In his classic book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter described how politicization has overtaken all approaches to change. Everything has become political.
And that was thirteen years ago.
He describes how each side uses a common story to forward their agenda, rooted in the French word ressentiment. Ressentiment encompasses more than the anglicized word resentment; it includes envy, rage and revenge that informs a political psychology.
Back then Hunter wrote:
“Ressentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds. The entitlement may be to greater respect, greater influence, or perhaps a better lot in life and it may draw from the past or the present; it may be privilege once enjoyed or the belief that present virtue now warrants it. In the end, these benefits have been withheld or taken away or there is a perceived threat that they will be taken away by those now in positions of power. . . Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity. Understanding themselves to be victimized is not a passive acknowledgement but a belief that can be cultivated. Accounts of atrocity become a crucial subplot of the narrative, evidence that reinforces the sense that they have been or will be wronged or victimized. Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating action. It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat. . . And so it is, then, that the injury—real or perceived—leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible. The adversary has to be shown for who they are, exposed for their corruption, and put in their place.”
From the conservative/evangelical position, entitlement is usually a word leveraged against the other side. It’s a weighty buzzword to blast people supposedly taking advantage of the system. But we rarely think of ourselves—or our side, whichever side that is—as having a sense of entitlement. Perhaps it’s the classic “two-by-four in your own eye” that Jesus warned us about.
But here’s a thought: when we feel our powerbase slipping, though entitlement may be the last word we apply to ourselves, what if it’s really what we secretly feel? Is it a fear of losing some sort of power we assume we have? Is it a longing for what we feel we’re entitled to?
For Christian leaders, this is a very dangerous slope.
Kierkegaarde warned Christians of the marriage of Church and state…and the dangers of blurring politics and faith, leading to a watering-down of the gospel. Shocking his contemporaries, he wrote:
“What Christianity needs is not the suffocating protection of the state; no, it needs fresh air, it needs persecution, and it needs God’s protection. The state only works disaster, it wards off persecution and thus is not the medium through which God’s protection can be conducted. Above all, save Christianity from the state. By its protection it smothers it to death.”
Leaders must emphasize the Kingdom, teach the principles and promises of the Kingdom, and incarnationally bring the Kingdom to our corners of the world. And stop belly-aching about our rights.
We are servants first, not powerbrokers; that is the way of the Kingdom.
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group
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