Friday, December 2, 2016

Donald Trump and Christianity

Do you know what it tells me about yourself if you say you are a Christian? Next to nothing.

It doesn't tell me anything about your morality or about your politics, and it doesn't even tell me what the word Christian means to you.

Before the election of Donald Trump, Christians were desperate to convince other Christians of who Jesus would vote for and what the proper "Christian" decision would be. Many of the articles one found online were by the Christian Left explaining how the words of Donald Trump do not line up with the words of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Christian Right did what they always did, which was say the word abortion endlessly and drape dead fetuses around their opponent's neck.

The Christian Right certainly had their work cut out for them this time. Most Christians like to think of themselves as nice people, and Trump decidedly was not a nice person. In fact, Trump was a shit person, barely a person at all.

Of course, Republican politicians are often not-very-nice people, but they are better at faking it and codifying their hatred than Trump was. Mitt Romney could have been your friendly next-door neighbor when saying things like (actual quote), "Call me old fashioned, but I don't support gay marriage" Aw, shucks.

Donald Trump, however, as many have pointed out, was the Frankenstein's monster that the Republican party created. He was their pure id, and the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and the rest of the garbage that modern Republicans have always stood for was there for everyone to see: unfiltered, every night, using the most vile vocabulary and imagery we've ever witnessed publicly from someone running for the highest office in the land. "Aw, man, now everyone knows what we really look like underneath these smiling game show host masks," one could almost hear the Republican leaders lament.

Mainstream Republicans were like the "mainstream" Christian churches who say, "We love the sinner but hate the sin when it comes to homosexuality. We just don't think God approves of that lifestyle." Donald Trump was Westboro Baptist Church: "God hate fags." One is more crass, but both are exactly the same message. In a way, we should almost value the more blunt versions. As a Trump apologist might argue, Westboro is just "saying what everyone else is thinking" and "speaking their mind."

The Christian Left seemed to have an easier job. They could just point to Jesus's Golden Rule -- "Treat others like you want to be treated" -- and then point to nearly anything Trump has ever said in his lifetime and say "See?" They could also fall back on the connotation of the word Christian as a positive and declare that Trump was "not being very Christian" or that Trump supporters were only "so-called Christians." They could insist that voting against Trump would be "the Christian thing to do."

Except that Jesus was also a racist, a sexist, and a xenophobe. He called a woman a dog and refused to help her because she wasn't of his race and religion (Matthew 15:22-28), and he only finally helped her after she admitted that she was indeed a dog, one begging for his table scraps. Jesus did allow female disciples (his groupies), but had no women apostles in true leadership positions. He is perceived as all-forgiving in the story where he saves a woman from being stoned to death because of adultery, but he only adds insult to injury by leaving her with the parting phrase, "Go, and sin no more." He may as well have said, "I saved your life, not get out of here and stop being such a slut."

And if you move away from Jesus and look at God himself (who is the same person as Jesus, according to most authorities), the Trump comparisons are overwhelming.

We can start with a pretty serious thing Trump said early in his campaign when he suggested that the way to fight terrorists was to murder their families. God felt the same way about his people's enemies. See 1 Kings 14:9-16 for just one example of this. (There are many.) God did worse than just killing specific families, often demanding the death of entire areas: men, women, children, babies, and even animals sometimes. (Sometimes he did the job himself.) He was known, however, for keeping young virgins around as part of the spoils of war (Numbers 31). Of course, as Trump says, these women were losers for being captured anyway.

And speaking of rape: "Grab them by the pussy"? That's nothing compared to the allowed (and sometimes commanded) rape that happened in the Bible. See just one example, Judges 21:20-21, where men of God hid in the vineyards and waited for women to arrive, at which point they would abduct the women and carry them back home.

To continue with Trump and God's misogyny, both are disgusted by women's periods. See Trump's comment about Megyn Kelly bleeding "out of her wherever" as well as calling Hillary Clinton's bathroom breaks during the debates too disgusting to even talk about. God's law made women untouchable for a full week after menstruating. Anything she touches is unclean and impure (Leviticus 15:19-24).

