Note: Normally I limit my word count in this blog to what a half letter-size piece of paper would hold. This article, however, is “long form” – intentionally longer. I’m happy to discuss it in person with you.
I don’t know if Thomas Sowell is a Christian, but he is a keen observer of human behavior, especially in areas of government and economics.
In 2008, long before this momentous year, he wrote a book called The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. He observes, over the last 200 years, a tendency for a self-anointed elite to adopt a vision, for the betterment of people. He argues persuasively that these visions inevitably fail – with increased harm. Against the simple metric of what they initially set out to achieve, they fail.
Patterns of Failure
Sowell notes four stages, in a “pattern of failure” of these visions. Consider these, and ask yourself if you see this pattern playing out anywhere today:
- Stage 1 is “The Crisis”.
“Some situation exists, whose negative aspects the anointed propose to eliminate. Such a situation is routinely characterized as a ‘crisis,’ even though all human situations have negative aspects, and even though evidence is seldom asked or given to show how the situation at hand is either uniquely bad or threatening to get worse. Sometimes the situation described as a ‘crisis’ has in fact already been getting better [for some time].”
- Stage 2 is “The Solution”. The “anointed” offer policies that will solve the “crisis”, saying that it will lead to “beneficial result A”. Critics say that these policies will lead to “detrimental result Z.” And then:
“The anointed dismiss these latter claims as absurd and ‘simplistic,’ if not dishonest.”
In other words, the “anointed” dismiss questioners as both unenlightened and possibly, probably immoral.
- Stage 3 is “The Results”. “Detrimental result Z,” that critics said would happen, comes about.
- Stage 4 is “The Response”. Those who called for the “solution” say the critics are “simplistic” for ignoring the many complexities involved – they appeal to a higher knowledge that critics supposedly do not have. The anointed then call upon the critics to prove how the worsening of problem was caused by the “solution”. Says Sowell:
“No burden of proof whatever is put on those who had so confidently predicted improvement. Indeed, it is often asserted that things would have been worse, were it not for the wonderful programs that mitigated the inevitable damage from other factors.”
By this method the “vision” always “succeeds”, not by the original criteria, but by made-up, changing, subjective, after-the-fact criteria. Evidence is irrelevant in the face of such visions, Sowell writes. Thus there is no self-evaluation, along the way, of the original vision. The vision is right – because the anointed view their Vision as self-evidently right. And if you disagree, you are not right – not based on evidence, but because you do not share the “anointed” vision.
Why Am I Talking About This?
I share this all this with you, dear reader, for several reasons.
First, I want you to be affirmed, if you thought you were seeing something this year, but you couldn’t put your finger on it. You are not crazy. One of our most eminent economists has been seeing this dynamic for a long time.
I write this to you also because everyone – Christians included – are susceptible to the “vision of the anointed” – to our own harm. Thus:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
In the passage above Paul is warning about the gospel getting twisted in his readers’ minds. Then they would lose the freedom that they have received in the gospel.
I write this to you for the same reason. Note the religious overtones in “the vision of the anointed”. One person says, “I believe A, but I can see how others believe B.” But the “anointed” says to that person, “If you don’t believe B, you are morally defective. You are part of the problem. You are dangerous.” You are, in a very real sense, in sin. You are a heretic.
The “vision” takes on religious overtones because it IS religious. It is clearly based on faith – faith in the rightness and supremacy – the “anointed-ness” – of the anointed’s own “vision” of things.
And the anointed are attractive, in their confidence, and in the self-nobility of their “gospel”. And for those that give in to that attraction, there is the tendency to then drift from Christ – the precise problem Paul saw in the Galatians. To drift, to a different gospel – where the state is god. Or, to use the problem that the Colossians faced – to drift to man’s empty philosophies as god and gospel. Or to seeing membership among that “anointed” as god. As we said on Sunday, Satan is fine regardless – as long as something else becomes your “anointed”, instead of The Anointed One – The “Christ” – Jesus.
As a side note, I’m NOT talking here about restoring “American” freedom. I think that ship sailed a long time ago. But again, I’m not talking about that anyway. I’m talking about TRUE freedom, that even a jailed Chinese Christian can possess: freedom from sin and death, from condemnation, and from the twin tyrannies of shame and self-regard. A freedom to love with abandon and courage, because we’ve been so loved first.
So I write this that you might not be surprised or swayed or discouraged under the present trials – that is, the trial of living under the most recent version of the “vision of the anointed”. I write to exhort you to hold fast – fast – fast – to Christ, your only Anointed. The only one with a future vision that truly leads to life.
The Fabric of Reality
I write this for you, but also for our community. Because only a vision with Christ at the center will yield a lasting benefit for the welfare of our city. Because only in Christ do we tap into how God made the world. The further people get away from God and the gospel, the MORE people believe, not less. The more we humans drift away from God, the more we will believe literally anything. And thereby we become more and more disconnected from the fabric of reality, and therefore more and more destructive to the common good. But the closer we hold to Christ, the more our efforts will accord with how God made the world – and thus accrue to the true welfare of our city.
The True Resistance
So resist any “anointed vision” – whether that vision comes from your line of work, your preferred politician, or your favorite author. Think, evaluate, weigh – but then leave space for the only “vision of the anointed” to be Christ’s.
So where to start? It may surprise you, that I will say, “Not in the political sphere.” Look instead to those secret corners of your life, where you have fallen under the yoke of another master. I will explain why below. But for a moment, consider putting to death your cherished idols.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:13-15
On this passage, Leon Morris famously wrote:
“Real life is not a possibility when we choose to luxuriate in the body’s deeds. We must renounce all such deeds if we are to experience life in the Spirit. This is not because some meritorious achievement is required of us as a way of earning such life. It is because the two are incompatible. The one excludes the other. There is a living that is death and there is a putting to death that is life.”
And that life leads to a freedom that could never come by the schemes of man – only by the “schemes” of God in Christ.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37
Because of God in Christ, we will persevere, through every “toil and snare” – no other vision will finally seduce us; no present or future threat will destroy us. Because of His sovereign love to us:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Bondage to this unbreakable love is the greatest freedom, from sin, and death. By faith in this love, we gain grace to walk in the Spirit, not according to the flesh.
So then, you ask: what is the connection between the “vision of the anointed”, and living in freedom from sin, powered by the love of God?
To answer this I must quote the British writer Theodore Dalrymple:
“The purpose of communist propaganda [i.e., a “vision of the anointed”] was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.”
Sin emasculates us, and leaves us impotent, inside our fantasies of greatness and power. It leaves us lying to ourselves, that we’re doing something useful, when really we’re useless – emasculated. Too consumed with self to act upon what we think is true and right. And when sin is propagated across a people, that entire people becomes “easy to control”, by the “visions of the anointed”.
So really, what I’m calling for, is for you and I to get on our knees, and beseech The Anointed One, for revival. We’re no earthly good because we’re not heavenly-minded enough. We do not stand because our legs are too crooked (Heb. 12:12-13). We need revival. One that would start with us, but one that would fill our land. To put this another way: the only way a people can become less susceptible to the visions of the anointed is through repentance. God-given, gospel-fired, Spirit-anointed, rambunctious, self-abandoning repentance. Repentance that sheds lesser visions because it so prizes the vision of Christ.
Let it start with us, by preaching this gospel to ourselves. But then find every opportunity to preach this gospel to the world. People say the fate of our culture rests on this election. It doesn’t. It rests on whether or not we repent.