Does God Wear a Toupee? Thoughts on Political Candidates and Divine Despots

The Republican Party is coming to terms with the near inevitable after Donald Trump’s landmark victory in Indiana last night: “Donald Trump is its presumptive presidential nominee.” So claims a CNN article titled “GOP wakes up to Trump victory—and plenty of questions.” Some of the questions are rather hairy. Like the top of Trump’s head, one might wonder which of his varying claims are more like a toupee, and which are for real. For the debate on Trump’s hair, refer to this MSN article: “Trump: ‘I swear’ my hair is not a toupee.”

The chairman of the Republican National Committee has urged all Republicans to get behind Trump in order to beat Hillary Clinton. It will not be an easy sell to rally those who have assailed the front runner with “#NeverTrump” to unite under the banner of “#NeverClinton,” as the CNN article notes. How can Ted Cruz, among others, make the switch given how much they have decried Trump? And how can Trump make gains with Hispanic, Black and women voters given how much he has said that they find degrading and deeply troubling to their concerns?

To varying degrees, all-too-often one finds political candidates on the Right and Left flip-flopping on positions and changing their rhetorical strategies to court voters. Like Democratic politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards, whom Kevin Spacey likens to Donald Trump (to Spacey, both are “fictional” characters), many politicians appear to function as ruthless pragmatists. Refer here to The Atlantic article, “Frank Underwood and a Brief History of Ruthless Pragmatism: His character may be fictional but his philosophy isn’t — just ask Barack Obama or any master of political gamesmanship.”

One wonders if many politicians view God in this way: Whether or not God wears a toupee, does God—like many political masters—wear various masks that veil an inscrutable will of ruthless pragmatism? After all, secularized theological categories have shaped the modern theory of the state, as Carl Schmitt once wrote:

All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development – in which they were transferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent god became the omnipotent lawgiver – but also because of their systematic structure, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts. The exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology. Only by being aware of this analogy can we appreciate the manner in which the philosophical ideas of the state developed in the last centuries.[1]

In a political world in which all too often political expediency appears to be the only virtue, how does the doctrine of God revealed in Jesus Christ bear upon the discussion? Unlike the nameless deities of past and present that are easily commodified for rulers’ ambitions,[2] this named deity reveals the divine will in the power and wisdom of cruciform flesh.

Political theologian and prophet Martin Luther King, Jr. did not operate according to expediency in making his claims about justice. That is why he was willing to take a stance on the Vietnam War that cost him in the opinion polls of our nation. For King, justice was not a commodity that one wields in the market place of ideas to win votes and their equivalent. Far from operating according to a Feuerbachian framework where humans project onto deity their concepts of human sovereignty, King took seriously the biblical teaching of the incarnation. Jesus’ face and hair did not mask a nameless, inscrutable, ruthless pragmatic divine will. He revealed God’s will and justice in his life.

Be prepared for politicians and the general populace to invoke deities of various kinds to gain points leading up to the Presidential elections. It is inevitable that we moderns do so, especially given the historical context from which the modern theory of the state arises, to refer back to Schmitt. Politicians and their devotees will invoke the Bible and Jesus, too. But the God revealed in Jesus Christ does not wear a toupee; what we see and hear revealed in him is what we get. If only that were true of all those who invoke virtue, justice, and God’s name?

 

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[1]Carl SchmittPolitical Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2006; first published 1922), page 36.

[2]See R. Kendall Soulen, “‘Go Tell Pharaoh,’ Or, Why Empires Prefer a Nameless God,” in Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture 1, no. 2 (Summer 2005): 49-59.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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