I could go all day since both Trump and the Bible have a seemingly endless supply of "deplorable" words and behaviors. Both even devalue the disabled (Leviticus 21:17-19), which one would think would disqualify you from being the president and certainly from being an all-loving supreme being. Here's one final comparison. If you think it's bad that Trump wants to ban Muslims from entering the country, look at what the Bible says to do to people who aren't members of the "correct" religion:

"If anyone secretly entices you -- even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend -- saying, 'Let us go worship other gods'... you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. But you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them, and afterwards the hand of all the people. Stone them to death for trying to turn you away from the LORD your God..." (Deuteronomy 13:6-10).

My point is that you can use the Bible to support whatever you believe, about Trump or anything else. Do you think people should love each other, treat immigrants well, be nice to women? You can find Biblical support for that. Do you think we should secure our borders, value men as superior to women, deny gay people basic rights? You can find Biblical support for that. God, Jesus, and the Bible itself is whatever you want them to be. It all depends on where you look and (even if you're looking in exactly the same place) how you choose to interpret it.

Hell, you can even find Biblical passages to support abortion if you like: Numbers 5:11-31, to be specific, the only time something like an abortion is explicit in the Bible (it is otherwise not discussed); here the abortion is commanded by God and carried out by God's priests who torture the woman in the process--I suppose because there needs to be (as Trump said) "some form of punishment."

I should point out that, back when I was a Christian, I didn't vote at all. I thought that -- as a "spiritual" person -- politics had nothing to do with me. If you had asked me who Jesus would have voted for, I would have said "no one," that he wasn't political either, not concerned with "this world." If anyone asked him who to vote for, I imagined he might say, "Vote for whoever you want." Render unto Caesar and all that. So in my case, also, my generic Christian label said nothing significant about me or my politics.

Although "I'm a Christian" is one of the least telling phrases one can utter, saying you are part of the "Christian Left" or "Christian Right" does say a little something about you. Not, again, because you're telling us you are a Christian, but because you are now letting us know something specific about your political beliefs. The "Left" and "Right" labels are what matter. The "Christian" label is nearly inconsequential, as if you are saying "I am a Left/Right-leaning person who happens to also be Christian."

However, I do think it can be important to add the religious label to the political one for one reason: to show other Christians who do not share your politics that your version of Christianity is just as valid as theirs. I was pleased, this election, to see the Christian Left standing up for themselves and telling the pompous Christian Right, "You do not own Christianity."

Because, as far as morality goes, the Christian Left is definitely winning. They have picked out the nicer bits of the Bible -- the love-based bits -- and tried to ignore (or, sometimes, "explain away") the hateful stuff (including most of the Old Testament). They have decided, against all evidence to the contrary, that "God is love." And God bless them for it, because I pity anyone who wants to worship the deity that the Bible actually presents.

Within this stripped-down, living-in-the-modern-world version of Christianity, many believers on the left have been consistent when lining up their religious beliefs to their liberal political choices. They did not have to compromise their ideals to vote for Barack Obama, and they did not have to do so (too much anyway) to vote for Hillary Clinton. They were more or less moral people who voted for the more moral candidate. If you insist, they voted for the "lesser of the two evils," but need I remind everyone that it is better to allow less evil into this world than to allow more of it?

Now, concerning the Christian Right, I don't have many pleasant things to say. These loud shit-sacks in suits spent decades bogarting Christianity in order to get votes for the Republican party, touting themselves as the Party of God, as "Real Americans," and as the only ones who cared about "family values." And we see how important these beloved family values are when the Christian Right -- in this election -- twisted themselves into an impossible pretzel in order to defend their support of the least family-friendly candidate this country has ever seen.

Apparently the "single issue" that brought many Christians to Donald Trump was abortion, which is hilarious if you consider how many abortions Trump personally paid for during all of his extramarital affairs, one-night stands, and unsolicited gropes that played out in his favor. Hey, I'm not saying anything is confirmed about this guy arranging multiple abortions for women he filled with Trump babies, but "people are saying." You wouldn't believe what they're finding out! Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's policies concerning planned parenthood could have actually helped keep the abortion rate down. But who's counting?

