Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Of Kings, Presidents, and God

ALERT: This is a long post.

The year 2012 saw a lot of presidential elections, twelve by my count, in a variety of continents and geopolitical situations:


With these elections this year, and with the anniversary of Clovis' death in mind, I also started thinking about the difference between kings and presidents. When I was little, I once told my mother that I wanted to be the president of the United States. She asked why, and I responded confidently, "Because he tells everyone what to do." Far from the truth, I now realize, despite what some presidents themselves would like to think. But even kings have (or had) quite relative power.
The Basilica of St. Denis,
necropolis of nearly all of France's kings

Despite the obvious difference that kings are not chosen by democratic vote, and the fact that democracy did not even exist until recently, are different styles of human government and leadership so very different? You've got presidents and kings, dictators and prime ministers, but they all face similar problems and none proposes a perfect system for humans. And they all pass on (ultimately die) and have to be replaced.

So how do we approach politics? Does it really matter? Something my pastor said this year (in an a-political statement about the specific situation of the American presidential election) seems to me to apply to all elections of any type, and all governance of any type He said that voters were faced with two options, moral darkness or theological darkness. And it could be added that sometimes, many times, our political leaders give us both.

What can we then do? Two opposite reactions present themselves immediately: 1) get more politically involved to make a difference and create change, or 2) give up on politics and politicians all together, pretending that they do not matter.
Dead kings and queens (or their statutes)
at the Basilica of St. Denis.

Both 1) and 2), of course, have something sound in them. There is nothing wrong with political activism. Nor is there anything wrong with a (tempered) skepticism of political power, because it does not ultimately matter, but does make a lot of difference in the present.

For option 1), however, the danger is getting too caught up in politics, a danger for which I have two reading recommendations, the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and the 20th-century book Blinded by Might. For option 2), the danger is a harmful cynicism, for which I have no reading recommendations because I haven't given it as much thought as option 1), but if you have reading recommendations for either, please feel free to share them.

Most of us probably have a tempered approach to politics, falling between the extremes of 1) and 2). What then can we do, since we don't want to become politicians but also don't want to stop voting altogether? To cite my pastor again, we can pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4, an astounding passage), pay our taxes (Romans 13:6-7), and otherwise obey them (1 Peter 2:13-17).

If we did that, we wouldn't have to worry about what our leaders do or don't do. We would be leaving it with God in prayer and going on with our lives, which is precisely what he wants.

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