Trump, torture and religion: Why the Christian Right has flocked to the GOP nominee

From war crimes to torture, Trump's beliefs are right in line with the beliefs of Christian Right leaders

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 30, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/Jae C. Hong)
Donald Trump (AP/Jae C. Hong)

I wrote earlier in the week about the warm embrace of Donald Trump by 1,000 leaders of the religious right. After meeting with him and praying with him in New York, they decided that he's a sincere man who has the kind of morals and values that qualify him for the most powerful job on earth. All in all, it was a very successful meet-up for Trump and portended an alliance that will help him in the fall.

On Wednesday, Focus on the Family's James Dobson  slightly walked back his comment that Trump had been born again however:

"Only the Lord knows the condition of a person's heart. I can only tell you what I've heard. First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit. I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ. Do I know that for sure? No. Do I know the details of that alleged conversion? I can't say that I do... if anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn't have a clue about how believers think, talk and act.

It turns out that Paula White is a "prosperity gospel" preacher who is not highly regarded by other evangelical leaders:

@saletan @jlupf Paula White is a charlatan and recognized as a heretic by every orthodox Christian, of whatever tribe.

— Russell Moore (@drmoore) June 28, 2016

Dobson is a cunning politician and he had his reasons for trying to make Trump appear to be on the "right path." And he is still backing Trump to the hilt because he says the very thought of Hillary in the White House "haunts" his "nights and days."

But I must admit that even I have been surprised by the fact that Christians, even leaders as cynical as this man, would stick with a man who would say what Trump said on Tuesday night. For all the talk of him "pivoting" to a more presidential style and professional campaign he went back to some of his most depraved and barbaric rhetoric at a rally in Ohio:

They said, "what do you think about waterboarding," I said 'I like it a lot and I don't think it's tough enough."

We’re living in Medieval times. We have to stop it. We have to be so strong, we have to fight so viciously and so violently, because we’re dealing with violent people, vicious people.

We have laws and the laws say you can't do this , you can't do that, well, a lot, alright? Their laws say you can do anything you want and the more vicious you are the better.

So we can’t do waterboarding but they can do chopping off heads, drowning people in steel cages. They can do whatever they want to do.

They eat dinner like us. Can you imagine them sitting around the table or wherever they’re eating their dinner, talking about the Americans don’t do waterboarding and yet we chop off heads. They probably think we’re weak, we’re stupid, we don’t know what we’re doing, we have no leadership.

You know, you have to fight fire with fire.

He didn't tell his favorite gripping tale of General Black Jack Pershing putting down a Muslim uprising by dipping bullets in pigs blood and ordering a mass execution.  But he got big cheers of "USA, USA!!" nonetheless.

I have long wondered why serious Christians would support a man who openly endorses torture, war crimes and cruel and unusual punishment. It seems counter-intuitive since the most famous torture victim in world history is Jesus Christ. But a Washington Post/ABC poll from 2014 showed American evangelical Christians are more supportive of torture than those who are not religious. Sarah Posner reported:

Remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious. Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA’s treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture. (The poll did not break down non-Christian religions in the results.)

But then certain Christian Right leaders have demonstrated a violent streak that may explain their willingness to jump on board the torture train. Take James Dobson himself who was known for many years as an expert on child rearing. His book "The Strong Willed Child" featured a chilling story of animal cruelty.

He discusses his little pet dachshund named Siggy (named for Sigmund Freud) who refused to "yield to his authority" when he returned from a business trip. This is what he did:

"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud."

What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"

Dobson's book sold many, many copies to social conservatives over decades. It's still in print and people are still buying it. So, perhaps it's not really that difficult to understand why so many of the people raised with Dobson's philosophy believe torture is fine and think Donald Trump will Make America Great Again. The common thread isn't religion it's authoritarianism.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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