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The 'divine right' of progressives: Scary

The chattersphere is pulsating over incoming Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus’ holiday message, suggesting, critics allege, that president-elect came this Christmas as a Christlike “new king.” A closer look at Priebus’ personal faith indicates that’s not what he meant.

For example, in a previous Easter greeting, Greek Orthodox Christian Priebus said this: “As our Church has done for generations, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the love of God in providing a Savior. … Christ’s sacrificial work provides an example for us all. …”

Priebus might have chosen the Christmas wording more judiciously, but a man who wrote those Easter words would not be likely to exalt Donald Trump – or any human – as the “new Christ.”

A scarier concern is left-progressivism’s presumption of divine right. “History is on our side,” declare the leftists endlessly. While most of them resist the notion of God in the public square, they have their own mystical view of history. Some great, unseen power is guiding the historical track “progressively” toward its great outcome.

They believe the kingdom of the glorious human is the historic destiny rather than the Kingdom of God. It’s peculiar that the human kingdom would be realized through a mystical force. Ironically, that was a major dogma in the “faith” of atheists Marx and Lenin.

While some leftists are hysterical about Trump’s election, others “seem unconcerned,” writes David Harsanyi, in The Federalist. They console themselves with the thought that ultimately “they are predestined” to triumph. They believe, says Harsanyi, that “the intellectual case for progressivism is unassailable” and that “the potency of their moral case makes them unstoppable. …”

Decades ago, without intending it, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr explained why “divine right” might be a “besetting sin” and irresistible temptation for progressives.

Niebuhr was writing in the 20th century when communism was on the march in the Soviet Union and, it seemed, globally. Even though Marx jeered “at bourgeois legalism and moralism” he elaborated “new, and supposedly ‘eternal’ principles of justice. … The new Marxist legalism, springing from a provisional moral cynicism, is characteristic of the spirituality of our age beyond the confines of Marxism,” wrote Niebuhr.

That statement has proven prophetic in our times, made so by academics who may not be outright communists, but who are intensely legalistic in their own leftist thought and teaching. Secular academia abounds with new politically correct “moralisms.”

Why is the presumption of divine right the “besetting sin” of left-progressivism? Niebuhr, again unintentionally, answers the question. He cites Enlightenment philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, who, says Niebuhr, was certain that “constant development is the purpose of God in history … a stream which flows unceasingly toward the ocean of humanity.”

Niebuhr showed how the pragmatic philosophy of public education architect John Dewey was influenced by progressivist belief. Dewey “seems at times to believe that growth and development (e.g., ‘progress’) are themselves a norm to which life may conform,” thought Niebuhr.

Should anyone be surprised that a generation educated in Dewey-shaped classrooms would not have a sense of the inevitability of their version of progress and the “divine right” that places history on their side?

The irony is that Niebuhr was criticizing materialism, something the young progressives say they disdain. Yet the very criteria for critiquing the materialist view exposes the materialistic spirituality of the left, and its insistence that history is on its side, and that Donald Trump is now an obstacle to the victory of human progress.

Worse, in their view, Trump and his ilk comprise a barrier to the progression of spiritual, moral, social and political evolution. Hence the outrage.

However, there is a caution here for Trump. Some of his statements and actions reveal fertile soil in his soul for hubris – that overwhelming pride that “goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). Hubris leads inevitably to the idea that one is the new deliverer for whom the world awaits. It doesn’t help that even some Christians have too quickly pronounced that the president-elect is almost messianic.

Trump tweeted on the day after Christmas that the performance of the stock market and hefty holiday shopping were signs of “hope” in a “gloomy world.” If Trump concludes he is the “hope” rather than merely the agent of encouragement, he will succumb to the hubris that leads to the presumption of divine right.

Jesus said the true and false prophets are distinguished by their fruit. It takes time for fruit to develop so its quality can be assessed. There has been ample time to gauge left-progressivism and know that it is poisonous. Trump’s fruit as president is but a seed.

Still, one is not as concerned about Trump’s potential for hubris as for the left-progressive presumption of divine right.

First, Donald Trump is now at least aware of the need for accountability to and forgiveness from a transcendent God. Trump told Cal Thomas that though he once said he had never felt the need for God’s forgiveness, “I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won’t have to be asking for much forgiveness.”

Second, because Christians helped put him in office there will be plenty of voices to warn him if he gets too presumptuous about his own power.

Progressive-leftists have pretty much jettisoned the notion of a Transcendent Absolute. The only accountability is to themselves, and to the mystical power of history they believe is on their side.

That divinity is one of their own making. In being “accountable” to it they are actually answering only to themselves.

That makes the progressive-left presumption of divine right truly scary.