In ways heretofore unheard of, social media have emboldened their users to reveal (and to revel in) their political loyalties. One’s party affiliation used to be a well-guarded secret, a subject of mystery and speculation. It was impolite — and impolitic — to broadcast one’s electoral sympathies, not so much for fear of attack or ridicule but out of deference to the sensibilities of one’s fellows; it was considered bad form to create awkwardness and discomfort in civil discourse, especially around the unseemly topic of partisan politics. Such propriety now seems quaint, given that political debate in America is practiced as blood sport.
Facebook, Twitter, and other media outlets make it easy to out oneself as a Glenn Beck “fan” or as one who “likes” Barack Obama. This lets our “friends” know where our allegiances lie without having to break the news in person. (Kind of like the letter that arrives in the mail: “By the way, I’m gay”). Our personal politics are not so much learned or discovered over time as they are announced (boldy, proudly, unequivocally) once and for all.
Most of us watch way too much TV news. And the loudest advocates for the most strident views seem to be the most avid, obssessive TV-watchers. And cable news shows have done incalculable harm to our ability to wrestle with complex truth; to abide ambiguity; to grapple with nuance and subtlety; to acknowledge our own gullibility; to regard dissenting viewpoints charitably; and to see the humanity of the people we’re asked to revile. This is as true of MSNBC as it is of Fox News.
In the digital age, as in most eras of human history, Christians have approved and pursued the status quo. That is, they have assumed the culture’s categories without question; they have surrenderred with little fanfare (with little awareness?) the gospel’s radical politics to the aims and agenda of the state; they have chased the American Dream and given up on the basaleia of God; they have not only conceded the inevitability of empire, war, capitalism — they have cloaked all three in pious language and have, in the process, taken God’s name in vain. They have defined themselves primarily as Americans or patriots or democrats or republicans, and only secondarily as followers of a first-century Jewish revolutionary. And in this polarized age of Fox News and MSNBC, they have allowed the (American) flag rather than the (baptismal) font to determine their friendships and affiliations.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have provided much-needed comic relief for the folly of both liberals and conservatives, of both the saved and the skeptics. For all of their faux rivalry (dueling rallies in Washington next month), they are decidedly, strategically on the same team, and some of the investigative work and op-ed commentary on both shows has been Pulitzer-worthy. Conservatives generally distrust Stewart and Colbert; liberals often squirm under their scrutiny. At their best, Stewart and Colbert expose the ridiculousness of all of us, Stewart and Colbert included.
But both die-hard Tea Partiers and the Colbert Nation faithful have ceded politics to the politicos — they have allowed the terms of the debate to be set by Washington, the military, and the media. This is so foundational a truth in both liberal and conservative circles that it goes unnamed and unrecognized. Yet would-be followers of a crucified Messiah reject the political presuppositions of liberal social orders and strive to practice instead the politics of Jesus — a politics that does not serve something called “America” nor bless the violence done in its name. This politics, inaugurated at Jesus’ baptism and completed in the cross, makes possible a new way of being human, of countering the aims and claims of the culture of death. The politics of Jesus has a strange platform: the last shall be first; blessed are the poor; give away all your stuff; love the unlovable; do good to those who hate you.
This is not the kind of politics that wins political office. It’s not even the kind of politics that one can readily “like” or cheerily be a “fan” of. But it is, for those who seek to practice it, the way that leads to life.