Devils from the Riva Monastery
I have recently heard people say that we need to elect a Christian as our next President. I am perplexed by the saying. As far as I know every candidate running is a Christian. Newt Gingrich, as a matter of fact, has just about cornered the market: he's been a Lutheran, a Southern Baptist, and is now a Roman Catholic. Even Ron Paul, who's philosophical roots are within the Libertarian world--which supports legalized prostitution, recreational drug use, the distribution of pornography, abortion, and other personal liberties--belongs to a Baptist church.
I also wonder about the utility of a Christian based foreign policy, especially say, in the Mideast. Christian approaches have varied over the last 1000 years, from strictly humanitarian, to solely expeditionary like the Crusades in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. If we adopt the Crusade strategy does that mean that our newly elected Christian President will raise taxes to pay for the war and re-instate the draft to fight it? Inquiring minds want to know.
Actually, when people say they want a Christian President I think they really mean they want a President who is the same sort of Christian they are. But even that isn't helpful. After all, there are about 39,000 different Christian denominations in the world. Who among those 39,000 might actually qualify?
I'm pretty sure that Unitarians need not apply. [You know why.] And we might as well rule out people, like Mr. and Mrs. Obama, who belong to the United Church of Christ. When people say we need a Christian President they really mean any Christian but Obama--even a Mormon. So UCCs keep out.
They probably would exclude me too. Even though I am a taxpayer, a veteran of a foreign war, a father and family man, a member of a local Christian church--and I haven't smoked dope in 30 years (honest!)--I support John Kennedy's definition of the proper roles of church and state. I've worked in theocratic countries and they are all scary...so dang...no presidency for me.
I suppose one way to separate the sheep from the goats is to weigh how candidates view the devil and the Holy Spirit. Is their emphasis on Old Scratch and his active presence in our lives, or do they emphasize the Holy Spirit and His gifts? Those gifts, as enumerated in Isaiah 11: 2-3 are, by the way:
Fear of the Lord
As far as I know, there are no devil derived gifts unless they are hedonism, narcissism, and permission--which you don't need from the devil since free will is freely given by God--to behave and live like a pig.
The distinction between a devil focus and a Holy Spirit focus seems important because it may shed light on a person's world view and how they perceive our on-going experience as family members, workers, and citizens. If you believe that Satan is the cause of every behavior you object to, or is the Grand Motivator behind everyone who disagrees with your point of view, you are also likely to justify any means necessary to control objectionable behavior or disagreement--including electing a government that will exercise those controls.
This has been within the American experience. Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, was ostensibly about the Salem Witch Trails but metaphorically captured the anti-communist hysteria of the early 1950s. Similarly, elected authorities in Massachusetts executed Mary Dyer for the crime of being a Quake--the wrong kind of Christian. The expressive way in which Quakers celebrated worship--by quaking--was deemed demon inspired by those in power.
My own view of the devil mostly conforms with that of C.S. Lewis, who wrote, "there are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devil." One error "is to disbelieve in his existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in him."
Lewis went on to write, in his wonderful The Screwtape Letters, and in other works, that the devil is not the equal opposite of God but is, in his most essential character a spectacular loser equal with the angel Michael, but now fallen and in a permanent state of despair. Michael, a winner, remains in the house of God and lives in Paradise.
By contrast, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not directed at other people and they aren't useful for controlling other people except, perhaps, by example. There is no call for or need for anyone, let alone a government or a President, to regulate or control anyone else; the gifts of the Holy Spirit are purely relational and distinctly I-Thou.
Much of the difficulty, which may account for the devil focus of some people and some groups over a Holy Spirit focus, is that the Holy Spirit's gifts require study, reflection, and self-action, and when they are communicated to others require some nuance, balance, and discernment. Fear of the Lord, for example, is both a desire to please God, and a feeling of confidence that God will give us the grace to please Him. That is a much greater challenge than simple finger pointing.
What I hope for in the next President is someone who knows that he or she does not need to control us but rather, to fill us with a resolve to understand, know, and love one another in what we may confidently feel is a Christ-like manner.