Two days from now, a new administration will be inaugurated. But let’s not entertain false hopes. After Wednesday, most of the US population will probably remain drunkards.
After four years of Trump histrionics, it’s easy to imagine Joe Biden as a hero. But every new administration ought to remind us of Martin Luther’s insight into human nature. “Human nature is like a drunk peasant. Lift him into the saddle on one side, over he topples on the other side.”
Luther was right. We’ll likely still be drunkards after Wednesday. This includes Christians, Right and Left. As the Biden administration seeks to correct what it imagines are the shortcomings of Trump’s conservatism, many will likely topple over to the other side, to progressivism.
Luther knew firsthand what he warned us against. He was like a drunk peasant who, lifted into the saddle of salvation from a corrupted form of Roman Catholicism, toppled over to the other side by seeking to take away civil authority from the Roman Church.
He was successful. But Luther accomplished this by strengthening drastically the role of the individual over the institutions of church and state. And he confined the mission of the church to service and forgiveness. This limited the authority of the church to spiritual matters only. It has no influence in the governance of the people. Religion became the private sector of individuals, society the domain of the institutions of state and civil society.
It was a dichotomy that, in 1524, set Luther in sharp opposition to the leaders of the Peasants’ War. They opposed the Holy Roman Empire. Luther eventually lent support to the Protestant princes, leaving him with a seemingly ambiguous legacy regarding church and state.
Regardless, his private/public dichotomy endures to this day. Many Protestants see the church as all about grace and forgiveness. It has nothing to do with politics. Others hold to a dichotomy where political parties are divine or wicked. It’s all or nothing, and it all depends on each individual believer’s interpretation. To those in the kingdom of God, their Party is a divine arena where God is at work. The other Party is outside the kingdom and can only be bad.
It’s well documented how these dichotomies invariably lead to people being self-righteous. I’m not on Facebook but I’m well aware of how Christians – conservative and liberal – operate in drunkard echo chambers where God is at work in their Party but not the other.
The way out is to remember that Luther was right, but only about our old, sinful nature (an aspect of human nature he often accentuated). The new nature reminds us that even bad dichotomies can bring about redemptive outcomes. Take Luther and beer, for example.
In Luther’s day, the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on beer production, since it held the monopoly on gruit – the mixture of herbs and botanicals (sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow, ground ivy, heather, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, cinnamon) used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops, however, were considered a weed and not taxed. “The church didn’t like hops,” says William Bostwick, the author of The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer.”
German princes did. Even before Luther, they had been moving toward hops as its many qualities include being an excellent preservative. Luther’s revolt gave hops a boost. With the rise of hops, the Roman Church lost the corner on the market on beer, which I feel is a good thing, for I like hoppy beer (thank you, Protestants) as well as bold ales, a beer Catholic monks gave us.
In a similar fashion, I like some of what the Trump administration accomplished. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’ll likely feel similarly about the Biden administration. My point is, most of the US population will probably still be drunkards after Wednesday. Today’s drunken state will be redemptive if it sobers Christians, Right and Left, to stay upright in the saddle.
 Richard Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, A historical study. (Hesperides Press, 2008), 57.
 John Witte Jr., Law and Protestantism, The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 89.