Category Archives: True Believer

Christian Tribal Power

 

I am still trying to make sense of all those prayers and Christian symbols I saw at the Capitol the day of the insurrection. What do they mean and what do they tell us about the matrimony of politics and religion?

Paul D. Miller, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, made these  claims in an email to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times:

“Christian nationalism is the pursuit of tribal power, not the common good; it is identity politics for right-wing (mostly white) Christians; it is the attempt to ‘own and operate the American brand,’ as someone else wrote; it is an attitude of entitlement among Christians that we have a presumptive right to define what America is. I oppose identity politics of all kinds, including the identity politics of my tribe.”

 

According to Benjamin Lynerd, a professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University and the author of Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals,” Christian Nationalism involves

“the tragedy of evangelical politics, a tragedy that the unrestrained loyalty to President Trump lays bare, but which stretches well beyond this moment in American history,” when “political theology serves merely as cover for the more pragmatic agenda of social empowerment.”

 

Professor Lynerd asserts, that there is a difference,

“between searching out the implications of the Christian gospel for politics and leveraging this gospel to advance the social position of American Christians. When evangelicals disguise the latter in the robes of the former, not only do they engage in dishonesty, but they also give fuel to the cynical view that there really is no difference — that the theological is nothing more than a cloak for the political.”

 

When theology is used to cloak a grab for political power the religion is far from pure. Then it has jumped into the fray and got soiled by it.

As Robert Jones said in an email to Edsall:

“While many media outlets focused on decoding the myriad white supremacist signs and symbols, they too easily screened out the other most prominent displays: the numerous crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols, such as the Jesus 2020 flag that was modeled on the Trump campaign flag.”

 

Jones also said, those religious symbols used on Capitol hill by the insurrectionists:

“reveal an unsettling reality that has been with us throughout our history: The power of White supremacy in America has always been its ability to flourish within and be baptized by white Christianity.”

Like I said before, the deep connections between anti-black racism in the United States are deeply disturbing. No mild words of religious comfort can gloss them over. The same is true of the religious trappings of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Samuel Perry in his email to Edsall said that when white Americans are asked about taking the country back they mean that the Christian character of the country should be restored, and by that they mean “they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power.” But if you asked blacks the same question they would mean, a return to a ““civil religion” where there was a sacred obligation to be a “just” nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty.

That mixture of religion and white supremacist politics is incredibly toxic and dangerous. That is what Trump tried to bring about and in that battle his greatest allies were Evangelical Christians. To the extent that this is true, the Evangelicals have been besmirched with their leader’s slime. By leader of course, I mean Donald Trump, not Jesus Christ. This is my conclusion: Those Evangelical Christians that followed Trump to the bitter end, gave up on Jesus a long time ago, in favour of their own bully in the White House. Trump became their Savior supplanting the one on the cross.

Blood and Apocalypse: Christian White Nationalism

 

Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale and the author of the book American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present, also noted that many of the insurrectionists at the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 made it clear by their actions and signs that they supported Christian nationalism. This is what he told Thomas Edsall of the New York Times in a personal email to him:

“Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie. Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism.”

You put them all together and you get Christian Nationalism.

Professor Gorski did not claim that he could tell by watching that a majority of the insurrectionists were Christian nationalists. That would be very difficult to discern from a distance. Yet, there is no denying that they were a substantial presence. Professor Gorski told Edsall in his email that the Christian nationalist movement was a loose confederation of people and institutions that shared,

“a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.”

 

Professor Gorski had some disturbing things to say about Christian Nationalists. He distinguished them from more traditional Christians. As he said in his email to Edsall,

“Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.”

Anyone who watched and listened to the Christians on the hill during the insurrection would, I think, find the above description apt. And disturbing. That sounds more like Christian Nationalists than Sunday school at the local Baptist Church.

Is that your kind of Christianity? I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing.

Messiahs don’t come around every year.

 

Donald Trump called his followers to the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 and like dutiful followers they came. They came to put a wrecking ball to what they considered false government and fraud. Their spiritual leader called them, so Trumpists arrived from all over American to the Washington Capitol as he had asked. He asked them to “fight for their country.” Was he being metaphorical?

To his faithful followers they were on a religious mission. It was their sacred duty to come to the Capitol to defend the leader of the faith and the country. It was a holy cause. So, men and women who would normally be going to work, their Bridge club, or doing laundry, or sending their kids to school, turned up instead in Washington ready to riot. Many of them actually planned a riot. After all, as one of their posters said: “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my president.”

 

And, like so many sacred causes in the past they were deceived by their leader. He told them to march to the Capitol and he would be right there with them. That was a lie. He stayed back at the White House where he could be safe to watch the action on his big screen TV instead. To his followers it was a sacred cause. To Donald Trump is was entertainment.

Now you might ask why would anyone believe a New York real estate developer who had a notorious aversion to the truth?  That didn’t matter to the true believers. The leader called; they came. After all, 2000 years ago,  who would believe a young man who appeared to be the son of a poor carpenter?

