Negative politics and spiritual schizophrenia

In the aftermath of the Florida presidential primary, this headline caught my eye: "The Republican Florida Primary Was the Most Negative Ever in Terms of Ads." One analysis indicates that 92 percent of the ads aired during election week were negative.

By Jim Denison

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry offered this advice to his fellow Floridians: "As soon as you know that a campaign is going to hit Florida, you should go to Home Depot and buy sheets of plywood three-quarters of an inch thick. You should take these home, cut them to size, and then, using a hammer and nails, fasten them firmly to every TV screen in your house." 

In light of all this negativity, perhaps we should not be surprised by the revelation that Stephen Colbert's faux super PAC has raised more than $1 million. Its contributors apparently prefer to support fake candidates over real politicians. Pundits are likening the presidential race to a "circular firing squad" as the candidates shoot each other and leave no one unmaimed.

Are you frustrated with the tone of contemporary politics? What does its negativity say about our culture?

I think the nature of the campaign reflects the pessimism of our day. According to recent surveys, 69 percent of us think America is "in decline," while 83 percent of us worry about the future of the nation. The "declinists" have a point -- no country's future is guaranteed. For example, name this nation: richest in the world; the largest military; the center of world business and finance; the strongest educational system; the world center of innovation and technology; currency the global standard; and the highest standard of living. The answer is Great Britain, in 1900.

Is our nation going the direction of the British Empire? Even more dangerously, are we Rome? Is our decline as inevitable as theirs?

There are fascinating social, political and economic parallels between the two empires, but my interest today is theological. Rome embraced the transactional religion they inherited from the Greeks. Their gods lived atop Mt. Olympus and were placated by temples and sacrifices. If you were going to sea, you'd sacrifice first to Neptune; if you were going to war, you'd sacrifice to Ares. If you did what the gods required, perhaps they would do what you asked.

Do we have the same religious DNA today? Go to church on Sunday so God will bless you on Monday. Begin your day with prayer so God will guide your day. Give money to the church so God will bless your finances.

Christianity offers not a transactional religion but a transformational relationship. Jesus wants you to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23) as you present your body to him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). In return, his Spirit will mold you into the image and character of Christ (Romans 8:29) and use you for eternal significance.

I believe that the ultimate answer to the negativity of our politics and culture is genuine spiritual renewal. To that end, consider an observation by C. S. Lewis. He believed that we are like an honest man who pays his taxes, but certainly hopes there will be money left over for him to spend as he wishes. We want to follow Jesus, but we also want to have some time and means left to live our own lives.

However, this spiritual schizophrenia is not the way of Christ at all. To quote Lewis: "Christ says, 'Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours.'"

Do you have a transactional religion or a transformational relationship with Jesus?

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.