God-kings are not new on the stage of human history, nor do they exclusively occupy the dusty corners of the distant past. One need only look to the Japanese worship of Emperor Hirohito during World War II to see that an industrialized, modern country can still vest in its leaders supernatural authority. And there are far more subtle ways of making divinity out of men as well.
The Apostle Paul was warned two-thousand years ago that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Certainly his intention was to illuminate to the self-righteous that they do not live up to an actual standard of perfection, but perhaps there is more. For as surely as a man might be blind to his own failings, there seems to be some propensity in man to be selectively blind to the failings of others as well. This selective blindness may have many causes and find many expressions. Some in our society carry cultural guilt and fear of accusations of bigotry that cause them to hold entire social, racial, and religious groups to different standards of judgment than others. Still, it is the elevation of individuals above common scrutiny that creates idols of men. Whether it is a rock-star or actor, sportsman or elected leader, holding any man above reproach is folly, for in ceding to anyone our power to critique them, we grant them power man was not meant to have.
Now, to some, this double standard of generosity may seem harmless enough. After all it might be argued that most people are far too judgmental as it is. However it is no less sinister to apply a positive double-standard than it is a negative one. Both of these biases have the same result on the individual making the unfair judgment – by limiting the individual’s ability to accurately see the humanity of the judged, they falsely color that individual’s understanding of the human condition in general. Just as the thoughtless demonization of any person renders them sub-human to the person making the judgment, and therefore their choices, actions, and motives are no longer subject to the same thoughtful consideration as those of others, Hero-Worship creates a blindness in which it is not necessary to consider the fundamental humanity of the so-called hero, nor is it necessary to emulate their actual virtues or accomplishments. After all, if Hitler is simply the most evil creature to ever live, why question the motives, politics, or persuasions by which his actual, human evil was allowed to thrive? Similarly, if a Martin Luther King, Jr. was simply better than everyone else by design, what point is there in attempting to follow his virtuous lead?
This power that hero-worship imbues in its champions is also a narcotic that dulls the mind of the worshiper, and allows and even promotes abuses by the worshiped.
Clearly, this is the case with the current President of the United States. With so many people seeing President Obama as a super-human, almost religious figure, and placing so many of their hopes on his shoulders, they blind themselves to the reality of the man, both his better qualities as well as his more troubling ones. Any accusation of wrong-doing or hubris is instantly and angrily rejected by the faithful as an attack on a man who is simply above petty criticism. He can do no wrong, and further, no one else can do the good that he might. He is, as Evan Thomas so aptly and honestly put it, “standing above the country, above the world, he’s sort of a God.” There is nothing more dangerous than this kind of isolation of a man from the restraining power of common criticism, especially one who by his office already has so much power over so many and so much. After all, if criticism is suppressed and virtues are seen as intrinsic and not attained or attainable, an elected leader doesn’t actually answer to the will of the people at all, rather, the people exist to validate his will.
For man to truly be free, he must reject elevating any human to super-human stations, reserving such worship exclusively for the truly divine. Christ may be perfect, but President Obama is only a man. A compelling case can be made that George Washington was one of the best men who has ever lived. The Indispensable Man, he twice surrendered his sword, and almost absolute power, to the new country he had bled to create when frankly most people would have preferred he kept it. But this same great man had great failings, not least of which were his somewhat nuanced views on human slavery.
If even a man with the moral fortitude of Washington did not escape the human condition, then what man could? I can say without shame that there is no public figure alive who I hold in higher esteem than I hold George W. Bush. I realize the cultural-correctness barons who have demonized him for the last eight years will recoil at the fact, but I would rather have some BBQ or sit on a fishing boat with 43 than meet a Beatle. He was true to his convictions, and he exuded a grace and good-will to his enemies even when beset on all sides by a recklessly hostile, slandering, hate-filled media and opposition. President Bush is as close as I have to a hero. But I am not fooled by my affection into believing he was superior to his mold. Despite the public claims of exuding calm, I have little doubt what was going through the president’s mind during those excruciating seven minutes in the school-house in Florida in 2001. Fear. We’re being attacked? Confusion. If we’re being attacked, why aren’t they pulling me out of here? Uncertainty. Am I supposed to be doing something or did I misunderstand? The sort of very human things any of us might have felt in that sort of situation. Would I have preferred that he sprung to his feet, strode to his jet, and took command of the war we did not yet know we were in? Sure. I would rather he hadn’t passed TARP, articulated conservative principles like Reagan, and defended himself against his hate-drunk critics too, but I don’t look for God-like perfection in human beings. Even Presidents. Especially Presidents. I have an actual God for that, so my admiration for Mr. Bush can survive exposure to his actual humanity expressly because it isn’t built on the false premise that he has none. It is respect, not worship, and it is a deep respect.
Because in application, worship is all a man requires to reign as a God. Hold one man to a more generous standard, bind him by a less restrictive set of rules than you do other men, and you give to him transcendent powers no matter what secular name you might call him by. If you make that man-God the leader of a country, then he is a God-King as surely as any who has gone before, and making a God-King of a man only makes slaves of the rest, no matter how he uses his authority or for what. This is what the idea of separation of Church and State was actually meant to protect us from, un-checked executives consolidating personal-religious powers. Let us direct our prayers elsewhere that we might have eyes to see this man as man.