WHEN Donald Trump held up the Bible in his right hand for a stunning photo shoot outside St John’s Episcopal Church near the White House on June 1 just minutes after riot police had cleared the street of demonstrators, many Americans read his gesture as saying: “I am chosen by God to be your president of law and order.”
It wouldn’t be Trump’s first claim to be anointed by God. He had on previous occasions looked skywards and proclaimed “I am the chosen one.” Trump’s staff have made similar claims on his behalf. Sarah Sanders, the former White House press secretary, asserted in a 2019 TV interview: “God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president and that’s why he’s there.”
Across the world, political endorsement from God helps candidates win votes from people of faith. All you need is a dynamic public relations team that keeps repeating the line: “God has chosen him for a reason.”
But making God play politics can have far more vicious effects than garnering votes. Without any expression of sympathy, a party division chief in Malaysia called the deaths of four rival elected representatives in 2019 a warning against Malaysians choosing the wrong party as it incurred the wrath of God.
Politicians excel in making God do their bidding. Enlisting God to gain mass support is an ancient trick dating back at least 5,000 years to the beginnings of theocracy. You may be surprised that such a trick can be so effective in a democracy. That’s because partisan democracy, with its heavy reliance on voters’ religious loyalties, is just two steps ahead of theocracy.
When you dance to the tune of political parties, you are extolling a form of governance that divides the nation into warring factions. Republican Party and Democratic Party supporters in the United States are reluctant to socialise with one another, as the Economist weekly has noted. It’s much the same in Malaysia where rumours of crossovers will fill the air if a Pakatan Harapan supporter and a Perikatan Nasional supporter were to meet for tea.
Don’t get fooled by this ancient trick that you must vote for the party chosen by God. Human beings are the smartest creatures on Earth with the biggest brains. We can teach a snake to chase fishes into a basket and we can send a man to walk on the moon.
Despite our great intelligence, if we still need God to choose our leaders for us, then we had better take lessons in governance from the animals. No animal species require God to handle their leadership selection. Even the ducks know how to pick their own leaders without any direction from God.
However, politicians are definitely smarter than you if they can make you believe that God has chosen them and you vote for them on this basis. Have you ever asked them for proof such as a video recording of God visibly anointing them, or God’s signature on a writ of appointment? No?
It’s just like a scam. The scammer calls you from a copied police headquarters number and claims to be an inspector. So the theocrat politician induces you into believing that he is a divine appointee.
Divine appointment was a necessary claim in the ancient past when leaders had the onerous task of building civilisation from a vast assemblage of tribes. Upgrading human society from a tribal population of some 500 individuals to a city population of 50,000 meant you had to find a means to unify people beyond clan lineage. Civilisation builders found a way to unify myriad groups: they created a metaphysical lineage based on state religion and divine appointment of a leadership that all must obey.
Today’s political situation is the reverse of civilisation building, as the existence of rival political blocs threatens to divide society. In such a hazardous environment, politicians will claim themselves to be the chosen ones to defeat the enemy – their rivals.
Political parties were created less than 300 years ago and it was the result of a seriously flawed assumption that they would act as a check and balance on each other’s performance for the common wellbeing. The growing evidence, however, is that most parties and politicians are focused on getting the check (American spelling for cheque) and maintaining a good bank account balance.
The writer champions interfaith harmony. Comments: email@example.com