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“Make Us Gods Who Will Go Before Us”

“Pastor” John Ziegler, owner of TigerWoodsIsGod.com, relays his horror at recent allegations of extramarital affairs by the world’s most recognized golfer:

After several days of evaluation, I have decided to disband the First Church of Tiger Woods … and I will not renew the TigerWoodsIsGod domain name when it expires in a couple of months…

… you might think that such a decision might be difficult. In this case, it was not. Unfortunately, Tiger Woods has made it all to easy (sic) to realize that he is no longer worthy of any special admiration (emphasis added).

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… Tiger is clearly no longer deserving of being seen as a role model or a hero (emphasis added) …

One may grant Ziegler the benefit of doubt and assume his “First Church of Tiger Woods” is facetious. However, if you consider his comments and demeanor in a recent media appearance, it seems evident Ziegler genuinely believed Woods was worthy of “special admiration.” At one point, Ziegler asserts that Woods “appeared to be as close to perfection as anybody we’ve ever seen, not just on the golf course, but off the golf course as well,” an image now decimated.

It should go without saying that no human being is worthy of the kind of special admiration Ziegler held toward another man. Tiger Woods is not God. Nor is he remotely close to perfect. He is a human being, like all of us. He can hit a golf ball well. This capacity does not imbue Woods with some esoteric existential superiority justifying elevated expectations in all areas of life.

This manner of deification is not unique to Woods. A cursory examination of print, radio, and television media revels disproportinate fixation upon “beautiful people,” the elite in entertainment, business, and politics. The lower classes willing submit to the higher, evoking the distinction through a desire to be led, to be saved, and to belong, even if as property.  Sarah Palin is an example of someone who runs counter to this idolatry; she defies deification and was therefore rejected as a leader. The chief criticism of Palin during the 2008 campaign was her lack of “qualification.” On its face, this criticism was substantially undercut by the fact she boasted the largest amount of executive experience of any individual on either presidential ticket. The other three had none. Of course, executive experience is not what people referred to when they used the term “qualification.” What they seem to have meant is sufficiently convincing pretention conveying the peace of mind that comes with being mindlessly led and provided for.

As Americans, there is a disconnect between our professed regard for liberty and this tendency to seek for ourselves gods among men. On the surface, we love to wrap ourselves in the rhetoric of equality, freedom, and the populist sentiments underlying representative government. On the other, we crave, demand, and ultimately crown royalty. A friend recently told me in reference to President Obama, “The way he speaks, you can just tell he’s intelligent. He’s so intelligent. And you want that in your president, someone intelligent.” The unspoken implication which I find echoed in criticisms of Sarah Palin is we want a leader who can serve as our civic auto-pilot, someone smarter than us, better than us, closer to perfect. Such a person demonstrates, through their intellectual peacocking, their right to rule. We dutifully oblige them. But this runs counter to such pedestrian ideas as “all men are Created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We cannot have it both ways. We either believe all men have equal intrinsic worth, or we don’t. When we don’t, we come up with asinine ideas like the president ought to be smarter than us, or Tiger Woods is God, or any other manifestation of Beatlemania-like idolatry.

When Sarah Palin delivered her address at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul last year, many disaffected conservatives were heartened that such a plain person (that is to say someone risen from the middle class, without an Ivy League education, not from a political dynasty, with an earnest if naive lack of pretense, someone we might know, someone we might be) could still ascend to such opportunity in an American political system which otherwise produces relentless consolidators of power. Plain people liked Palin because she was like them. Others hated Palin for the same reason. We could not have some average nobody from some negligible backwater a heartbeat away from the presidency, we were told. How could we possibly stop thinking and take comfort in the superiority of a fearless leader when she shamelessly claimed “hockey mom” among her accolades? We might be compelled by a lack of patronizing reassurance to participate rather than mindlessly nod in response to emotionally comforting pseudo-intellectual rhetoric assuring us everything will be okay. We don’t want our hand on the wheel! That’s what elections are for – cruise control! Pull the lever and coast to next Novemeber! Palin did not sound like someone who would assure us we were in good hands so we could comfortably abdicate our sovereignty and the troublesome sense of panicked responsibility that comes with it.

This is a tendency we need to become self-aware of and begin to reject immediately. It is not partisan. There are no shortage of Republicans who buy into the idea of fitness to rule based on some intrinsic superior worth. Liberty is better served by public servants with average intelligence humbly applied within the constraints of principle than geniuses convinced of their right to proceed unchecked. Of course, to accept such a radical sentiment, one must value the principle of liberty to begin with. That principle rejects idolatrous claims of divinity or divine right, whether by men, or about men by others.

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