Political Discourse and Images of God

Theological reflection can be used in a wide variety of ways. In many quarters it has gotten a bad name because of the way it sometimes makes apparently authoritative statements about the meaning of life’s events and its constituent parts (people, for example). The use of theology in this essay does not travel the authoritarian road, although I may imply something about the nature of that road. I am suggesting that how we see (or image) “God” has a direct influence on how we “do” politics.

Let me begin by articulating a few common images of God. The first one I call the “Santa Claus God.” According to this image, God is “making a list and checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty and nice.” Furthermore, God brings good things to those who are deserving and visits lumps of coal (pollution and all) on those who are not deserving. To this “God,” obedience and good behavior are the highest values.

The second image of God is the “Genie in the Lamp (or Bottle).” According to this image, God’s role is to respond to direct requests, perhaps even orders, for whoever has the ability to rub the lamp properly. If you are among the uneducated or unskilled in “lamp rubbing,” or don’t have enough faith, then too bad for you.

A third image of God is an image most often described by the biblical prophets: God is like a nurturing mother who cares deeply for all “her” children. This “God” demands that her more affluent children carry out their responsibility to help the poorer ones.

A fourth image (that’s enough for now) sees God, not in human terms at all. This God is love, connection, relationship itself. The very principle of connectedness is divine.

Now that we have these four very different ways of conceptualizing or imaging God, lets return to Paul Krugman’s articulation of the “Two Moralities”(the full article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/14/opinion/14krugman.html)
Once again, here is how Krugman defines our present political split:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state – a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net – morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

So, which of the images of God would you say is embodied in each “morality?”

Rather that answering the question myself, I invite you to try it yourselves. Use the comment button below to give your answer. Let’s begin a discussion about the possibilities. Our sharing should prove to be rich and informative.

You might be wondering about the purpose of this exercise. It is my hope that we can use conversations like these to get underneath the divide and develop a clearer understanding of the more obvious and often intransigent positions. There is much on the line in our political world today. And money is only one measure of our stake. Our very ability to continue to live and thrive on the planet is at risk and is in no way guaranteed. It may be that quality of life becomes a more useful measure than standard of living as we assess the success or failure of our grand political experiment.

Let the conversation begin!

Wayne Gustafson
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise

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