We don’t just follow our leaders. We, anxious and dependent followers, often set them up via a process that can generate at least two kinds of toxic monsters:
leaders who leap at the chance to play god-like roles, and leaders who eventually — because their followers keep kowtowing before them — come to believe that they really have the powers their anxious and needy followers want to ascribe to them.
—Harold J Leavitt
“Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility,” said the philosopher Bertrand Russel.
Rusell’s observation tallies with the delusion suffered by religious and political leaders who believe they are God’s deputies or proxies on earth.
These people are dangerous to humanity because of their false sense of infallibility which they feel must be undisputed. Anyone who dares oppose them meets dire consequences at their hands.
Such people become more dangerous when they manage to convince others that they are messiahs.
This feat is usually achievable because false messiahs emerge during crises, when people are frightened, oppressed or are wallowing in poverty to the extent that they constantly hope someone will lead them out of their troubles.
The annals of history are littered with self-proclaimed messiahs who promised peace, prosperity and heaven, but who failed to deliver; instead, they turned out to be vindictive murderers against those who raised alarm about what they were — fakes.
False political messiahs, like venomous snakes, are fascinating and equally dangerous. They use propaganda machinery to construct mythical images of men or women with supernatural powers, prophets who, like Moses, would lead the suffering majority towards envisaged eternal happiness.
With the help of their acolytes, who are masters at bootlicking, they create “divine” imagery by selling the idea to the gullible that they are Jesus Christ incarnates, kings of kings, deans of rulers, messengers sent by God to rule forever, sons or daughters of God, prophets etc.
They proclaim to their subjects that they are extremely lucky to have them as rulers because their rule is a result of direct anointment from the Almighty. True democracy, according to them, means their “divine right” to rule forever as they please.
Their desire to be worshipped is insatiable as exemplified by ancient Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar, who erected a huge golden statue and demanded that everyone should demonstrate loyalty by bowing to it. The majority of such people believe in the lie that they are immortal.
Such people believe in their messianic pretensions and when they suffer the ignominy of being deposed unceremoniously or killed like rats by their angry subjects, pretend they are the biblical sacrificial lambs.
These people fail to see the irony engendered by their proclamations of divinity vis-à-vis their actions, especially when they issue orders for the wholesale destruction of their enemies (who generally are peace-loving women, children and men) and the wholesale plunder of resources for personal benefit. What drives them is the false notion that being above mortals, they can achieve what no other human being could ever achieve. Their false sense of divinity triggers in them the illusion of unique capabilities.
The absurdity of their actions is lost on them — they claim to be divine yet they are obsessed with the pursuit of earthly things such as sex, money and other material possessions.
Some of them carry the absurdity too far, like the Roman ruler Julius Caesar, who claimed to be the descendant of the goddess Venus, demanding that he be worshipped as a god.
Armed with the illusion of divinity, such people acquire egocentric religious language to consolidate power. Bootlickers, who provide the base on which the messianic impostors build their power, urge or coerce everybody to recognise the “superhuman qualities” in the impostor.
The irony is that many people — including those who participate in creating the false god — lose their lives as the “messiah” brooks no “opposition nonsense”. In their reasoning, opposing them is akin to opposing God since they view themselves as His deputies on earth.
They reason along these lines: “How dare you oppose me, the divinely appointed to solve all humanity’s problems?”
If the false political gods fail to convince people of their supposed divinity, they use force manifest in violence, murder, incarcerations and banishing of opponents.
These people love themselves so much that they regard anyone who does not love them as an enemy.
Those who support such people are not innocent; they deliberately choose to ignore the truth, for how do they explain a divine being who unleashes terror on ordinary men, women and children? They are guilty by association because knowing the truth, they choose to prop up the devil.
No false political messiahs can be successful without disciples who perpetrate evil on their behalf. The acolytes know very well that the foundation of the false messiahs’ power is deceit, force and carefully plotted murder.
What compromises the perpetuation of the divine deception is the false messiahs’ obsession with autocracy, imprisonment and torture of opponents as this leads to resistance and outright revolt.
Anger gives people the courage to slice through the false messiahs’ defences that include earthly armies and secret police. The result is disaster for the impostors and they end up on the run like rats.
History has shown that ultimately, such people are chased from their luxurious palaces until they hide in holes where they share dwellings with vermin. All pretensions to divinity would be over and they cower like cornered rodents.
But the sad reality is that in today’s world, especially in Africa, one false messiah rises after another and they form clubs to defend each other.
But perhaps the solace is that when the winds of change blow, the other clubmates are powerless to stop them — they can only watch helplessly hoping their turn never comes, making feeble noises that no one listens to as they make attempts at bravery.