The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That old French saying is never more true than when sin manifests.
It has been over a year since Venezuelan Hugo Chavez passed away, but the former president was, politically, brought back to life this week in an all too familiar scene.
The Marxist military coup leader remains a controversial figure, but there is no doubt he is loved; at least by Venezuelans of his own political persuasion. But this week, they took their adoration too far and made Chavez an idol (if he was not one already).
At the ruling Socialist party annual congress on Monday September 1st, a party member read, from the main lectern, a version of the Lord's Prayer which made (rightly) many cringe; especially that nation's Catholic Church.
Clothed in Communist red, María Estrella Uribe, uttered the prayer in front of a vast image of the former president.
“Our Chávez who art in heaven, the earth, the sea and in us delegates. Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, deliver us from the evil of the oligarchy, like the crime of contraband, because ours is the homeland, the peace and life – forever and ever. Amen. Viva Chávez!"
You can watch the ceremony here.
You can hear a weak applause in response to Uribe's oratory, revealing, I think, the sense of shock that even this most atheistic of organisations felt at such a provocative move.
To us, it might seem ridiculous. To the average Australian, praying to anyone is a curious business, let alone a dead politician. But that is not the culture of Venezuela. When you mix two high-octane faiths in the one people (Communism and Roman Catholicism), this is what you get.
To understand Chavez's place in the hearts of his people, consider this: The Guardian reported in the weeks following his death, shrines to Chavez had sprung up all over the country, adorned with Chavez icons.
Since the death of Hugo Chávez on 5 March, statuettes of the late president have been selling out as soon as they arrive, according to one stallholder, Benito. "People are praying to him at their altars," he explains. The Guardian
This is idolatry, pure & simple. Where a people have been indoctrinated by a particular philosophy, but have a heritage in Christianity, there is an inevitable removal of Christ from his central role and replacement with the people or icons of the philosophy.
It is the spirit of anti-Christ in our age. It has always been there and it always will be there until the return of the King of kings. Think of the dictators of the 20th century. They have either placed themselves in this position or been placed there by their adoring followers. There is nothing new in this.
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (1 John 2:18)
What's more, it is hardly surprising that the party would venerate Chavez to the point of sainthood. It was he who, disturbingly, exhumed the remains of Simón Bolívar, leader of Latin America's rebellion against Spain, who died in 1830. (Christopher Hitchens covered this event for Slate at the time)
Knowing the sheer hubris of their dear departed leader, the current Socialist party has simply done the same for him. He presided over a ceremony to infuse his own royal highness with the spirit and flesh of Bolívar and now his own followers have made him the object of the Lord's prayer. It's not a subtle ploy.
And now the country's new leader, Nicolás Maduro, is headed the same way.
Maduro has effectively painted himself as Chavez's representative on earth, claiming to frequently see the late leader on the Avila mountain that overlooks Caracas. He has said that Chavez has appeared to him in the form of a little bird, on several occasions emitting a tweeting sound to refer to the leftist during public addresses. In October 2013, he proclaimed that "Chavez is everywhere" as he reported that the former president's face had appeared to construction workers in a Caracas subway. Vice News
Don't expect it to stop any time soon. It doesn't; the Bible assures us of that. And it's not just Venezuela suffering this spiritual malady. Wherever there are people, there is idolatry: it's the human condition. We take Christ off his throne and put someone or something in his place. In the remote jungles of the world, it might be a statue we make ourselves. In the urban world of intelligensia, it could be scientific rationalism. But it will be some thing or some one.
“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6)