It may be the age, or it may be the ozone. Whatever the source of the phenomenon, an awful lot of religion is being propounded these days, not from the pulpit but from the public podium -- and not as inspiration, not as a philosophical or ethical base of action but in too many cases as the justification for exclusively political acts.
Even a modest amount of googling will quickly take the casual Internet browser to an abundant number of citations linking the term "Messiah complex" to President George W. Bush, who wraps himself in born-again rhetoric and speaks of Good and Evil to justify reshaping the nation and the world according to his own ideological lights.
And we have the case of televangelist Pat Robertson, who used to busy himself averting earthquakes and hurricanes by means of his willpower and his special relationship with God and who now is content to relay with a wink the freshest confidence bestowed on him personally by the Almighty -- namely, that the aforesaid Bush is a slam dunk for reelection. That conclusion will surely be contested by many others in the political world -- say, by ex-Vermont governor Howard Dean, whose highly secular populist message has recently been amended by his stated resolve to start talking the religious talk when his campaign enters the South.
We have no fear of the legitimately God-fearing, but we would caution all those public figures who would claim special license and dispensation from the Lord Himself. They might hearken to the words of theologian/psychologist Tom Laughlin, who warns of an unconscious force in each of us, shaped by our experience, "which secretly controls us, often against our will, acts as a Superior Power over our conscious personality, our ego, intellect, and will, in a thousand different ways in us." It quite often materializes as "a know-it-all complex, a Messiah complex, a need to be the center of attention, a need to control others, or be a victim controlled by others, a rejection complex, a feeling cheated complex, a fear of being abandoned complex."
Hmmm. We wonder if Laughlin might have been present on New Year's Day when Memphis mayor Willie Herenton declared himself "called ... at this moment in history" to his secular mission and said of the Lord: "You know he didn't give everybody a vision. ... He didn't give you that vision. He gave it to me." Later, in dilating on God's "purpose," the mayor lashed out at "enemies" on the City Council and Shelby County Commission and said, "I want all the naysayers and the haters to understand that this is not my fight. ... He makes my enemies my footstool. ... Like Jehosaphat, I can just stand still and let Him fight my battles."
On behalf of all us potential footstools, might we say: Lighten up, Mayor, lighten up a bit!
And what would Laughlin or any other outside observer have made of the extraordinary time and energy devoted at a Shelby County Commission committee meeting last week, at which Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel attempted to put her colleagues on record as favoring Jerusalem as the permanent capital of Israel. The move was successfully countered by several fellow commissioners who regarded the idea as much too grandiose for a local legislative body and a potential precedent that could confuse matters of church and state.
Laughlin's worst-case scenario? The Messiah complex "will prevent us from ever finding God as long as it is allowed to operate unknowingly in our unconscious." Amen.