In a recent conversation I had with a friend on current politics, I referenced an old saying that goes something like: The man who goes to the brothel is looking for Jesus. This adage implies humankind often mistaken fleshly desires for the true need that a deeper spiritual void yearns for. In this scene, the man who patronizes the prostitute may believe he is buying the physical gratification he desires at the moment. Dig deeper, and one may discover his true need involves with a wanting to fill a hollowness in his soul which God alone may fill. My friend recalled a verse from Ecclesiastes that echoed with this conversation. It says God sets “eternity” in man’s heart (3:11) so that they don’t know what God has done from the beginning to the end (paraphrased). The Hebrew word for “eternity” is olam, which also means “darkness”. New English Translation (NET) decided the alternative fits the context better, therefore rendered the translation:
[God] has also placed ignorance (a hollow) in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained from the beginning to the end of their lives.
I told my friend that when we choose to support Trump, Biden, or whoever as President, we are like the man who goes to the brothel. We are all looking for Jesus at a deeper level.
I find that people on the polar side of politics often look for similar things like freedom and justice. Before revealing which candidate they champion for, one would think they belong to the same camp if one only listens to their rhetorics. “The democracy of our country is undermined.” “Fake news and lies have replaced truth.” “We want justice/religious liberty.” Signage companies can mass produce for either camp – just make sure the color coding of red or blue do not get mixed up. I truly believe the passion of today’s voters reflect their thirst for the kingdom of God. They see the world they currently dwell is deprived of freedom and justice, which pushes them to the point where one cannot afford to live out love, patience, or kindness. They believe the apocalypse approaches fast and danger engulfs them and their children. The pressing matter has no place for “humble and meek.” It calls for a God who comes with power and rules with a mighty arm (Isaiah 40:10). They wanted to march along that camp. Don’t think the above description fits only the militant conservative. The liberals struggle with a very similar spiritual sentiment even though they avoid using the word ‘God’.
Joseph Bottum, the former editor of First Thing, says “the single most significant fact over the past few decades in America—the great explanatory event from which follows nearly everything in our social and political history—is the crumpling of the Mainline churches as central institutions in our national experience.” For sure, the infamous Pew Research report that shows the upswing of “nones” or the religious unaffiliated who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” rises sharply from 2009. Bottum explains that in the 70s, some of these Mainline Christians joined the Evangelicals while others Catholics. The former continued to decline in numbers and the latter sat on the American cultural sideline. Eventually, many of the American Protestants stopped being Christians in any meaningful way. This is what become of a vast number of children whose parents are Protestant churchgoers. They are well educated, churchless, financially successful, and “utterly confident about the essential moral rightness of [their] social and political opinions.” However, Bottum continues to explain that it would be erroneous to understand this post-Protestant generation in purely material ways, because they brought with them an utterly spiritual perspective including their ideas on sin and salvation when comes to interpreting the world.
In their view, the social forces of bigotry, power, corruption, mass opinion, militarism, and oppression are the constant themes of history. These horrors have a palpable, almost metaphysical presence in the world. And the post-Protestants believe the best way to know themselves as moral is to define themselves in opposition to such bigotry and oppression—understanding good and evil not primarily in terms of personal behavior but as states of mind about the social condition. Sin, in other words, appears as a social fact, and the redeemed personality becomes confident of its own salvation by being aware of that fact, by knowing about, and rejecting, the evil that darkens society.
A theology of the agnostic is born. Even when they have abandoned their parents’ religion for good or bad reasons, they continue to look for the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven according to their terms.
In this sense, from the QAnon Shaman who led a prayer meeting in the Capitol to the atheist liberals who march in Black Lives Matter protests, they are all like the man going to the brothel. They are looking for Jesus. In this pilgrimage, some are pointing to directions we may aspire. Others are very troubling. But for whichever position one may land on, the mandate of the Church calls for the priesthood that stands in the middle of the universe, with one hand reaching out to God and the other to all humankind. Shalom, the Hebrew word for ‘peace’, comes in the form of reconciliation that not only tears down the barrier that separates us from one another but also the fear and anger that disguise our deepest spiritual yearnings as something else. In the end, shalom will show us the justice and freedom we wanted so badly can only be found in the love and compassion of Christ.