As for Trump's other sins, why should Christians care about sexual assault, a creepy emphasis on physical beauty and body parts (including for pre-teens and even his own daughter), body-shaming, and other misogyny when the Bible (Old and New Testament alike) says that men are superior to women--that women are in fact made for men? Male dominance over women is a common church teaching. Why should Christians care that Trump chose gay-basher Mike Pence as his running mate when Christians gay-bash from the pulpit? Even leftist Christians do this sometimes, with "We love gay people, and we're all sinners who fall short of the glory of God!" rhetoric, as if being gay is a "sin" and as if calling someone a sinner is in any way "loving" them. Christian Right politicians, of course, have built careers out of denying gay people basic rights. And the exclusivity of "Jesus is the only way" teachings paired with anti-Muslim sentiment and good old-fashioned racism naturally leads to some of the wackier and more conspiracy-fueled Christians who spent the last eight years declaring Barack Obama a "secret Muslim" from Kenya who wants to enforce Sharia Law in America. It is no miracle that racist Christian birthers voted for our Birther-in-Chief.

And if Christian voters searched their hearts and could find absolutely no reason to vote for this vile candidate, but still wanted to vote Republican, they could use this handy excuse that I heard many, many times: "Trump is not a good person, but God can use bad people to do his work. No matter who we vote for, God is still in control!" Mysterious Ways wins again! So does Lack of Free Will, even though free will is the foundation of most Christians' theology. The biggest winner, of course, is the buried-deep desire to be true to your "team," even if it compromises everything you thought you stood for.

I will give credit to frustrated Christian Republican voters (including some of its leaders) who simply sat out this election, and I will give extra credit to Christians who voted for a third party candidate--especially those who actually liked the candidate.

The conclusion drawn from this election, though we already knew it, was that the Christian Right were simply immoral people who would sell out their souls (such as they were) to retain and grow their power, so if the unstoppable super-winner Trump wanted to shoot someone on 5th Avenue, as he bragged that he could, fine. The Christian Right would back that horse. Even if Trump was not a practicing Christian. Even if he knew less about the Bible ("Two Corinthians" included) than almost anyone in this country that I know. Of course, he did have that last-minute born again conversion, so I suppose that made it all okay. Slate wiped clean with the blood of Christ.

And, hey, I guess you've figured out by now that I'm not going to say Trump is "not really a Christian," because with religion you can only take the person's word for it. Sure, I'll say it: Trump became a real, bona fide, laying on of hands Christian just a little before the election. Why not? That's how it works, I'm told. This dubious conversion of convenience certainly fit with the theology popularized (most recently) by God's Not Dead, in which a "militant" atheist professor with anger management issues gave his pathetic life to Jesus (what was left of it) after getting hit by a car, saving his immortal soul seconds before dying. I would give Trump supporters an A+ for being consistent, except that for eight years they denied that actual church-goer Barack Obama was a Christian, and they also questioned the Christianity of known Sunday school teacher Hillary Clinton. Once again, it was really about their politics all along, their team. Otherwise, why wouldn't a true believer rejoice that two souls had been saved?

So Donald Trump, who -- as one of Louis C.K.'s characters on Horace and Pete said -- had a president-sized hole in his soul to fill, used the Christian Right, their followers, and the power of Team Republican to help get him elected. Meanwhile, the Christian Right and Republicans took advantage of Donald Trump's fame and media savvy to ride his caboose all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue. So now the White House and beyond will soon be filled (more than before) with leaders who are anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-woman, anti-black, anti-Mexican, and -- generally speaking -- anti-anything that they are not.

The fact that millions and millions of Americans voted for this circus of horrors made me realize, more than I ever had, that I simply do not share the same morals and values with a large percentage of the population. I don't even call what they have morality at all, and they think that I and millions of other Americas are "evil" and "godless" for being supportive of all these "liberal" ideas that we simply call "being human."

In short, there are at least two extremely large pockets of Americans who cannot agree on what it means to be a moral person! This, to say the least, is a troubling situation for a country to find itself in. We are incompatible. There are irreconcilable differences.

