As one gets ready to become a Christian, a tough question is asked: “Do you renounce Satan and all his pomps?” Some have substituted “empty promises” for the better “pomps,” but that is sad, because it misses the force of what we need to do when we renounce this particular diabolical temptation.
We need to renounce the showy fakery of worldly power in order to worship God: we trade the merely gilded for the golden.
Christians turn their backs on the merely showy, the hopped up pretender, and the vain displays of power. We want the real deal. Napoleon could crown himself Emperor of the French, but he was a pretender. If France needed a monarch, there was an actual royal family to choose. The Bonapartes could gild everything, put their initials on anything, and yet they were still faking it.
Yet still there is power in power and an allure to the boastful, braggadocio. The pompous man is an idol of an icon. A leader should be an icon pointing the way to the Good God. A tyrant is a leader who warps this iconic role so that he can be an idol for the masses. The tyrant is a pretender, but that does not mean there is not a King. PT Barnum was a humbug, but there are wonders to behold. The deep danger of the humbug is that we either become cynical or cheap: cynical if we think all glory is humbuggery or cheap if we sell out for pomps instead of Paradise.
As a child, I liked parades and good show and so felt sad about renouncing “pomp.” Did this mean I had to strip the altars or live in a world without stained glass? Should we remove the vestments and put on the boring robes of Geneva?
The answer, of course, was “no.”
God made us to respond to true power, goodness, and beauty. There is a deep instinct in us for ceremony and authentic, ancient power. However, like a man who confuses a bag of Cheetos for a gourmet meal, we often look for power only to get lies.
The man who becomes a syncophant to a ruler in this age, in the Church or out of it, has fallen in love with pomps when he wanted splendor. We need a good parade, but that does not mean the aging Soviet dictator, chest covered with medals, watching tanks roll through Red Square. The old atheists were faking it, aping the deep glory of the Orthodox churches they despoiled.
Imagine a Christian so gobsmacked by the Oval Office or Cannes or Yale that he loses his moral compass. We do not speak a prophetic word, because then we would not get to go, speak, work there. That is Satanic pomp substituting for the glory of God. Instead, let’s speak the truth to the humbugs, have a laugh, and love real goodness, truth, and beauty.
I wrote this for Easter, Pascha, 2018 as the Son rises in the East. He is risen! He is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!