Sixty-four percent of Americans disapprove of the job President Trump is doing, according to the latest AP poll this week. That bodes well for his opponents, who are seemingly holding their breath until he quits, is impeached, or is up for re-election. While this is taking place, the best that intellectual politicos can do to explain how Christian Middle America could have voted for Donald Trump in the first place is to call them ignorant. British scholar Stephen Fry refers to them as “incompetent” when he notes in a YouTube video that “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”
While it’s hard to argue with Mr. Fry’s view, it doesn’t go deep enough, and that sets the stage for a repeat downstream.
Jim Bakker of PTL Club fame has rebranded himself as America’s new doomsday preacher. He’s described President Trump’s election as the “greatest miracle I’ve ever witnessed” and refers to Trump as “God’s anointed.” Opposition to Trump, according to Mr. Bakker is ushering in the apocalypse, and there will be civil war if Trump is impeached. “There’s going to be an attempt on our president’s life very soon,” he told Charisma News last month. “The world is marching in the streets against our president, and it is a war.” This may seem utter nonsense to intellectual observers, but it resonates with those Christians who put Mr. Trump in office. It’s the story that the professional press misses with regularity, and that has to change.
It is middle America’s faith that puts them solidly in Donald Trump’s camp, and nothing other than a faith argument will bring about change. I know, because I helped build the faith argument for the GOP as Pat Robertson’s executive producer in the 1980s, when The 700 Club played the leadership role in shaping “God’s people” into a veritable army of right-wing voters. This was accomplished by presenting what I call “The Gospel of Self” to viewers in the form of a personal relationship with Jesus, a self-help guide for you and your family to live a healthy and prosperous life in God’s earthly kingdom and, of course, beyond. This personal relationship is so fundamental to the faith being practiced by those who have hijacked the “Christian” brand today ― which includes people like Mr. Bakker ― that it forms an impenetrable shield around the thoughts and prayers of millions. This is both its strength and its great weakness, for it is a heresy so profound that some believe the church is under God’s judgment. Young people are leaving the church in droves in what may prove to be the most significant and underreported story in our culture today.
Reporters need to understand that zeal always trumps reason with those who practice extreme forms of religion, so it’s not the political conservatism they espouse that matters; it’s the Christianity that places itself above reason in its ability to easily govern the lives of participants. Moreover, what matters is the learned ability of those at our pulpits to pull Biblical references that bring head nods in the pews when referencing contemporary politics.
What this means is that arguments by reasonable people are automatically dismissed without consideration, because they are determined to be contrary to the faith. Rationalized responses become fact, regardless of their absurdity, because “God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound (shame) the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Hence, and for example, the many references among Evangelicals to Donald Trump as being like Cyrus the Great, the pagan Persian king that God “put in power” in order to free the Jews from Babylon and return them to Jerusalem where they rebuilt the temple. If Trump is a “Cyrus,” then, the thinking continues, it’s unnecessary to excuse his behavior, for God is using him anyway. The end justifies the means, although nobody is saying what that end will be, as stated in a story in the Guardian that didn’t get the coverage it deserved. The words are from psychiatrist James S Gordon:
...Trump had been elected by God…He was a warrior against the global “demonic agenda”, “raising the warning cry about the unraveling of America.” Trump’s obvious faults and flaws only confirmed the prophecy: Cyrus, like Trump, was powerful, rich, and pagan, not at all godly...
Many Evangelicals who voted for Trump continue to have an abiding faith in his presidency. Just as Cyrus returned the Jews to Jerusalem, and restored their wealth, so Trump, they fervently believe, will restore a lost world of personal safety, psychological security and material prosperity.
The point is that, unless you’re prepared to discuss the Cyrus argument, nothing else matters for those who put Mr. Trump in the White House in the first place. Just because the culture is uncomfortable with arguing religion does not mean that the basis for our differences aren’t essentially religious. The fact that we’ve generally dismissed such debates is what energizes the engine of American conservatism today. It’s what allows poor Republicans to vote against their own best interests and blindly sit by while the GOP deepens the pockets of the haves. The response of Christians is “I don’t care about his character as long as he gives us conservative Supreme Court justices.” To these well-intentioned people, abortion and same-sex marriage are the essence of all that’s wrong with our culture, and, by God, they’re going to fix it, no matter what the cost to them.
The Christians who’ve hijacked the brand are generally good-looking, prosperous, and oh so charismatic. In front of a congregation of zealous believers and their families, they are very effective at marketing a list of duties that seem to belie their stated trust in faith as the doorway to salvation. They are usually unchallenged from within. Reporters will often juxtaposition such a figurehead against a slow-talking, often bearded person with a collar, who comes off as boring, old-fashioned, and out-of-touch. This is because reporters really don’t understand the nature of the conflict and are spooked by what appears to them to be an issue that’s too complicated for today’s media audience. And so the press generally ignores religion, which is what really drives our culture more than anything else.
We are going through difficult times as a people today. While what’s surfacing appears to many to be new, it’s actually been around for centuries. Perhaps it’s time we actually dealt with it.
Terry Heaton is the author of ‘The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.’