I came to this book very naively, not fully knowing what a populist was, nor why God wouldn’t want to be one. Now that I better understand the tactics populist politicians use, I can discern the lies they tell more easily and realise how I can help to counter them.
A populist in the political sense
A populist politician has two main faults. First off, they over-simplify issues and combine complex situations into binary positions. Take Brexit: a populist politician, on either side of the debate, proclaims that you must be for or against it and goes full throttle for whichever position they hold. They refuse to admit that there are countless nuanced reasons why being in the European Union can be either beneficial or harmful.
Secondly, and more dangerously, populist politicians pick on sub-populations whom they blame for the problems they have simplified. They create an ‘us vs. them’ paradigm that distorts reality and invites distrust and eventually hatred between different factions of people. Common scapegoats are Muslims, immigrants, and the poor. Sadly, these groups eventually become the enemy.
By definition, Populism is popular, and it is on the rise across Europe and in America. Different forms of it exist in India and Brazil too.
Why do Christians need to be worried?
The problem for Christians is that populist politicians and parties are using Christian ‘identity’ (not love and faith) to falsely shore up their ideologies. They claim to represent Christianity while espousing hatred and division. For example, President Trump posed in front of a church in Washington D.C. while holding a bible, his path to the church had been cleared using tear gas on peaceful protesters. In the UK, Britain First has marched with wooden crosses on their ‘Christian patrols’. While in Germany, PEGIDA protest with candles, crosses and believe in the superiority of the West (Abendland) rather than the East.
None of this behaviour is truly Christian. We believe in a living and loving God, and do not depend on idols and symbols.
Where we do need to careful
All Christians are just ordinary people with fears like anyone else. As such, we too may be susceptible to the simplified view of the world that populists offer. Christianity is a holistic faith, yet in its teaching and rhetoric it makes use of contrast, for instance: light and dark, God and the world, sacred and secular, material and spiritual. Yet, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us, there are no good and evil groups, instead, the dividing line ‘between good and evil runs through the heart of every man’.
In conclusion, God is not a populist. He is complex and has no need to simplify and compromise to make sense of thorny ideas; He is the truth. Neither does he create distrust and hate by blaming and scapegoating people groups. As those who follow Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear ‘the other’. Instead, we can welcome the immigrant, defend the refugee, and can trust God for the well-being of all.
Who should read this book?
‘Is God a Populist?’ is for those who feel the pull of populism but want to fight it by understanding the tactics that populists use to recruit followers to their cause. Reading this book is akin to reading the playbook, it is a must for Christians who wish to combat and counter populism more successfully.
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