 

But Trump was no Jesus. In the case of Trump, the true believers were sad fools. We pity them. They made a horrible choice. Some of them like the QAnon Shaman with his wide grin, bare muscular chest, coon skin hat, horns, spear, and face painted with the colors of the American flag, came all the way from my “home” state of Arizona. He thought if he got into trouble, as he did, his spiritual leader and savior Donald Trump would pardon him or save him in some other manner. The Shaman was sadly deluded. That’s what his “true belief’ was—a sad delusion. Too late he realized he had been a fool.

That doesn’t mean all such beliefs are delusions. Not all prophets are false, but certainly enough of them are false to make us wary. We should recognize that and use some critical judgment. Messiahs don’t come around every year. Or even every four years

The Christian Holy War for Trump

 

Many American pastors, including particularly evangelical or fundamentalist pastors have endorsed Trump since 2015 and continue to do so,  reinforcing Trump’s view that he could kill people and not lose support. On January 6, 2021 that was clearly demonstrated. The only difference is that Trump did not have to do the actual killing or fighting. Like a true Mafia Don he just asked his followers to do it and they followed his instructions. Trump asked them to fight to defend the country and they did exactly that.

 

One of the American pastors was conservative evangelical pastor Greg Lock the founder of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He wrote this in his book This Means War, ““We are one election away from losing everything we hold dear.” The battle, Locke continued, is “against everything evil and wicked in the world.” Thomas Edsall of the New York Times interpreted these remarks this way: “It is a rallying of the troops of God’s holy army. This is our day. This is our time. This means something for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, THIS MEANS WAR.”

The day before the riot at the capitol Greg Locke tweeted his faithful followers in a manner not unlike Trump but with religious language:

 “May the fire of the Holy Spirit fall upon Washington DC today and tomorrow. May the Lamb of God be exalted. Let God arise and His enemies be brought low.”

 Obviously, these are not the views of all Christians, but frankly I am shocked by how many feel this way. I wonder if police are considering charging  any of these pastors with inciting violence.  Their language is certainly incendiary.

Sometimes the marriage of politics and religion breeds monsters.

 

Saviour Trump

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished at what I saw. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day. I was struck by some of the signs held by rioters. For example, one said read: “Jesus is my saviour. Trump is my president.”

 

Signs like that made it clear that to many of the rioters, the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

As Thomas B. Edsall said in a New York Times article, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true.

In the 2016 presidential election which Trump won, he said there was carnage on the streets of the United States, and he was there to rid Americans of that.  He said that “I am the only one that can save America.” By such statements he was making it known that he professed to be the Saviour of America.  It really was an absurd claim. After all, what qualifications did he have to claim to be a saviour.  He was the son of a rich man who used that inheritance to go into business on a smooth track and then he proceeded to go bankrupt a number of times. According to the New York Times he did not increase the wealth he inherited by any more than it would have earned had he invested it in the bank. He was a pretty poor business man in other words. He had no relevant experience to run a country. He was obviously a man of little learning. All he really had was wealth. And in America that of course is enough. Americans worship wealth. And that’s where Trump came in as the saviour of America.

The amazing thing was that millions of Americans believed that Trump was the saviour of the country. They actually believed his claims. As a result, they actually gave Trump religious devotion. The most unlikely thing actually happened. Religion often works that way. It is often not rational. It is often government by faith not reason.

So, how did that unlikely event happen?  I want to explore, in my own meandering fashion, the connection between politics and religion. I think it is deeply fascinating. I hope you agree and accompany me on this journey.

 

Trumpism and the Unimaginable

 

Fintan O’Toole is a wonderful political commentator who writes for the Irish Times and frequently contributes to the New York Review of Books. He was recently interviewed on Amanpour and Co. He has been studying American politics closely. Sometimes it helps to get a view from afar to see clearly what is going on.

O’Toole said this about Trump the day before the Trump Insurrection in Washington on January 6, 2021:

“Donald Trump does not hide his feelings…He has been saying for over a year that losing the election is inconceivable… This is the language of autocracy. In an autocracy is not imaginable that the great leader can be removed. And for 75 million people who voted for Trump they voted effectively for autocracy not democracy. That is the profound consequence of what Donald Trump managed to do. He has created an enormous base for anti-democratic politics in one of the world’s oldest democracies.’

 

In other words, Trump created Trumpism. Trumpers made it clear that a defeat for Trump is not possible. You can hear it when television interviewers asked the Trumpers what they would be doing the next day—January 6, 2021. Of course they were going to the Trump victory to certified by Congress after which on January 20, 2021 they were going to the inauguration of Trump. There was no question about this. The followers of Trump, just like Trump see an alternative reality. That is what Trumpism is all about. It is a window into an alternate reality that is more to the follower’s liking—a reality posited by their spiritual leader.

O’Toole wrote this in the Irish Times,

“Trump has kept his eye on the great strategic prize—the creation of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics. This is his legacy.  He has unsuccessfully fed a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable end point—disdain for the electoral process itself.”

