American False Prophets

In my current job, we call a lot of people prophets. Progressive religious folks love to think of themselves as playing Moses proclaiming to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”

But recently I’ve been reading Jeremiah and thinking more of the false prophets. These are the people who assured the King that everything would be well with Israel and that they could continue living in the land and oppressing the poor. They claimed victory when the enemy was besieging Jerusalem and said that a rebellion against their new rulers would prosper.

Notably, they were wrong. Regularly. But people kept listening to them and threw Jeremiah and other true prophets into cisterns, into jails and out of the city because they didn’t want to hear their message.

I think we have some false prophets in our midst today. Not just the folks that John Fea helpfully labels Court Evangelicals – though they are great examples of the category – but also people of any background who keep claiming that things are fine.

While collusion allegations grow stronger: the administration just did what all campaigns would do. When war with North Korea looms: the President is demonstrating strength, the only language that Kim Jong Un understands. When our President has trouble condemning Nazis: he is just trying to bring our nation together and adequately apportion blame.

Such consistent lapses in moral reasoning are a sign of false prophecy. When they are a regular part of a political party’s public stance – as is inevitable when a party needs to defend its morally bankrupt leader – that is a sign that the party has become one of false prophecy. Biblical discernment seems to urge us to stop giving these folks power. In our current two-party system, it is difficult to suss out exactly what that looks like but it seems imperative.

Current political life isn’t ancient Israel. Comparisons of anyone with prophets of any kind are usually a little tired. Still, we have a problem with false prophets today – people who consistently speak with a moral disingenuousness. The proper solution is true discernment: the ability to see the truth, speak it, and act accordingly. I pray that leaders of all kinds demonstrate this kind of prophetic moral voice.

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Psnippet 14: Folly leads to evil, then judgment

Psalm 14 shows us the intimate connection between morality and knowledge through its breakdown. We trace the results of lack of knowledge leading through corruption to judgement.

The psalm opens by telling us how a fool acts: they tell themselves that there is no God. Folly is connected to a certain self talk – a deliberately lying to yourself. This deception leads to more immoral behavior: “abominable deeds.”

Then the scene shifts to heaven, where God checks out the situation – tries to find anyone who understands. The gloss on understanding is to seek after God. Knowledge, in other words, is a form of spiritual curiosity rather than the self-limiting closure of options that we saw in verse 1.

But instead of seeking understanding/God – “there is no-one who does good, not even one.”

This foolishness directly causes a violation of the twofold commandment: all evildoers “eat up my people as thy eat bread” and “do not call on the LORD.” These two are so interlinked that we can’t discuss them separately.

God doesn’t just let his people be destroyed but will rescue the poor from the corrupt fool. Our willful lack of knowledge cannot stand in light of the wisdom of God which finally will restore his people.

Obviously, this feels relevant to our current situation in which it feels like some of our political leaders embrace folly and turn away from God. This means they exploit the poor. But Psalm 14 has a reminder: God will be the refuge of the poor, even in the face of the fool’s plans.

Republocrat

Carl Trueman is always a lot of fun, and I had to check Republocrat out – a short book of essays arguing, straightforwardly enough, that conservative theology ought not be confused with conservative politics. In the US they are often merged, but Trueman argues (from an ex-pat’s standpoint) that this is merely a cultural oddity of the United States. In other countries, Christians pioneered socialism and other leftist concepts (even quite conservative evangelical protestants – look at Wales for an easy historical example).

Trueman’s point is well taken. Still, he seems to make lots of strange missteps along the way, mainly as a result of overgeneralizing the conservative tradition and almost entirely failing to recognize the validity of the new left’s critique.

Trueman doesn’t engage fully with the conservative tradition. And that’s OK – it wasn’t his goal in the book. He recognizes that politically conservative Christians have strong reasons for believing the way that they do, that these reasons are rational, and that they play little part in the public discourse. He is trying, if I’m reading him correctly, to push the conservative Christian public closer to a rational discourse that acknowledges religious orthodoxy on many sides of the political question, not to push his style of old school liberalism. That would have taken another, quite different, book.

If Trueman fails to engage fully with the conservative tradition (which, looking around, is the most common critique of this book), he also sells the new left tradition short. Much of what he simplistically calls ‘identity politics’ grew out of real oppression – not merely a psychologized failure to be actualized. And many of the arguments of the left now similarly are not merely threats to self-esteem but real social and economic problems. Look at environmental justice (admittedly, a buzzword): most of the pollutants of modernity are dumped on the poor and ethnically marginalized. This, for one brief example, seems to be a case in which “identity politics” has a real health impact. On top of that, how can we, if we have a robust sense of sin, dismiss some kinds of oppression as merely psychological? Human depravity goes beyond the physical, and suggesting that only more ‘real’ forms of oppression count politically seems to make the world an oddly materialistic place.

With those critiques being made, this is a really fun book. It would have been difficult for him to address these problems sufficiently without adding dramatically to the bulk of the book. Some of his taunts (such as that against Christians who vote Democrat and then talk about how naughty they are, on page 15; or his chapter-long diatribe against Fox News) are well taken. It really isn’t healthy for the conservative protestant church to be so closely tied with the politics of any one party. Jesus’ disciples included both a Zealot and a tax collector – think they agreed much on politics? We should nevertheless love one another, and work together, though it be difficult, to seek the prosperity of the city in which we sojourn. One of the key ways to do this, as Trueman argues, is through politics.