Political idolatry and surviving an election loss

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Spend a little time following politics on Twitter, and you’re likely to come away depressed, angry, and paranoid.

This is true even (especially?) if you follow conservatives.

A few months ago, Peggy Noonan wrote something I liked a lot:  “[I]n their fight against liberalism and its demands,” she said, “too many conservatives have unconsciously come to ape the left. They too became all politics all the time.”

It’s unclear when this began, but I would suppose it happened around the time that conservatives started reading Saul Alinksy’s “Rules for Radicals,” and mimicking his ends justify the means tactics. To be sure, it is wise to “know thy enemy as thy self,” but it’s hardly edifying to turn this book into a sort of political bible. But that’s precisely what many conservatives did.

In any event, in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s loss, Noonan’s message is arguably more relevant than ever. Some conservatives find themselves bitter and demoralized. This is partly natural, but also because we have become too obsessed with politics.

Politics, of course, is hugely important. The stakes are high. But there are other things in life, too. There is faith — which typically involves an acceptance that things are beyond our control.

There are family and friends and hobbies.

And there is the realization that, though they are not mutually exclusive, a yawning chasm often exists between the long-term advancement of conservative principles — and the fierce urgency of an election.

Speaking of the election, just prior to it, RedState’s Erick Erickson espoused the sort of health worldview we should hope to expect from a Christian conservative: “[I]f Barack Obama wins, I won’t be upset. If Mitt Romney wins, I won’t be running through the streets cheering,” Erickson wrote. “God is sovereign and He is in charge and He will return. That is my hope and my ever present expectation.”

“Don’t confuse me with a fatalist and don’t confuse me with someone who does not really care about the future of our nation,” he continued. “I think we are the last best hope of mankind on this planet. But my destiny is not tied to this planet. While I am here, however, I have convictions that are greater than either candidate and either party and I fight more for a cause than a candidate.”

Erickson was criticized (by some) for his post. (Apparently, someone even mistook the title, “50,000 feet looking down,” taking it to mean that he authored the post from aboard a private plane.)

For others, his insouciance seemed clearly inappropriate for the moment. After all, it was penned in the midst of the maelstrom of #war.

(The problem is that if you’re obsessed with the urgency of today’s politics, you expect everyone else to be, too.)

But Erickson, in my view, had the right attitude.

In his 2009 book, “Counterfeit Gods,” Timothy Keller discusses the phenomenon of “political idolatry.” It rings true today. (The following excerpt comes from the website Keller Quotes):

“If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end! There’s no hope!’

This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. 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. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death.”

The Republican Party and the conservative movement have some soul-searching to do.

We do, too,

So what should you do if you find yourself having been sucked into the political vortex, and are in need of a detox program?

Ditch Alinsky and pick up some Auden or Eliot. Read about truly heroic and inspiring figures like Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce.

And while you’re mourning Mitt Romney’s loss, “In lieu of flowers and in his honor, go see the new James Bond movie.”

Matt K. Lewis