June 29, 2018

Trump—the New Messiah?

Editor’s Note: We welcome all points of view, as long as helpful and respectful and fact-based. Contribute your thoughts, if so inspired, here—our mission is to bring all together in mindful discussion, so that we may learn, share, and listen. 

Faith is an indispensable component of the human experience.

Faith can be religious or humanistic, spiritual or even political, but when faith goes to the wayside, hope is lost, despair creeps in, and life seems impossible.

The claim that faith can be political does not mean that faith should be political.

Politics is not worthy of our ultimate concern. It is worthy of serious concern, but politics should always be subordinate to a higher order.

Faith must grip our whole being, starting in the center and stretching out to every thought, word, and deed—that is the nature of ultimacy. A concern is ultimate, and therefore worthy of faith, only when all other affairs are in its service. “God” is probably the most common word used to symbolize ultimacy.

This symbol is useful because it includes its own criticism. Part and parcel of the symbol “God” is an understanding that it references the ineffable—that the reality to which it points is beyond words, including the word “God.” Thus, it encourages us to proceed in awe and silence, the path of prayer and meditation.

Fundamentalism makes an idol of the word. It hangs onto every word, rather than the transcendent reality those words triangulate. In this way, literalism denies “God.” It creates a vacuum in the human experience. Money, fame, and politics battle for the heart of man. The victor becomes a false idol, a god.

When the throne of ultimacy is taken over by politics, the religious or spiritual impulse becomes an agent of the state or the party. Politics become the object of faith. This is communism and fascism—and I believe history will add to this list—Trumpism.

Evangelical Christianity in America mistook the word for the reality the word symbolized, and in so doing displaced real power. It lost the vibrant spark that brings religion and spirituality to life. It filled this void with the Republican party, which provided the illusion of power. They sang the right hymns at election time, but in intervals pursued a traditional conservative agenda, resisting the lesser angels emerging from the evangelical rebellion. Illusions are immediately gratifying but ultimately disappointing, so the search continued for a concrete symbol of faith, growing darker and more desperate with each cycle.

Attempts to reconcile Donald Trump with classical evangelical Christianity are futile. He is an anathema to Christianity—a vulgar, thrice married, porn-star philandering billionaire with a history of preying on the weak. But it must be remembered: rampant fundamentalism in evangelical Christianity chose words about god over the reality of God, leaving a power vacuum masked by a god-like mirage. This image is no longer outlined by the Gospels. It is defined by what now concerns evangelicals ultimately—politics.

The political iteration of evangelical Christianity is not accountable to Christian ethics; that was dislodged long ago. It is pure politics masked by the pretense of Christianity. There is no higher order morality to which it is subservient. It is politics of a base-nature, tribalism.

When politics achieves ultimacy, it blindly serves the in-group, not principles. When evangelicals commit themselves ultimately to politics, with no accountability to the Gospels, the result is a form of identity politics beholden to racial, ethnic, and religious markers. This is the banner Trump carries.

While psychologist Jordan Peterson and his group “Intellectual Dark Web” rail against a subculture of identity politics on college campuses, Donald Trump has stepped into a power vacuum on the right and seized a political party that controls 33 States, both houses of Congress, and of course, the White House.

But he didn’t just take control of the party, he became the base’s ultimate concern. He embodies the barbaric form of nationalism pushed by those lesser angels released from purgatory in the wake of evangelicalism’s rebellion against Christianity.

Donald Trump’s aggressive, unwavering fidelity to white-Christian nationalism turned him into a concrete symbol of faith for many self-identified evangelicals. He stepped into the messianic silhouette they have been anticipating for years and brought it to life.

Trump is Christ-like in the sense that he has usurped the role of Christ in evangelical Christianity. He embodies the ultimate concern of evangelicals, and is, therefore, God-like.

This is why efforts to check him with the example of Christ fall on deaf ears. It’s not that evangelicals think Jesus would condone separating children from their families at the border. It’s that Trump’s policy of separating children from their families at the border better serves their goal of preventing immigrants from crossing the border. They don’t care what Jesus would do because they are trying to do something else.

Evangelicals mistook words about God for the reality of God, displacing God, and creating a vacuum, which was exploited by base instincts that Trump embodies. Jesus is the old exemplar. Trump is the new symbol of evangelical power, and white-Christian nationalism is the emerging messianic impulse.

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author: Benjamin Riggs

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