The Rise of the Divine State

Every act of our government today is a divine act. The philosophy of Georg F. W. Hegel (1770-1831), followed by Marxists, Fascists, Nazis, and the modern State in America “expresses the argument with chilling consistency: ‘The Universal is to be found in the State. . . . The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth. . . . We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth. . . . [T]he State is the march of God through the world.’ After compiling these statements from Hegel’s works, Karl Popper comments that Hegel’s views mandate the ‘absolute moral authority of the state, which overrules all personal morality, all conscience.’”1

Herbert Schlossberg’s masterful study of power in his book Idols for Destruction is both prophetic and frightening. It describes what we read in the headlines of every newspaper and every article, blog post, and news report that we find on the internet:

Rulers have ever been tempted to play the role of father to their people. . . . The state that acts like a wise parent instead of a vindictive judge has been an attractive image to many people. They include ecclesiastical authorities who have completely missed the point of the gospel warning to “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt. 23:9). The father is the symbol not only of authority but also of provision. “Our Father who art in heaven. . . . Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:9, 11). Looking to the state for sustenance is a cultic act [an act of worship]; we rightly learn to expect food from parents, and when we regard the state as the source of physical provision we render to it the obeisance of idolatry. The crowds who had fed on the multiplied loaves and fishes were ready to receive Christ as their ruler, not because of who he was but because of the provision. John Howard Yoder2 has rightly interpreted that scene: “The distribution of bread moved the crowd to acclaim Jesus as the new Moses, the provider, the Welfare King whom they had been waiting for.”3

Power is most dangerous in the hands of people who believe what they are doing is for our well being because they contend that their intentions to help the less fortunate are righteous and just. It’s the intention to do good things that matters not the actual results. 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. 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.

Once the State gains power, its rulers work relentlessly to maintain power. Since the State gained power by promising the masses security, it must offer more security to maintain its power. Power replaces justice, the true role of civil government:

When the provision of paternal security replaces the provision of justice as the function of the state, the state stops providing justice. The ersatz [artificial and inferior substitute] parent ceases executing judgment against those who violate the law, and the nation begins losing benefits of justice. Those who are concerned about the chaos into which the criminal justice system has fallen should consider what the state’s function has become. Because the state can only be a bad imitation of a father, as a dancing bear act is of a ballerina, the protection of this Leviathan of a father turns out to be a bear hug.4

Politicians pick up on the desire for security and dependency and use them for political gain: “The idol state uses the language of compassion because its intention is a messianic one. It finds the masses harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, needing a savior.”5

  1. Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, 2 vols. 5th rev. ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, [1966] 1971), 2:31. []
  2. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Angus Noster, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 34–35. []
  3. Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, [1983] 1993), 183. []
  4. Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, 184. []
  5. Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction, 185. []