It’s mildly amusing — okay, it’s mostly pathetic and silly — watching good, liberal Christians herniate themselves trying to pretend that there’s some necessary distinction between their religion and the politics of Donald Trump. Their fellow Christians make that project very difficult with their periodic proclamations about how anyone who opposes Trump opposes god.
We hear incessant pondering about how it can be that so many Christians voted for and still support Trump. A favorite strategem is to call Trump Christians “evangelicals.” Um, “evangelicals” are Christians. They would not exist as such without Christianity. There can be no doubt that we in the United States are champs at proliferating flavors of Christianity. Actually, in U.S. history, “I’m a Christian” is a meaningless claim because, no matter the major issue, one can find people on either side who make that claim. The first white people to call for the immediate emancipation of the slaves were Quakers, but most slave owners were also good Christians.
Christians voted overwhelmingly for Trump, except, of course, for African Americans, many of whom are devout Christians, and Hispanic Catholics, for obvious reasons. So the difference is not one of religion, but of race and ethnicity.
The immediate problem with trying to palm Christian support for Trump off onto “evangelicals” is that they’re quite sure they’re the very best Christians. Indeed, they’re the sort who believe, not merely that one must be Christian, but one must be exactly their kind of Christian, or one is going straight to hell. This is why such people can say that opposition to Trump is the same as opposition to god. Pat Robertson, shining example of U.S. Christianity, has made this claim. So has Trump’s “spiritual adviser,” Paula White, a televangelist. In July 2017, a group of Christian leaders met with Trump in the Oval Office and laid their hands on him while praying with him.
Christian belief is hegemonic in the United States, which should come as no surprise, since the United States only exists as the result of the Christian invasion of “North America.” Almost to a person, the men who started the American Revolution and who later wrote and ratified the U.S. Constitution were Christians, of varying sorts, as one would expect. Christian belief is so hegemonic that nearly everyone who opposes Trump is only too happy to make some more or less mindless appeal to that set of ideas to justify their position. This move often takes the form of invocation of some bible verse, which is entirely useless because if there’s one thing evangelicals know, it’s the bible. Evangelicals are Protestants, and a defining feature of Protestantism is the expectation that every believer will know her/his bible backwards and forwards. Of course, the bible is a huge, floppy text that has everything under the sun in it, so one can use it to justify anything. Jefferson Sessions whipped out a bible verse to justify separating children from their families at the border. Of course, that was one of the same verses slave owners favored to justify slavery to their slaves. There is no room within the bible from which to critique Trump Christians.
The biggest problem Christian hegemony creates is the widespread, foolish belief that Christian faith has, or should have, the effect of inculcating morally admirable conduct in believers. If anything, exactly the opposite is true. Christianity, as a set of philosophical claims, is actually a prescription for complete moral irresponsibility. Given the proliferation of flavors of Christianity in the United States, any time one offers any description of Christian belief, one is likely to meet with the objection that “not all Christians believe that.” But, either “Christianity” denotes an identifiable set of propositions that all adherents agree to, or it doesn’t. It may not.
But surely all Christians, properly denominated, have to agree that the Christ myth describes a set of actual events that offer some important insight into how the Christian god wants his planet to function and how he wants us humans, whom he made “in his image,” to behave.
The Christ myth, in turn, only makes sense given the Christian concept of “original sin,” or the idea that all humans suffer some inherent moral taint simply by dint of being human. Presumably, one can come up with some more intellectually respectable explanation for the source of this moral taint than the obviously fanciful story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but no matter. The point remains that, under Christianity, we all are stuck with some moral responsibility for some action that must have occurred thousands of years ago — well before any living human was born. Any good parent knows that, if you want to teach your child to behave, you need to make sure that the link between any bad act and the consequent punishment is as clear as it can be. Why should any human alive feel at all implicated in this “original sin” thingy? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even alive then.
