When idols fall: Panic on the left

Why do the entrenched progressives keep exploding in paroxysms of rage, fear, and moral dudgeon — punctuated with venom and violence — as Donald Trump’s accession to power has progressed from his primary victories through his nomination, his election, his pre-presidency, and now into his early weeks as president?

One simple explanation is that this is what it looks like when a long-venerated and slavishly worshipped idol finally falls.  

At Ephesus in ancient Asia Minor, when their financially lucrative and politically influential cult of the goddess Diana began losing ground to Christ the Son and God the Father as preached by the Apostle Paul, the same riotous anger as we’ve seen this year engulfed the city and threatened civil order (see Acts 19). 

Nothing so ultimate or divine is at stake in America 2017, as Trump and the right assume power from Obama and the left.  But the political and cultural overturning of recent months has gone far deeper than a typical party handoff from Democrats to Republicans or vice versa. Hence the titanic panic of the progressives.

The idolatrous secular religion of leftism, in which everyman’s (and woman’s) highest god is the self, with government as that religion’s church, its priesthood, feels itself being dethroned in a way every bit as shocking — and for its devotees and beneficiaries, every bit as threatening — as the downfall of Great Diana must have seemed to the Ephesian profiteers who rioted against Paul.

What will take leftism’s place in the American pantheon? That’s not yet clear. But President Trump with all his quirks and flaws, massively supported by the heartland, is unstoppably groping his way toward new articles of faith that dare assert:

a) there IS a higher order of moral and spiritual absolutes than the formerly sovereign self in this country, and

b) there is NOT an unlimited writ for politics and government to run roughshod over a free people in the name of utopian salvation as both (yes, both) parties have tended to assume since 1988 — or indeed since 1928 or even 1901 by some reckonings. 

We on the right, it seems to me, can better float through the maelstrom if we keep the Ephesus parallel in mind as CNN and NYT and all the rest of them hyperventilate about the end of the world unfolding at the hands of idol-smasher Donald Trump.  Read the 19th chapter of Acts and feel the deja vu.  

While your Bible is open, read Jesus’ amused impatience at the childish mood swings of the mob (whether right or left) in Luke 7, and Jesus’ unruffled equanimity at the supposed dominance of earthly rulers in Luke 13 (“that fox” Herod, verse 32) — when all along it was he who was writing his own script and theirs, not they his. 

For more on both of these overlooked passages, see my closing argument in the current Centennial Review, last page.

Civically engaged Christians, as well as many of our Jewish friends, can benefit a lot from searching the Scriptures not for proof texts about how to vote or which side to root for, but for the deeper guidance on what it means to have dual citizenship in earth and heaven — what attitude to take toward the whole tragic and comic spectacle of fallen mortals trying to govern ourselves.  

In that spirit, here are ten texts for citizens, five each on  “how to” and on “how not to” do politics in these stormy times.

Final advice: pay no mind to those loud noises all around you in the news.  It’s just another idol crashing down and another crowd of idolaters crying their eyes out.  Needed to happen. Better times coming, never fear.  

Not the New Jerusalem, not yet — but relatively better, which is all we can ask for in this life. The voters’ wise and brave decision last year has bought the people of God — if not one of our own in the White House — at least some additional time and space in which the saving work of many faithful can go forward as Paul describes in I Timothy 2:1-8. 

Even the rioters at Ephesus, we observe at the end of Acts 19, finally spent their fury and dispersed by order of the town clerk (a fair-minded pagan), so that the irresistible displacement of false gods by true could proceed.  

Similarly we can hold guarded hope that not all the tantrums of the left can keep their mad idolatry propped up in the months and years ahead as a new sanity takes hold in the land.