income (money), the first part of your day (time), or the first part of any other area of your life.

What does that say to we who withhold our income taxes from our wages before we give to God?

Hasn't the US government been trying to take first place in our lives for quite some time now - long before these two guys came along?

At October 29, 2008 at 12:39 PM , Blogger Eric Schansberg said...

Oh yes, idolatry toward govt has a long history-- in America and in world history. Biblically, it goes back perhaps as far as Cain building a city in Genesis 4.

The first commandment is not that specific, but the basic principle you've outlined is good: God should get our best. Beyond that, the injunction of Scripture (made especially clear in the New Testament) is that everything belongs to God, so He should "get" all from us-- or from another angle, we are stewards of the time, talent and treasure to which He has entrusted us. Or from Romans, we should offer "our" bodies and lives as "living sacrifices".

The injunction to the Christian here is to avoid the entanglement of govt as a potential idol and to work for justice using govt as a potentially ethical and effective tool to reach godly ends. For the non-believer, the injunction is to walk away from their favored idols (including, potentially, govt) and to embrace the living God.

I wouldn't go so far as to (stringently) question the order in which the govt receives its pound (or ten) of flesh.

The larger point: while govt is one of God's instruments, it should be limited-- and should not be idolized.


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