The Futile Search for a Secular Savior

By Robin Schumacher

The old saying "never discuss religion or politics" is fast becoming a redundant statement because, for many people, politics has become their religion. While those who disbelieve in God point to signs that America and other countries are becoming less religious, the truth is that religion is thriving everywhere—it's just not the kind of religion that most people think of when the term is used. [1]

The stone cold truth is that when you hold God's funeral someone will always take His place. That particular someone will each time seek and come to power under the promises of delivering their audience from the fears and problems that plague society. They will always present themselves as a savior to their desperately-seeking and needy populace.

What's happening in today's political climate as the world searches feverishly for its secular savior, while denying the only true Savior (Jesus), is living testimony to Solomon's statement of there being nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Their quest today is as doomed as it has always been.

A Look in the Rearview Mirror

In her work, Religions of the Hellenistic Roman Age, Antonia Tripolitis describes the society of 2,000+ years ago the following way:
The Hellenistic-Roman world had witnessed a succession of barbarian invasions, bloody civil wars, various recurring plagues, famines, and economic crisis. Moreover, confidence in the traditional cults and their gods that served as the basis of the political, social, and intellectual life was waning. The general populace no longer placed its hope or faith on the ancient gods, whom they believed could not alleviate their daily encounters with the vicissitudes of Hellenistic life.... This was a period of general material and moral insecurity. The unsettling conditions of the time led people to long and search for soteria, salvation, a release from the burdens of finitude, the misery and failure of human life. People everywhere were keenly awake to every new message of hope and eagerly prospecting for a personal savior, someone who would bring salvation, i.e., deliverance or protection from the vicissitudes of this life and the perils of the afterlife. [2]
"A period of general material and moral insecurity." "Unsettling conditions." Such things describe the state of nearly every country in the world today, wouldn't you say?

The new saviors that Tripolitis describes came on the scene and boldly took advantage of the situation. The interesting thing that happened, though, was that soon politics was blended with religion, with the end result being that the leaders were celebrated as something much more than they really were.

Such things weren't unheard of. In the East, kings were regarded as sons of the gods and venerated as such from earliest times. In Egypt, the pharaoh was the son of the sun-god, and as such, he was elevated above his subjects with his subjects being compelled to swear absolute obedience to him.

Through his conquests, Alexander the Great came into contact with the oriental concept of divine kingship. After his death, he was buried in Alexandria where a priest was installed for him as the founder of the city and as the son of Ammon. The Greeks were used to the idea that gods could appear on earth and that divine men could do marvelous things, but up to this point they had never bowed before a ruler as the epiphany (appearing) of a deity.

Then came Antiochus IV Epiphanes who assumed divine epithets while alive, which no other Hellenistic king had done to that point, such as Theos Epiphanes ("God Manifest").

After this came the worship of the Roman emperors, which began at Ephesus in 29 B.C. when a temple was built to the deified Julius Caesar. His and other emperor's rules brought stability and prosperity to the unstable climate Tripolitis describes, and so they were rewarded with reverence and awe.

Emperors such as Augustus were not only recognized as political leaders, but also immediately revered as the nation's soter (savior) and euergetes (benefactor). Some rulers such as Vespian didn't take the public adoration seriously, while others such as Caligula and Domitian (who demanded to be addressed as Dominus et Deus—"Lord and God") did.

But the incredibly important lesson from this very quick review of ancient history is noted by University of Glasgow professor William Barclay who wrote: "The extraordinary fact is that emperor worship was not imposed on the Roman Empire from above; it grew from below" (my emphasis). [3]

A More Recent Example

"An evil exists that threatens every man, woman and child of this great nation. We must take steps to ensure our domestic security and protect our homeland."

