Time for another part in my series on my battle with cynicism. I talked a few weeks ago that The Cynic was my supervillain alter ego, you can read that here. And last week I talked about my work sometimes feeds the villain in me and you can read that here. I mentioned two other fronts on which cynicism creeps in and convinces me to don my mask and evil lab coat and reap destruction on my unsuspecting arch rivals; the political culture currently and my health. This post concerns the culture of politics, media, social media, etc. we find ourselves living in now and how it feeds the nastiest supervillain on the black; The Cynic! (cue evil laugh)
It’s impossible to live in this country anymore to not be outraged about well…something. And to be fair, there sure is a lot perhaps worth being outraged about. But the Cynic in me has gotten outraged over all the outrage. The Jesus follower in me is outraged we are outraged about the wrong things, and at the end of the day nothing on cable news does anything but raise my blood pressure and make me more outraged.
I do not loathe politics in and of themselves. I love studying government, I love the history of our country and how our democratic republic was formed. What I loathe is how the church has embraced politics, and how it’s inescapable for someone like me. I hate how a people, who have this thing called the Bible and in it, God spends a good chunk the Old Testament demonstrating how terribly wrong it is, yet we do it anyway. Nothing in the Bible turns out well when we start mixing religion and man-made politics. But then again, like the Israelites of the Bible, we seem to never learn. Neither do I when it comes to a lot of other stuff.
The net result for someone like me is to be utterly cynical about the whole thing. And if cynicism is the absence of hope, this may be the one area where cynicism is warranted. From a Christian perspective Jesus never once wasted a moment changing the world through legislation. He could have very well waltzed into Rome and changed the world that way. But instead Jesus just went to the people society, and religious people hated and loved them and built a movement on their faithfulness. He certainly loved the religious people too, just in a different way. He loved them enough to tell them the truth, because they should have known better. He called them blind, fools, hypocrites, the offspring of vipers, whitewashed tombs, and unknown graves just to name a few.
When Jesus did finally cross paths to the prominent government of the world at the time, his response perhaps has a lesson. Jesus doesn’t say much about government, except one very profound statement found all three of synoptic Gospels. The essential summary is that the religious people were trying to get him arrested so they thought for sure he would oppose taxes because people treated Caesar like a God. That would NEVER happen today, right? Lol. Anyway, they send these guys to trip him up, and well I’ll just use Matthew’s version of this encounter from chapter 22:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Sick burn bro. Had Jesus implored people not to pay their taxes he ultimately would have been arrested and came to face-to-face with Pontius Pilate sooner then he would. So when Jesus finally is arrested and actually interacts with the Roman authorities, Jesus doesn’t waste his time defending himself to the authority of man. Like at all. Again from Matthew 27:
11 Meanwhile, Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
That’s the Upside Down Kingdom. That’s also tons of swag. Like Omar from The Wire kind of swag.
I think, instead, the story of Pilate is a reminder of what happens to anyone when they step into the political arena, sometimes for the “right” reasons. Pilate did not want to do anything to Jesus, he says multiple times he finds no fault in him. He tries to deflect the issue but keeps finding himself faced with Jesus time and time again. In the light of increasing pressure from the Jewish authorities and the Jewish people he can either go with what he knows is right, and not punish Jesus, or he can cave. When Pilate tried to set Jesus free, the crowd “kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar’ ” (John 19:12). No doubt fearing news of this would reach Rome and end his career, Pilate takes the cheap way out, caves to the pressure, and eventually sentences Jesus to death.
Pilate should forever stand as a warning against giving in to the pressure of the crowd and turning our backs on what is right. And that can happen far more easily than most of us realize, especially in the world of politics. The money in politics is incredible. Especially since a few years ago the Supreme Court here in the U.S. essentially equated money with free speech, the money now flowing into politics is vast and has very little regulation. That means, should you aspire to a political office perhaps even for the right reasons, it becomes challenging to win on a state or national scale without a tremendous amount of money. And that money comes with a lot of strings attached.
I’m always extremely suspicious of folks who say they are Christians yet want to run for political office. I’m not saying they shouldn’t do it, but It’s hard to square the Upside Down Kingdom Jesus brings with the Worldly Kingdoms that politics is most concerned with building. Mixing those two becomes a toxic waste dump far too often. Like Pilate, when faced with a crowd of people who want something you know is wrong, but the result of standing-up likely means the loss of your position, money, and all the trappings that come with political office? Well, it’s no wonder we find ourselves in 2018, in America anyway, with our state capitols and our nation’s capital, full of too many Pilates and minimal salt and light.
Then again maybe, like God demonstrated time and time again the Old Testament, perhaps it’s just a reminder to stop putting our hope in all the wrong places.
I wanted to take a mention and thank those of you who reached out after my post on Tuesday. I really appreciated it. I also wanted to give a shout out to another blog and acquaintance of mine Dave Richmond who wrote a great blog about the fishbowl we live in. Go check it out here!