Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination is proving revelatory as regards the religious, though not quite in the way they would like.
In delivering an address to Liberty University’s first convocation of 2016 a couple of weeks ago, the Republican front-runner demonstrated how (grossly) ennobling professing oneself – however insincerely -- beholden to bizarre doctrines centered on a make-believe celestial despot can be, at least to audiences with faith-attritted cognitive faculties.
Let’s not forget that Liberty, which teaches young-Earth creationism, is, as Bill Maher noted, “a school you flunk out of when you get the answers right.” In any case, its president, Jerry Falwell Jr. (who has called for packing heat to “end those Muslims”), offered Trump a singular, unintentionally humorous introduction. Falwell Jr. oddly attempted to burnish his institution’s bona fides by noting its high ratings by Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s, declared that Trump's appearance at Liberty did not constitute an endorsement by Liberty, offhandedly compared him to (among others) porn mogul Larry Flynt, and interrupted his subsequent encomium of the tycoon to nix an incoming cellphone call. The message transpiring from Falwell’s zigzagging verbiage: Trump can be counted on to donate money. Hence, no doubt, the invitation to speak at Liberty. As ever, faith follows mammon, and mammon, faith.
Trump took over the podium and, despite the presumed piety of the pupils seated before him, made short work of the Lord Almighty. After pledging that “We’re going to protect Christianity,” he brought up “Two Corinthians, right, two Corinthians,” calling them “the whole ball game.”
If you were at least briefly baffled, as I was, about which two residents of Corinth he had in mind, he hurried to add “3:17,” thereby indicating he was referring to the New Testament’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. One would usually cite that text as “Second Corinthians.” (Readers might remember that Epistle Number One enjoins women to keep their mouths shut in church.) From 2 Corinthians 3:17 Trump presented this gem: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” and then quipped, “here there is Liberty College, but, Liberty University.”
Chuckles ensued from the crowd. But never again did Trump return to the Lord, in whose hallowed name Liberty’s staff and students toil so ceaselessly and pointlessly, in such utter epistemic darkness. Instead, he proceeded to reprise all his usual talking points – his Ivy League credentials, his high poll numbers, his desire to make “American great again,” and so on, as well as his “The Art of the Deal,” which he called “a deep, deep second” (as world’s best book) to the Bible.
At least on that point, Trump is consistent, having previously announced that “nothing beats the Bible, not even ‘The Art of the Deal.’” But otherwise, in a smattering of interviews, he has spoken of religion in a dismissive way: “I’m a Sunday church person,” and “When I go to church and drink my little wine . . . and have my little cracker.” All in all, he evinces little use for the Lord and all His heavenly bounty. Worldly things are good enough for him (and rightly so: there are no others). Even when orating in the Falwell family’s fiefdom, he could not make himself pay more than lip service to God. Which is a good thing.
Did Liberty’s students hammer him with invective about this, or about his (most ungodly) three marriages, his highly publicized life of material excess, his flip-flopping on reproductive rights? Not at all. They cheered at his bromides, laughed at his jokes, and altogether responded to him as have other crowds of supporters. Trump’s gambit paid off: As the Iowa caucus approaches, polls show him achieving a double-digit lead among evangelicals over his nearest rival, the hardcore faith-maniac Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump’s Liberty performance proves one thing decisively: mouth a few faith-sodden inanities before a faith-sodden segment of the electorate, and you can get away with anything.
And the faith-sodden are getting away with a lot. A federal court in Kentucky has ruled in favor of taxpayer support for a Christian theme park, which is now, writes Dan Arel, “going [to] proselytize, practice employment discrimination, and then ask Kentucky taxpayers to pay for it.” The state’s Republican governor, of course, will not appeal the ruling.
Worse, religious folk continue to manifest wholly prurient interest in the genitalia and sex lives of minors.
