In his classic work The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes from the perspective of a senior demon giving instructions to a less-experienced demon on how to get someone to reject their Christian faith. Screwtape, the senior demon, advises Wormwood, his nephew and the younger demon, on how to get “the patient” to turn from God. John Stonestreet’s recent and insightful article reminded me of one particular tactic that Screwtape advocates.
Let [your patient] begin by treating … Patriotism or Pacifism as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause,’ in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.”
Stonestreet highlights the pattern:
“Note the progression: first, politics is part of religion. Then, politics is the most important part of religion. Then, religion becomes part of politics. It’s genius.”
The divergent political sides were pacifism or patriotism – to avoid the war or engage the war. And the way Wormwood could shipwreck the Christian faith of “the patient” was not to get the patient to believe one side or the other, but to get “the patient” to make one side or the other his whole religion.
Clearly as Christians we do not want our politics to become our religion. We want to engage politically because we care for our country, because we pray for our leaders, and because we know the policies that are set impact people and the places we live and love. But we don’t want politics to become our dominant belief system, the thing that captures our hearts and drives us. So, how can we recognize the drift in our own hearts? How do we know if politics has become our religion or is becoming our religion? Here are three warning signs:
1. Politics is what you are most passionate to speak about.
When religious leaders told Peter and John that they had to stop speaking about Jesus and His resurrection, they replied, “we can’t help but speak about the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Peter and John were in a politically divisive time. The Jewish people were under Roman rule, and there were differing parties and approaches among the Jewish people. But those arguments and perspectives was not what compelled Peter and John. What they could not contain was their excitement for Jesus. Jesus is who they could not keep quiet about. Whatever you love the most you cannot help but speaking about. If “we can’t help but speak about the things we have seen and heard” describes your politics, then politics is your religion. If you find yourself in conversations with friends and neighbors and you are most passionate about repeating what you heard on the news or read online, then politics is becoming your religion. If you are more eager to speak about politics than Jesus, politics is your religion.
2. Your enemy is the other political viewpoint / side.
The Scripture reminds us that our real enemy is Satan and the cosmic powers of darkness. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). If your enemy is the flesh and blood of the other political party or the other political viewpoint, then politics is becoming your religion. A common enemy holds a powerful uniting factor, but as believers in Christ our common enemy is our Satan, sin, and shame. If we make flesh and blood the ultimate enemy, our hearts have drifted. If we frame other believers in Christ who view things differently than we do, the flesh and blood of our own spiritual family, as our enemy then we have made politics are religion.
3. You live as if there is an enduring city here.
If you believe or behave like you have an enduring city or kingdom here, you have made politics your religion. You do not have an enduring city here. The Scripture reminds us, “for we do not have an enduring city here; instead, we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). When we forget that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, we have made politics our religion.
Sadly, our hearts can drift from God towards something less than God. My heart has and will in the future. I am prone to wander. And politics being so dominant in our culture provides an attractive pull. Here is how you know you have drifted: If you are more passionate to speak about politics than Jesus, if you treat your real enemy as the “other side,” and if you live as if this world is your home then politics has become your religion. You have been nursed away from loving Jesus with all your heart, soul, and mind.
Good news: You can repent and come back to the only One who can quench the longings of your soul, the One who has an eternal city prepared for you.