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How Politics Becomes Religion

Over the past few years, political rhetoric in many Western countries appears to have attained levels of hyperbole and hysteria that we haven’t seen for some time. One NPR commentator recently went so far as to describe Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court as “the end of the world as we know it.”

That type of language, I’d submit, should be reserved for truly catastrophic events like the Nazi attempt to wipe Jews off the face of the earth or the Communist Khmer Rouge’s slaughter of 2 million people in Cambodia. But the apocalyptic phraseology being employed today to describe, for instance, someone’s nomination to high judicial office or Britain’s decision to leave the European Union tells us something about how some people in the West treat politics. It has effectively become the focus of religious-like hopes. And when, as it inevitably must, politics fails to deliver on the fullest realization of such aspirations (and often not at all), it’s unsurprising that the resulting fury is expressed in terms akin to the Hebrew Prophets berating unfaithful kings of Israel and Judaea.

It’s easy to have disdain for politics and those who choose to enter that world. The popularity of expressions like “the Swamp” owes something to widespread awareness that political life is a source of self-aggrandizement for individuals of all political persuasions. Of course, self-enrichment through cronyism and political lobbying is as old as Rome itself. Occasionally, however, the sheer brazenness of it all provokes backlashes, invariably deserved.

Politics nevertheless remains the appropriate realm for societies to address some very important issues. These range from how we realize liberty and justice in societies composed of imperfect human beings, to determining which matters are the responsibility of government and which are not. Yet this is far removed from treating politics as something akin to a religious enterprise or imagining that a type of earthly heaven can be established through political activity. Such mindsets are bound to produce inflated expectations of politics and therefore, eventually, colossal disappointments and, in due course, the search for enemies to blame and destroy.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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