A favorite assertion of uninformed skeptics is that Hitler was a Christian, when the truth is that he showed himself to be neither an atheist nor Christian but more of a neo-pagan. There's little to no debate among historians that he was a Nietzsche adherent (who despised Christianity) and firm believer in evolution's survival of the fittest mentality where humanity was concerned. [4]

It's sad to note how many professing Christians in 1930s Germany helped vote Hitler into power, with most being deceived by the Fuhrer's rhetoric like that above and promises to bring peace, safety, and prosperity to a weary and fearful people. It didn't take long for Hitler to be swept into the role of Germany's secular savior, replacing God in the process as this rewritten/Nazi version of Silent Night shows:
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm. All is bright.
Only the Chancellor steadfast in fight
Watches o'er Germany by day and by night
Always caring for us.
Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm. All is bright.
Adolf Hitler is Germany's wealth,
Brings us greatness, favor and health.
Oh, give us Germans all power!

Today's Landscape

Most shrug off the thought that such a thing could happen again, especially in a country like America. Those thinking such a thing would do well to listen to Paul when he says, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Americans, still feeling great pain from a stinging recession, consumed by debt, concerned over a nuclear-armed Iran, swimming in moral decay, and rejecting God outright (as the original platform of the 2012 Democratic Party did), are eager to deify any savior who can pull them out of the mess the country finds itself in.

In 2008, speaking of Obama, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews exclaimed: "This is bigger than Kennedy. [Obama] comes along, and he seems to have the answers. This is the New Testament." [5]

Oprah declared that President Obama has "a tongue dipped in unvarnished truth." [6]

In 2009, an elementary school teacher had her class perform a song about the President that contained the line: "Mmm, mmm, mmm! Barack Hussein Obama. He said red, yellow, black or white all are equal in his sight." [7] (Doesn't a song about Jesus say the same thing?)

First Lady Michelle Obama said at one recent campaign event: "We have an amazing story to tell. This president has brought us out of the dark and into the light." [8] (cf. 1 Peter 2:9 on God doing that)

Make no mistake—neither the Democratic or Republican parties seek the cause of Christ. The above is not meant to degrade President Obama, but rather show that right now in America, people are willing to laud, applaud, and assign a much higher status than is deserved to any human leader who promises to ransom them from the worrisome conditions they find themselves in.

In a very real sense, we've come no further than the Greeks and Romans of 2,000 years ago.

The Ultimate Counterfeit Savior

History shows that all human saviors ultimately fall and fail, and so the search for the ultimate secular savior persists. As the rejection of God spreads, and today's problems continue to grow and compound, the search will intensify until it arrives at the ultimate counterfeit human deliverer.

Historian Arnold Toynbee said, "By forcing on mankind more and more lethal weapons, and at the same time making the world more and more interdependent economically, technology has brought mankind to such a degree of distress that we are ripe for the deifying of any new Caesar who might succeed in giving the world unity and peace." [9]

The Bible unmistakably points to a time in the future when that Caesar will be crowned by a worldwide populace desperate for a peace and prosperity that it believes has slipped away. Like Chris Matthews said of Obama, this new fuehrer will seem to have all the answers, and will rise from the chaos of the nations (cf. Revelation 13), but after he has delivered a semblance of peace, Scripture says he will then, "cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they [the people] feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes" (Daniel 8:25).

His adoring crowds will have forgotten the warning given by Hamlet who said, "The spirit that I have seen may be a devil; and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape."

Rescue from that final counterfeit savior will come only from the true God as the prophet Daniel goes on to say in verse 25: "Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power." The antichrist's downfall will be the pinnacle of failure for all the false christs that have come before him.

Then and only then will humanity's futile search for a secular savior end, with all learning the truth of what God says in Isaiah: "I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me" (Isaiah 43:11).

If you haven't done so already, put your trust in Him today.

[1] IRS (02-23-1999) Religious Belief Defined: religious beliefs include many beliefs (for example, Taoism, Buddhism, and Secular Humanism) that do not posit the existence of a Supreme Being in the conventional sense.
[2] Antonia Tripolitis, Religions of the Hellenistic Roman Age, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), pg. 2.
[3] William Barclay, The Revelation of John Volume I (Saint Andrews Press, 1965), pg. 126.
[4] There is little debate that Hitler looked to stamp out Christianity as well as the Jews, regardless over his rhetoric that was designed to initially win over the masses. See "Nazi Trial Documents Made Public." BBC New, January 11, 2002.

Image Credit: Mary Harrsch; "Flowers at Caesars Feet"; Creative Commons

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Published 12-12-12