The worst politics and the greatest abuses of power invite the best satire.
The best satire endures and ultimately finds its place alongside other classics of the English language, or of another language – French comes to mind. It is also honoured among the visual or theatre arts. The best satire is always metaphor or parable.
It is also often courageous, although not necessarily beautiful to either read or behold. In fact, its primary purpose and virtue lies in not being pleasing or restful to the mind’s eye, or to what might be called the collective conscience. It exists to challenge and disturb.
Satire must challenge the senses by forcing the reader or viewer to contemplate the consequences of the folly of the times and of the crass stupidity of rulers, as well as of those who either support or benefit directly from their power. But even the best satire will eventually be archived. Times change, seldom for the better.
Parables and metaphors, on the other hand, tend to endure. Their meaning is not locked in to a given set of circumstances, or to any particular time. They are universal. Parables are especially so because they inevitably return us to the great mystery of life itself, bound as it is to relationships which shape and define the history of families and nations. The parables and metaphors of scripture were recorded and written down with this idea in mind.
The root of the word ‘religion’ is ligare meaning to ‘bind together’. How we ultimately interpret the underlying meaning of religion affects how we live our lives and how power is exercised, how those who hold it know themselves as accountable to the author of all life. Do they exercise power in order to suppress? Or to liberate? Do they bind people through fear? Or liberate them through bonds created in love and held together in trust, trust which makes for civilised society? There is ultimately no getting away from religion when it is understood in this sense of binding together, so we abuse its metaphors and parables to our cost. One way of abusing them is to read them with an a priori agenda or a pre-formed mindset.
Pre-formed mindsets encompass a range of religious and political agendas, often blending or converging in the minds of those who support them. With world chaos and climate change comes, for example, a renewed preoccupation with ‘end times’, or with a focus on a particular nation or group of people who can be hated, or perhaps feared, or with promises of total economic renewal paralleled by an equally all consuming promise of religious renewal. Both have in the recent and more distant past proved to be damaging delusions. Hitler promised re-forestation and wholesale renewal of an ailing infrastructure. Trump also promises the renewal of an ailing infrastructure along with work and prosperity for all, but beginning with those to whom he owes the most political favours. Innumerable emotional and psychological casualties resulted from the so-called Toronto Blessing, the result of the almost aphrodisiacal power experienced by some of its leaders and proponents at the time.
Added to this, a pre-formed mindset seldom moves those who hold it in a forward direction, even though it requires great energy and commitment to sustain it. A pre-formed mindset corresponds to a car’s wheels spinning in the sand. Its energy derives from desperation, an ever greater determination to hold on to delusion, often in order to maintain a grip on power, to the point that power itself becomes delusional. As a result, those who think they hold it lose their grip on reality, resulting in dangerous paranoia, such as we are beginning to see in Mr. Trump.
Such delusional determination works as much in the arena of politics as it does in religion, the two becoming at times almost indistinguishable. Think of North Korea’s particular brand of Emperor worship. It also leads to religious and political sectarianism. The growing number of neo-Nazi rallies in Europe and America manifest a form of religious sectarianism, different only in the intensity of its hatred from any other kind of mass religious gathering.
All of this suggests that, among other things, an informed approach to the religions of the world, beginning with their scriptures, is essential to global stability. With stability comes peace and a fair distribution of wealth. This would include the basic infrastructures needed for all to benefit from the kind of entrepreneurship which leads to economic growth. Taken together, the things that bind us together in both a religious and political sense require wisdom as it is understood in the scriptures.
The proper interpretation of the scriptures, and of the bible in particular, is essential for the maintaining of a reciprocal wisdom in the sphere of religion and politics, as is the truthful recording and interpretation of events by a free and morally accountable media, and with a sense of history. The question with which we begin, therefore, is ‘Are things worse than they ever were? Or do we just know more?’ from which follows ‘is it enough to know without entering into the process of healing and making whole?’These questions pertain very much to how we view the future of the planet and the kind of lives our children and grandchildren will lead.
Somewhere embedded in these anxious questions also lies a deep yearning for the kind of wisdom which only comes with knowing and being known by a loving God. The knowing is in the yearning itself. We have a God who yearns with us, while being all powerful. This is a God who entrusts us with sufficient knowledge to overcome the evil and heal the brokenness of our world and society. He does not delegate. He entrusts. To leaders, whether political or religious, God also entrusts a certain power, and with it accountability. Again, he does not delegate.
That power is modelled and given in and through the person of Jesus Christ. It is sourced in him and finds its wisdom and purpose in him. Our own anxiety is also held in him and, in those moments where we are prepared to meet his gaze, taken into his ongoing life and into his love for the world.
No power, in heaven or on earth, will separate us from that love or diminish his power to save the world from its self-inflicted destruction.