Christian Magical Thinking and Irresponsibility

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Christian magical thinking is a prescription for irresponsibility. If you can persuade yourself that there is an omnipotent deity who is the cause of all things, it is easy, apparently, to abdicate your own responsibility for yourself and your life to that deity.

When ordinary schmoes do this, it is not a big deal. Since all humans live in societies, and societies necessarily constrain individual choices, people on the street refusing to take responsibility for themselves are usually just annoying to persons who have to interact with them, like dealing with an alcoholic or other irresponsible person.

We lately have two egregious examples of Christian magical thinking by two enormously powerful men that have the potential to produce significant effects for others.

The relatively benign example is President Donald Trump saying that the allegations of sexual assault against his recent Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, were “a hoax that was set up by the Democrats.” We should not take lightly the many statements by persons who have suffered sexual assault about how psychologically painful it is to them to hear anyone dismiss their experiences, but it is not at all surprising that a man who has already stated loudly his contempt for women in general and for the problem of sexual assault would be entirely indifferent to such statements and to the persons who make them. The silver lining to the cloud that is Donald Trump at the moment is that he also said that talk about impeaching Kavanaugh indicates that the “main base of the Democrats” have shifted so far left that Trump, as a result, expects a lot of Democrats to vote Republican in November.

His comments about allegations of sexual assault are horrific and inexcusable. They are a version of Christian magical thinking in positing an unseen, mystical force as having an impact on human affairs. Remember that part of the intellectual pathos of Christianity is that they have to balance their supposedly omnipotent, benevolent deity with an almost as powerful opposing force in that devil guy. Trump has consistently positioned himself as an effectively omnipotent figure — only he can solve the nation’s problems! — and he now uses Democrats as the devil/foil in his morality fantasy.

His comments about Democrats voting for Republicans because some Democrats have mooted the possibility of impeaching Kavanaugh are laughable and only indicate how little he understands about politics. They are good news because, since his base believes everything he says, they may have the effect of inducing complacency among Republicans and thus lower their turnout in November. No one can predict the future, but that is at least a plausible outcome of his inane bloviation.

The far more hideous example of Christian magical thinking, one that we can reasonably expect to cause significant harm to specific persons, comes from the pope, unsurprisingly, since Christian magical thinking is his stock in trade. A Reuters story reports that he wants to blame Satan for the sex abuse crisis and calls on Catholics all over the world to say a special prayer daily to beat back the forces of darkness.

This from the CEO of an enormously rich, powerful corporation whose primary employees have a well documented propensity, well above the rate in the general population, to molest children.

Child molesters.

And all the pope can think to do is call for prayers. This is insane. He apparently will take no concrete, real world steps to try to reduce significantly the incidence of child molesters among a group of people he participates in holding out as people who have genuine concern for the well being of children and families. This is beyond moral hazard. He effectively makes himself an accessory to every act of child sexual abuse any priest commits. We know it is going to keep happening. To some extent, it is unavoidable. But he could take real action to reduce the incidence. He has a clear moral obligation to to do so, but he won’t.

So we have two instances of irresponsibility growing out of Christian magical thinking, one relatively benign, one viciously immoral in the extreme.

What is most worrisome is that the relatively benign example comes from a man who, because of his temperament and current position, has the power to do even more harm than he already has with future acts of irresponsibility from his Christian magical thinking. Too bad there is no god to stop him.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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