To a lot of rational, sensible people, the rise of the Tea Party, the Alt Right, and the Trump thing baffles the mind. How the hell can anyone not see the hate, the hypocrisy, or the con job (in the case of Trump)? I tend to think the answer is pretty simple: they’ve been trained to see what they want and ignore everything else. And by “they” I mean Christians, both in name and in practice.
Trump tweets something ridiculous that even a small child can see is false. Normal people shake their heads. But people who think they are Christian know exactly what to do. Now, clearly there are a sizable chunk of people who are just plain stupid. They are the ones who hear Trump talk about the millions of illegal voters, or that China invented the concept of global warming to cheat American business, or that Trump cares about the poor people of this country, and they believe it. Most seem to just shrug and say Trump didn’t really mean that, or it just doesn’t matter. Why? Training.
When I was in Sunday School, we often heard the story of Abraham and Isaac. God told Abraham to prove his faith by killing his beloved son, whom he had waited several hundred years to have. Every Sunday school teacher assured us that God would have never actually allowed Abe to kill his son with that knife. Still, we kids all had moments of picturing our own dads standing above us holding a big-ass knife, hopefully feeling conflicted as he decided to obey God’s command. But, like Trump, you can’t believe everything God says. Sometimes he “tests” us. Sometimes he lies. Ask Pharaoh. As I got older, I felt like it was pretty darn fucked up for an all-knowing god to tell someone to kill his own son to test a faith he already knew was there. Kind of like how I think Trump’s tweets are pretty fucked up. But evangelicals don’t question Trump, just like they don’t question a God who would deceptively tell someone to kill his own son. Listen to the message. Ignore the rest. Ignore, ignore, contextualize, if possible, and ignore.
Off the top of my head, the bible is filled with things christians just ignore. The sin of Onan. Almost everything in Leviticus except the gay stuff. Divorce, women covering their heads or speaking in church, about half of the 10 commandments, in addition to the crazy amount of rules for keeping the Sabbath. Jesus saying that the generation of people alive would not all die before he came back. I could go on. I might be losing my hair, but I have a lot of biblical angst atop my head.
Interestingly, it’s the “crazy” Christians like the Phelps church or the Amish who try to adhere to as much of the bible as they possibly can, even though by doing so they tend to ignore broader concepts like “love,” “forgiveness,” in the Phelps group, or “science” in both. A part of me respects the bull-headed, simple-minded attempts at keeping their faith consistent to the scriptures.
Back to Trump supporters. They are largely the white evangelicals and their POC and Catholic enablers. Some are dishearteningly stupid. Some are simply using their training to justify horrifyingly bad behavior and a worldview more akin to a bad guy in a James Bond movie than a Jesus-like social conservative.
The problem, to me, is religion. I know, I know. Lots of good Christians, Muslims, Jews, capitalists, and Amway sales reps out there. But they have to live with the same dilemma. There are huge swaths of their sacred texts they have to ignore. Some parts they “contextualize.” Some parts can be argued to be misinterpreted or mistranslated from the earlier manuscripts. In Christianity, there are no original manuscripts. There are only 20th generation copies of copies of copies, very few of which contain the same things. That bible the evangelicals claim to read is a fraud. If it were a tapestry, it would be made of dozens of different materials of different sizes from different epochs. With a centerfold section, called “Song of Solomon.”
For most evangelicals, the amount of willful ignorance they need to keep up is astounding. For the beloved few progressive Christians and Muslims out there, the amount of knowledge, language, history, apologetics, theology, and mental gymnastics it takes to remain in the faith is equally astounding. I salute them. They may actually save the world.
But herein lies the difference between the good and the evil. The progressive Christian is actively trying to learn, grow, express love, and live the message of the gospel. This person recognizes the gaping holes in the bible, the contradictions, and the fake history. This person sees the bible as metaphorical. I used to be one of them, but I got tired of feeling like I was trying to build a flux capacitor with instructions for an Ikea desk. The flux capacitor isn't real, and those instructions are confusing.
The Trump-voting evangelical is not interested in learning or growing outside of what their conservative, unread pastors and Fox News tell them. They instinctually parse out the information that doesn’t fit their worldview or politics, and hold on for their very lives to the fragments and sound bites that reflect them. The love they claim to spread is for themselves.
We all have blind spots or contradictory components to our worldviews, but, it is my view that religion produces evil, inequality, racism, war, sexual deviance, bad art, and Trump voters. Slave owners were devout Christians. So are segregationalists, anti-miscegenationists, white supremacists, and Ted Cruz. They adhere to the same book as today’s progressive Christians. One book. A billion interpretations. It’s not just that Trump supporters are racist and xenophobic. It’s that they live under a perceived religious mandate to be that and so much more. Or less.
Religion and its followers gave us Trump and the Alt Right. Thanks, a lot, God.