When politics goes apocalyptic

JASON REED REUTERS U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the press following more debt reduction talks on … Continued



U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the press following more debt reduction talks on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 26, 2011.

National politics is taking a turn toward the apocalyptic. You know the apocalypse, from the Greek for ‘lifting the veil,” it is the terminology for the radically altered realty generally associated with the end of the world as described in various religious traditions. Yes, that apocalypse – and its language popping up to describe various solutions to the impending debt crises we face as the debt ceiling deadline, and the likelihood of a federal default, fast approaches.

Some opponents of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to avoid a debt crisis have labeled his plan the “Pontius Pilate plan,” referring to the Roman procurator described by the New Testament as washing his hands of the problems created by Jesus, preferring to turn him over to Jewish authorities. While I am sympathetic to frustration with a plan which is driven, at least in part, by the desire to remove responsibility for raising the debt ceiling from members of Congress and shift it to the president, the label Pontius Pilate plan is quite dangerous.

In addition to overtly theologizing a political problem, which is not inherently wrong but certainly more complicated than the casual tossing about of labels such as Pontius Pilate plan, those using such terminology are guilty of driving the crisis forward instead of seeking a real solution. By using language linked directly to the New Testament’s narrative of crucifixion and ultimate redemption, they actually invite a crisis and suggest that it will be good for us to suffer through it. Is really anybody’s place to excitedly embrace the suffering of others? The answer to that one should be obvious.

A similar approach can be found among those who refer to the plan suggested by the bi-partisan Gang of Six plan as “the 666 plan,” linking the plan to the New Testament Book of Revelation in which 666 is the “number of the beast” who must be vanquished in order to bring redemption to the world. As with those who refer to the Pontius Pilate plan, this links the current crisis to a biblical salvation scheme and those who differ from them as demonic and evil.

Inviting the end of the world and portraying all those with whom one disagrees as enemies of God — is this where our politics have gotten? Regardless of one’s view about what constitutes an appropriate response to the current crises, this is so wrong, it’s not even wrong. We have, to leave the world of the Bible and shift to that of Alice in Wonderland, gone through the looking glass. We have American political arguments that are more appropriate to Iran than to the United States, and that should upset everyone, no matter what their politics.

With six days to go, we need leadership that does more than invite and celebrate a crisis which will harm every citizen of the United States. There is room to debate the extent of the damage should we actually default, even if only briefly, but it will be an unprecedented failure which will alter the good faith and credit of the United States for some time to come, and the value of pretty much everything all of us own, whatever our political orientation — Democrat, Republican, Independent or Disinterested. Politicians and their supporters may think otherwise, but it’s time to let them know that whoever we are and whatever our beliefs, we demand better than that, especially in the name of God and the Bible.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
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