It’s hard to believe how much things have changed in less than 20 years. There are several reasons for this. First, many conservatives have dropped out of the fight. It’s not hard to understand why. Our two-party system does not give us many options. While there are differences between the Democrats and Republicans, the differences aren’t great enough.
Second, as Lord Acton (1834–1902) observed, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Consider Republican congressman Peter King from New York.
“Republicans can’t allow the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to open the door for the ‘Ted Cruzes and the Rand Pauls to take over’ the GOP, Rep. Peter King said.
“Cantor’s defeat in Virginia’s Republican primary Tuesday to economics professor Dave Brat sent shock waves through political circles. Brat walked away with the primary win with 55.5 percent of the vote to Cantor’s 45.5 percent. Polls leading into the election showed Cantor with a healthy lead over Brat.
“King told MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ the approach of fellow Republican Sen. Cruz of Texas tarnished the party’s brand when he led the shutdown of the government in October. King said the ‘overwhelming majority of the country’ thought lawmakers were ‘crazy’ and ‘irresponsible’ to have allowed it to happen.”
We now know that the shutdown had almost no effect on people’s lives. This is what bothers politicians like King. If that much government is not needed, then why do people like King have so much power? King and those like him have been corrupted by power.
Power can be dangerous even in the hands of good people because they believe their intentions to help the less fortunate are righteous and just. Jesus never issued a call to plunder the rich to pay for the needs of the poor even if the intention to help was for their good and the people wanting to help were good.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the power of the ring is not something to be desired even by good people. The goal is to destroy it. When Boromir fails to avoid the ring’s power, he dies. Even Gandalf and the elves shun the power of the ring. Tolkien is doubtful that any person has the ability to resist the temptation of absolute power promised by the ring, even if that power is used for good.
That is one of the great themes of the series. It’s no different when politicians believe that they have been elected to office to use their power for good. Their interference, even with the best intentions, can lead to disastrous results. As Douglas Wilson writes, “our modern priests of Baal always promise us green and, just like in the days of old, turn everything brown.”
Third, we have allowed the redefinition of almost everything. This approach to politics happened a long time ago and is a common approach to obscure the hidden faults in any program or social and moral movement: Social Security, New Deal, Great Society, Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, Gay Rights, the Right to Choose, Fairness Doctrine, Investing in Our Children, Earned Income Tax Credit, War on ___________, Affirmative Action, Stimulus, etc.
“Changing the definition of key words” is at the top of the list as N.T. Wright points out in the following section from a recent interview that appeared in First Things:
“When anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out. . . .
“In post-1917 Russia, there were whole categories of people who were called ‘former persons,’ because by the Communist diktat1 they had ceased to be relevant for the state, and once you call them former persons it was extremely easy to ship them off somewhere and have them killed.
“In the same way, there was a letter in the Times Literary Supplement just a few weeks ago saying that when we’re talking about assisted suicide, we shouldn’t actually use words like ‘suicide,’ ‘killing,’ and those sort of words because those imply that you shouldn’t do it. Whereas now our civilization is saying that maybe there are reasons for that. I find that sort of stuff chilling, the attempt to change an ideology within a culture by changing the language.
“Now, the word ‘marriage,’ for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman.
“Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.
“If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage; it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking its head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.”
The redefinition of everything is happening so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. We are drowning in redefinitions, so much so that lies no longer bother us.
We don’t know how to react. There’s no place to go for a remedy.
Is it time to give up? Not at all. When the social, moral, and political order get this corrupt, the center is about to collapse. This is why we need to be ready with a remedy, and it’s not changing one power broker with another.
- “An order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent.” [↩]