Making matters worse, this god who supposedly created this mess — this allegedly omnipotent, omniscient god, who must have known we would screw up immediately and could have set the system up differently to begin with — then decided that the only solution was to send “his only begotten son” — wait, he is omnipotent, but he can only have one son? — to earth to die a nasty, grisly death, to redeem us all of our sins? So we played no role in acquiring this “original sin,” and we played no role in winning absolution for it? Again, why does anyone feel at all morally implicated in this scheme? It makes no sense at all. Then, the redemption of Christ apparently wasn’t very effective because we continue to sin, apparently, and we definitely, according to lots of modern Christians, still live with the constant threat of eternal damnation for our current sins. But I thought Christ took care of all of that? Supposedly, this god loves us, but he stuck us in this bizarre situation, and apparently will send us to hell for eternity if we don’t love him back just right. That’s not love. That manipulative and passive aggressive.
We see the moral incompetence that Christianity enables and encourages clearly in the response to the recent report from Pennsylvania about Catholic priests molesting children. This has been going on as a public scandal for some twenty years now. The only reasonable inference is that priests molesting children has been routine practice since soon after the founding of the Church. Prominent U.S. Catholic leader Bill Donohue has done all Christians proud by asserting that some of these children did not suffer rape because their attackers did not penetrate them, that not all of them were pre pubescent, that other organizations also have problems with sexual abuse of children, and finally, the ultimate Christian cop out, this is not the fault of the individual priests, but of Satan.
Herein lies the real source of irremediable Christian moral irresponsibility — there is always someone else to blame. Christianity is the ultimate conspiracy theory. Vast, unseen forces control us and our universe, so we’re never responsible for anything. Happily, the criminal law does not recognize “the devil made me do it” as a valid defense, so in those cases where prosecutors can find sufficient evidence, they will be able to prosecute the priests involved. They will likely only be able to get a fraction of the guilty priests. Every jurisdiction in the world should conduct its own investigation like the one in Pennsylvania.
And this is how Trump is a model Christian. He is never wrong and never makes any mistakes — in his own mind, anyway. Trump as a person does not seem particularly religious. As in all things, he is opportunistic and instrumental. When he decided to run for president, he recognized that he would find a far more hospitable home in the Republican Party, whose policies were more to his liking anyway — he got a huge tax cut out of the deal, and as president he could easily quash any questions that came up about his wife’s immigration status after making undocumented immigrants a key part of his election strategy — and the fact that the Republican happens to be the Party of overt Christianity in the United States was no problem for Trump. He had no qualms about appearing as a candidate at a Christian university. One great advantage of Christians for Trump is that, by definition, they make a virtue of believing complete nonsense, so they would not look too closely at his completely nonsensical claims and policy proposals. The other aspect of the Christian worldview that suited Trump’s political designs was that he intended, and did, rely heavily on identifying scapegoats to win votes. So he said in his announcement that most Mexicans are rapists and murders, and he called for a ban on all Muslims entering the country. Christianity, in turn, depends heavily on dividing humans into the saved and the damned, with the saved free to do pretty much whatever they want to the damned. Scapegoating is built in.
This should come as no surprise at all to anyone who knows much about the ugly history of Christianity in “the Americas.” Trump is only the hideous culmination of the project Columbus unleashed when he landed in 1492. Christians invaded “the Americas,” uninvited and unwelcome, and proceeded to rape, pillage, enslave, and murder millions of Natives and Africans as part of their campaign to steal two continents from the people who had lived here for thousands of years before their arrival. The history of Christianity in “the Americas” is one of unremitting violence and oppression. Sessions was not wrong to whip out his bible verse to justify family separation. That policy was actually pretty tame, but still consistent with, how good Christians have treated Natives since they showed up. This should surprise no one.
So now we have governance by Trump Christians. It’s really horrible. There is not a major issue on which we could not make enormous progress towards rational policy solutions if we could somehow remove all of the most vocal Christians from the debate, but we cannot. At a time when our president has engaged in an open assault on the rule of law, abandoning basic principles of Constitutional law is not a good idea. But to take only one very obvious example, some younger Christians are starting to smell the cat food, but Christians as a class are the most likely group to refuse to believe that humans cause climate change and that we need to undertake drastic action to avoid rendering the planet uninhabitable. On abortion rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, the only discernible basis for opposition is Christian belief. We have seen the Christian justification for separating migrant children from their families.
Very sorry, but there is no daylight at all between the politics of Trump and Christianity. Trump is the logical outcome of the Christian invasion of “the Americas.”