And, sure, before this election we could laugh about what our racist uncle said at the Thanksgiving table. We could still love that uncle because he was family and because we knew he was, in spite of his racism, a "good person." But now that this uncle has put his doppelganger in the White House, perhaps we're realizing Uncle Dipshit wasn't that amusing after all. As for our racist uncle being a "good person," is he really? Or does he just treat us nicely because we're his family? What if we were not his family? What if we were not his race? How would he treat us then, and would we still call him "good"? Would our lives matter to him? Would he rather we lived on the other side of a wall? Christ! Why did we allow this immoral person to lead the Thanksgiving prayer all these years? We let him spout intolerant nonsense and gave him religious authority over us? What were we thinking?

We're in a scary situation, and I would love to find a silver lining. I would love to think that this election could have the effect of detangling morality and Christianity: the election of Donald Trump as a definitive demonstration that the two have nothing to do with each other, but that would be me being optimistic, and I am not optimistic. Instead, I think this election will further confuse the concept of morality. Morality is confusing enough as it is, since it's always shifting. I wouldn't compare my 21st century morality to the morality of someone who lived in the 19th century. This is why many Christians find comfort in religion: they think God's morality is a constant. But people's concept of God's morality shifts, too. If we were still following God's morality, as written in his stupid book, we'd still be stoning our neighbors and our children.

In spite of the slippery nature of morality, I still think there are some general guidelines that have more or less stood the test of time. There was that one famous guy, for example, who said you shouldn't do anything to anyone that you wouldn't want done to you. That's right: Confucius.

So let's apply Confucius's "Silver Rule." Would you want to be denied basic human rights because of who you naturally fall in love with? Would you want to be excluded from our country because you belong to a particular religion? Would you want to be treated as less than a person because of your sex or gender? Would you like to be discriminated against because of your skin color? Would you like someone to suggest that a wall is what it takes to keep people like you out? Would you like to be mocked for having a disability? Would you like to be called a loser because something horrible happened to you? Would you like to prevent people from helping our planet continue to be a place where we can physically live? Would you like to be called a thug for protesting when members of your race keep getting murdered for no reason? Would you like someone to use your body for their sexual gratification if you didn't ask for it?

I'm guessing everyone in the world would answer "no" to all of the above. But now apply all of the above to others. Would you want others to be denied basic human rights because of who they naturally fall in love with? Would you want others to be excluded from our country because they belong to a particular religion? Etc. This is the "Golden Rule." If you can still answer "no," you are a moral person, no matter your religion or lack thereof. (Jesus did not invent or own the Golden Rule, of course.) It is difficult to always practice this morality perfectly and all the time, and of course there is nuance to navigate, but at least you have a basic understanding of what morality is and that it requires an ability to empathize.

However, if you answer "yes" to any of these questions, then you may need a moral realignment.

I truly do understand the temptation to say someone is "not really Christian" if they don't practice your version of Christianity, especially if you feel that Christianity is based in morality and love, and the person you are talking about is not being moral or loving. I am often critical of Christianity, but I still find it difficult to say the sentence "Donald Trump is a Christian" with a straight face, since my own understanding of Christianity is that the religion (flawed as it is) is based around love, forgiveness, rebirth, and an attempt to transcend the material world. (All non-Trumpy things.)

But saying that someone who professes Christianity is "not really a Christian" is as factually incorrect as saying that Donald Trump is #NotMyPresident. He is my president, even if he doesn't have the morality, decency, or (perhaps most importantly) competence one would wish a good leader to have. But, again, if you want to find Biblical or theological support for the concept that Christians should be Trump-style "winners," you can find it. (Start with the Prosperity Gospel and expand out from there.) You could easily argue that Christianity, as a religion that conquered the entire world, fits quite nicely with Trump's competitive personality and his definition of success. And how different is Trump's "I will fix everything and make America great again" from Jesus's "I am the way, the truth, and the life"?

Immoral Christians are Christians, too, and they are plentiful. Indeed, it seems increasingly difficult, especially for secular people like me who don't get out much, to encounter Christians willing to publically and vocally stand up for human equality and common decency. The focus, then, should not be on whether these Christians actually belong on your religious team or not, since playing teams is part of what got Trump elected. The focus should instead be on what really counts: morality, competence, facts, equality, empathy, quality work, creativity, intelligence, compassion, reality... to name just a few things that American citizens should value, none of which depend on any religion in order to grow, live, and thrive. They are the true fruits of the human spirit.

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