Elizabeth May and the rise of messianic politics


National Post, 20 September 2019

The world needs saving, but apparently Jesus won’t do it. According to the Liberals and now the Greens, progressive politics will.

Joseph Brean explored in Saturday’s National Post the role of religion in our current political moment. That was prompted in part by Elizabeth May’s confession in a political interview that Jesus Christ is her “personal hero,” an admission for which she immediately added “sorry.” She had answered too “quickly and honestly.”

My colleague Matt Gurney wrote about the political problems with the Green party’s understanding of tolerance, which tolerates every green view except the environmentalism motivated by explicit Christian faith.

I wrote elsewhere about the theological problems with the May interview.

But there is another important dimension to May’s discussion of her faith and her politics. It’s an example of the rise of messianic politics on the left. The world needs saving, but Jesus won’t do it. Progressive politics will.

As is well known, May is serious about her faith. So serious that she was preparing to be an Anglican priest before she left divinity school for politics. Why did May leave her studies for ordination to enter politics?

“I have to save the world,” she said.

Even granting the rhetorical looseness of the interview in question, saving the world is an ambitious goal for politics. Ancient wisdom — philosophical rather than strictly theological — observed that it is hard for something to fix itself, to fix something from the inside. It’s usually the case that something external is necessary, like a doctor or a mechanic. So saving the world may require something otherworldly, hence supernatural or transcendent.

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