For the following article, I am indebted to the insights of The Question of God, by psychiatrist Armand Nicholi (1927 – 2017).
Using the Church for Political Purposes
In Christian theology, the church is both human and divine. It is, of course, an empirical truth that the church is a human institution. As such, she takes on certain cultural dimensions, depending on where she exists. The church also transcends all cultures, because she is a divine, spiritual organism. Therefore, because the church is both in culture and beyond it, the church cannot and should not officially align herself with only one political party.
Using God for Political Purposes
However, Christians, who are members of the church, can and, at times, do politicize God. In other words, because they are staunchly devoted to a particular political and governmental perspective, they are inclined to absolutize it, making it equivalent to God’s will for humanity. That is to say, they project their political views on God. So, for example, if they are socialists, they want to make God into a socialist. Similarly, if they are communists, then God must also be bound up with their commitment. Likewise, if they are committed to capitalism, then God must also be a capitalist.
Because God, the Supreme Being, is infinite, without human limitations; transcendent, not confined to creation, and eternal, not bound by time, he cannot be completely identified with any national, political and ideological perspective. It follows, then, that God is neither a cosmic capitalist nor a cosmic communist; he is neither a cosmic republican nor a cosmic democratic. Nor does God belong only to the people of the United States of America, as if the Supreme Being were a cosmic nationalist and imperialist, favoring America over all nations.
Using Jesus for Political Purposes
The same principle of politicizing is at work when it comes to Jesus of Nazareth. This happens, for example, when communist Christians interpret the Bible from a communist perspective, thus, making Jesus into a champion of communion. But it also happens when capitalist Christians interpret the Scriptures from a capitalist perspective, thus, making Jesus into a champion of capitalism. Both approaches are misguided and so are their respective interpretations. Both commit the hermeneutical error of eisegesis, which is “reading into” the New Testament a meaning that is not intended by the sacred authors.
The Remaking of God
In the Jewish Scriptures, there is a passage in which the Lord rebukes his people for creating him in their image, saying, “You thought that I was just like you” (Psalm 50:21, NASB). While humans do, in fact, form their image of God, there are instances in which that can be dangerous. Psychiatrist Armand Nicholi rightly observes,
“Our tendency to distort and create our own God, sometimes a God not of love but of hate, may explain why, over the centuries, people have committed, and continue to commit, ungodly acts – even acts of terrorism – in the name of God.”1
In other words, finite human beings cannot put the infinite “God in a box” and make him into what they want him to be. According to Nicholi, a person who believes or even does not believe in God, should be careful that his or her concept of the Supreme Being is not a “distortion of Him.”2
Application to Other Religions
I have applied the notion of politicizing God to my religion, which is Christianity, but it can just as easily be applied to other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. My main point, then, is this: Religious people can and, at times, do use God to advance their political interests, thus, creating the Supreme Being in their image.
- Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life (New York, N.Y.: Free Press/ Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2002), p. 244.
- Ibid., p. 243.