A Colorado school district has sent out emails promoting a Christian event that calls upon parents, and especially fathers, to urge their daughters (as young as 11!) to remain “pure” until they land a hubby. (The clear, and psychologically damaging, implication: women are “soiled” by the “dirty” sex act.) Shockingly, at least for those unaccustomed to confronting the chauvinism at the heart of the Abrahamic creeds, the advertisement cites Luke 7:38: “As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” So, mixing faith and public education lets schools promote female submission to males and foot fetishism! In the drearily repetitive annals of religious scandal, this stands out. A thousand secular hosannas to Colorado blogger Anne Landman for posting about this perverted unconstitutional indecency!
Republican Washington state Rep. Mary Dye asked female high school students at an official gathering in Olympia if they were virgins. Rachel Todd, the brave, principled Planned Parenthood employee accompanying them, told them, “You don’t have to answer that.” Dye later offered a transparently ambiguous apology: “If anything I said offended them or made them feel uncomfortable, I apologize.”
A Republican Virginia legislator named Mark Cole has proposed a bill mandating that children’s “correct anatomical sex” match the sex designations of school restrooms they use. Which means that, according to civil rights advocate Tim Peacock, “adults would be required to inspect children’s genitals before they use the bathroom.”
I’ll stop here. The faith-deranged are striving to violate the privacy, peek into the pants, and spoil the mental health and happiness of minors, all in the name of rancid metaphysical flapdoodle no one would take seriously without indoctrination and the atmosphere of respect that puts criticizing said flapdoodle beyond the pale.
Donald Trump, despite his half-hearted efforts to prove the contrary, comes off as indifferent to faith, or even irreligious, yet he panders to believers, and even, at least once, underwent an insufferable, intrusive “laying on of the hands” for the sake of winning votes. One could surmise, or at least hope, that, should he ever make it to the White House, he would cease all this nonsense and stiff the evangelicals – at least until reelection time came around.
Not so with his closest rival, Ted Cruz. Cruz preceded Trump at Liberty, choosing the bastion of obscurantism and social regress as the launching pad for his campaign. Cruz is so faith-sodden that he has, well nigh treasonously, declared that “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third and Republican fourth.”
Such a statement is divisive in the extreme. In no other Western country could a politician issue it, mutatis mutandis, without gravely damaging his or her reputation and administering a quietus on any eventual electoral success. But because it concerns religious faith, too many American voters, and certainly most journalists, will fail to call him out on it.
Remember that Cruz’s Christianity is not the namby-pamby “Christ is Love” kind, but a particularly militant strain of Baptism. Cruz has, thus, won the endorsement of Kansas-based doomsday preacher Mike Bickle, founder of IHOP (not that IHOP, the International House of Prayer). Bickle has declared Jews hellbound unless they convert to Christianity, called Adolf Hitler a de facto agent of the Lord, worries Oprah Winfrey might be the forerunner of the Antichrist, and assessed same-sex marriage as “rooted in the depths of hell.” Bickle, not surprisingly, judges Cruz to be the one who “who will first be faithful to honor God’s Word [and] who will work to defend religious liberty.”
Perhaps Cruz, in accepting Bickle’s endorsement, is angling to retrieve the lost support (now transfered to Trump) of pundit Ann Coulter, who told us, back in the strangely saner-appearing times of 2007, that Christians “just want Jews to be perfected.” In any case, pace John Boehner, a “false prophet” Cruz is not. He is true to the discriminatory, exclusionary, anti-egalitarian supernatural balderdash dogma he holds dear. Accordingly, he has sounded positively Medieval notes, advising his followers to “strap on the full armor of God” to withstand “the attacks that are coming” during the run-up to the primaries, and warned that, “We can turn our country around, but only if the body of Christ rises up.” He has also ventured the anti-constitutional opinion (see Article VI) that, "Any president who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be commander-in-chief of this country.”
OK. Anyway, say what you want, Crusader Cruz. Whether you win or lose your party’s nomination, your “armor of God,” in the end, will not avail you or your fellow faith delusionists, wherever they are, against the inexorable rise of nonbelief – and not just in the United States, but all over the world. Though it may be hard to envision now, the future is godless – gloriously godless.
In such bleak times, we rationalists should take consolation in that.