 

This is exactly the movement of Trumpism—a vast and impassioned base who have hatred of government, contempt for rational deliberation and disdain for the electoral process. The death of truth leads to the death of democracy. In fact, they are both opposite sides of the same coin—they are conjoined twins with a birth defect.

O’Toole also said in the Irish Times,

“Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands.  It is for him, not a good-bye, but hasta la vista. Instead of waving him off those who want to rebuild democracy will have to put a stake through his heart.”

O’Toole, like me, takes enormous comfort from the fact that Joe Biden has won, and ordinary government officials have done their duty and not bent to the will of the president and the catastrophe of another Trump term in office has been avoided. At least temporarily it has been avoided. But this danger has not passed. The United States has millions of Trumpers left and they are resentful and believe their saviour has been robbed of a second term. Many of those supporters think their government and their country has been stolen from them. These people are passionate in their devotion to that man. To me it seems insane, but it is real. They are devoted to him. Trump might be right that he could have stood on 5th Avenue, shot a man, and not lost any of that support. Only one with religious followers could say that. Now these passionate people are hugely disappointed. Resentment is a powerful toxic force. There is no telling what can happen if it is set loose. It could explode and there is no predicting exactly how explosions will turn out, except we know it won’t be pretty. These dangers are real.

Trump the Saviour

Some people are now saying Trumpism is a cult. There is some substance to this claim. Trump said that he could stand on 5th Avenue in New York, shoot someone, and he would not lose any support! That is theological support. Trumpers are accustomed to believing without evidence. As a result, the lack of evidence for Trump’s claims, such as his claim that he won the presidential election by a landslide, for example, can readily be believed by the Trumpers. That is why, I believe, Evangelicals in general have had such fondness for Trump. They find it easy to believe in him. That is why I have been saying beliefs have consequences.

Rick Wilson the co-founder of the Lincoln project had some interesting things to say about Trumpism:

“Trumpism is a cultural problem. That culture is defiant of reality and tradition and morality. It is a fundamentally unconservative culture.  They are not believers in limited government, the rule of law or the constitution. They believe in Trump. If he says something, that’s what they believe. If he said tomorrow ‘I am in favour of child sacrifice,’ they would say, ‘we ought to reconsider child sacrifice,’ because that is the power he has over them. It’s the most astounding diversion from what American politicians have traditionally been.  Traditionally, even powerful and charismatic American politicians have been in response to people.  These are in response to a leader.  He is a perfect authoritarian figure in terms of the charisma, the control, and almost religious devotion to him.”

 

The only thing that rings false in that statement is the word “almost.”  It is in fact religious devotion. The word “almost’ waters it down too much.

Trump is the saviour of Trumpers. As a result, Trump does not have to worry about his supporters being disappointed in. It does not matter. It is unlikely to vanish. It is possible it will vanish but unlikely. Other politicians can only envy Trump.

Fabulism

I know that no one is surprised when people like me say that Donald Trump is a liar, or worse, a bullshitter who doesn’t even care if statements are true or false. I think even his most devoted fans understand that. I don’t think anyone is fooled about that. So what really interests me is this: why do so many people, including Americans and Canadians and people around the world, not care about him telling lies? Why do they not care about the truth? This is what interests me for it will be important even if Donald Trump loses the election to be president for the United States in 2020.

I think that is an important question. Too many people focus on Donald Trump’s lies, which after awhile are not that interesting. The real question is why does he elicit such loyal followers that they just don’t care?

Peter Baker said this about Trump in a recent New York Times article:

“Born amid made-up crowd size claims and “alternative facts,” the Trump presidency has been a factory of falsehood from the start, churning out distortions, conspiracy theories and brazen lies at an assembly-line pace that has challenged fact-checkers and defied historical analogy.”

Even though I think that is obviously true, and would be admitted by his followers, or should I say believers, they still choose his side. A recent Newsweek poll found that 54% of Americans now think it has become more acceptable that people in politics lie. Only 13 % think it is less acceptable. The importance of truth itself is eroding and I would submit that is very important.

To give just one example, because more people don’t care if what Trump is telling them is true, they believe him no matter what. So for Covid-19 advice they follow Trump’s advice even though they don’t care if what he is saying is true or not! Is it any surprise that there is now about 1 new cases of Covid-19 in the US every second?

Not caring about truth has consequences and they are important, but they are real. A Harvard Professor Nancy L. Rosenblum, and her co-author Russell Muirhead wrote a book called A Lot of People are Saying after an expression Trump often uses. In the book they said truth may not matter even if Trump is gone. As they said, “that may not change even if Mr. Trump leaves office after one term because he proved the advantages of truth-bending politics and helped build up an information infrastructure where reality is like an à la carte menu from which Americans can pick their favorite variant.”

 

Here is my theory. People don’t care if what Trump says is true or not because he is one of the leaders of their tribe. They identify with Trump. They are on the same team. That is all that matters, not whether what he says is true or not. This is a religious attitude. That is how true believers react to their leaders. Such an attitude has deadly consequences. Those consequences will be with us for a long time after Trump is no longer president. Many of us will pay the price.