Politics as a Substitute for Religion Will Always Let You Down

Demonstrators gather for a “March for Our Lives” protest for gun control legislation and school safety on March 24, 2018, in Houston. Students and activists across the country planned events in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where more than a dozen people were killed in February. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

They pore over Nate Silver’s political data analyses with the rapt attention of day traders sizing up the stock market. Every day brings emotional peaks and valleys with each up and down in the polls and the president’s approval ratings. They tend to understand themselves and others primarily on the basis of political allegiances.

They are progressive activists, demonstrators and politics junkies — followers of what some chroniclers call the new “religion” and ultimate source of meaning for those who have left organized religion or never joined.

If they’re not careful, they’re on their way to becoming emotional and spiritual wrecks.

These mostly young political devotees deserve respect regardless of what one might think about their ideas and views. Talk to any of them and it’s obvious they care deeply about cultivating a fairer, better society. It’s good that they have more substantive interests and more developed moral sensibilities than what their older detractors associate with them.

But as important as they are, politics — political outcomes, in particular — are not a good place for human beings to invest our ultimate hopes and dreams. They inevitably let us down.

It’s not just progressive nonbelievers lured into unhealthy relationships with politics. A similar tendency seems to have taken hold even among the subset of churchgoing Americans who pride themselves on taking their religion more seriously than the rest of us: evangelical Christians. In discerning their positions on immigration, climate change and politicians’ character, evangelicals appear to turn to the Republican party playbook more than the Bible.

Given the way Donald Trump has been delivering for his evangelical base with Supreme Court appointees and the attention the president has paid to religious freedom, going all in with the GOP might appear a wise investment.

It’s not. Political partisanship has hamstrung evangelicalism’s ability to pursue what is supposed to be the core of its mission: to share the good news of the gospel. In the same way, some progressive Christians have made social justice politics their ultimate, instead of their pursuit of God.

Whether you are religious or secular, conservative or liberal, caring about politics too much — caring the wrong way — can contaminate your soul and poison your emotional and spiritual core. It can leave you high and dry on an island of anger and disillusionment.

In a heated election season like this, the headlines and campaign messages toss you around on a wild roller-coaster ride. The subject lines take you from happy and excited to “heartbreak.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Tom Krattenmaker