A mandate from God

To no one’s surprise, Todd Akin claims that God has called him to run for the Senate. There are a remarkable number of politicians who claim a direct landline from the Almighty. During the GOP presidential primary, no fewer than four of the contenders (Perry, Bachmann, Gingrich, and Rick “Santorum” Santorum, if memory serves) claimed that God called them to run for president; God seems to have been hedging his divine bets. And apparently at least Rick Perry’s communications with God were decidedly one-way, since Perry urged a day of prayer for drought relief in Texas last summer, and it looks as if God responded with his drought-y crosshairs right over Texas, (or perhaps they were all simply praying to the wrong god, and the real one was angered).

The broader question that I have not yet answered to my own satisfaction is whether politicians like Akin are cynically manipulating a gullible public all too eager to believe in a divine mandate for their political views, or whether they actually believe they have heard God’s will. On a recent vacation to eastern Tennessee (where the cycling hills are great, but the road shoulders not so much), my family and I went to see what is purportedly the world’s tallest treehouse in Crossville. The structure is a rather impressive feat of architecture and jury-rigging, and if you get up to the top, which is about 100 feet off the ground, you look out onto a field that has a Jesus mural plowed into it. The treehouse has been a labor of love for its builder, who says that he heard a divine calling to build it. Given that the man has built this treehouse at great personal expense, and realizes little or no personal gain from it (other than the self-satisfaction of saving souls), I have no doubt that he feels he has indeed heard God’s voice, just as I have no doubt that some percentage of self-proclaimed psychics do actually believe they have psychic powers, and that Todd Akin et al. might actually believe they hear God’s voice as well.

What differentiates someone like Todd Akin, whose claim to a divine mandate resonates deeply with a large segment of our society, from someone who devotes his or her life to the ministry or missionary work, from someone who builds an enormous treehouse in the Tennessee sticks, to someone who sells all his possessions and preaches on street corners that the end is nigh, from someone who goes on a shooting spree because God told him to? As far as I can see, it’s all part of the same spectrum, with the only difference being the social acceptability of chosen path.

Given the straight line that can be drawn between the politician and the gunman, each claiming divine inspiration, shouldn’t we be a bit more suspicious of anyone claiming a divine mandate? Shouldn’t we treat Todd Akin and the many like him more as we treat those who claim to hear voices in their heads than as God’s chosen ones?

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