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Donald Trump's Christianity

Donald Trump’s Christianity is probably yours too

This is the first time I’ve written anything in months; my last blog post on Removing the Fig Leaf about the sexual molestation I experienced as a child was more emotionally taxing than I expected, that coupled with the political climate of late has given me the desire to write but not the wherewithal to do so. The way this election cycle has been going leads me to feel like anything I might have to say would be trivialized or obfuscated by those unwilling to see my point.  Alas, here I am discussing my least favorite person – Donald Trump, and his version of the Christian faith. His is a version of the Christian faith I think some find confusing and unfamiliar, but for many I suspect it sounds just about right. Donald Trump’s Christianity is normal, you’ll probably recognize it in this post.

You might be thinking, “what gives you the right to address The Donald’s faith, or that of anyone else and determine whether or not it’s right or wrong?” – and I think that’s a reasonable question. Far be it from me to proclaim that there is a right way to believe in Christianity and a wrong way to believe in Christianity, as best I can tell any recipe for Christianity is ultimately a falsehood because the story that is foundational to the faith is a falsehood, but there are recipes for this faith that use a central ingredient of grace – and others which use a brew of xenophobia, self-righteousness, and a persecuted Americanism. On the spectrum of recipes for salvation, I’ll let you guess which of these Donald Trump ascribes to. Furthermore, I’ll leave it up to you which I find to be more palatable myself and more in line with my own philosophy of Humanism.

Nominal Christian

I am personally in no position to proclaim that Donald Trump isn’t a Christian. I honestly don’t know that anyone could qualify themselves for such a role. We all have to take him at his word – if he says he believes the message of Christianity and Jesus (and whatever he believes that message is) he is some form of Christian.

If I were to classify Donald Trump’s Christianity from what we know of him through his life and the way he’s talked about his faith, I’d call him a nominal Christian, at best. Nominal Christianity is best defined as a person who professes Christianity, but neither understands the faith nor makes any effort to live according to it’s tenets.  The nominal Christian is simply a Christian “by name”.

Many evangelical organizations (this link is a really good read from a Christian perspective on this same subject) consider the nominal Christian to be the greatest target for evangelism in the world, in fact the Bible addresses these very Christians and I’ve talked about what it has to say about them a great deal on this blog in the past.  Matthew 7:21-23 is alleged to be Jesus addressing those who carry on the facade of faith but fail to do the will of god. John 5:39-40 addresses Christians who fail to study the scripture to find out who Jesus is beyond just a name.

Jesus is just a name to many though. When I was a believer I felt burdened by my peers who professed faith but who failed to show any fruit of it and who didn’t do what I called “seek god” in order to know him better. That may sound odd coming from an atheist, but think about all the Christians you know – think about whether or not their life is a testament to a life of faith or a life where their faith is a tertiary afterthought they rarely give any real consideration to.

There are some easy to spot signs of a Nominal Christian, here they are – along with links to examples of how Trump is a shining example of each of them.

  • They have a favorite Bible verse, but they don’t know anything about the Bible – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll quickly take a stand for their faith when their isn’t any reason to, because of a need to appear persecuted and genuine – just like The Donald.
  • They’ll take up the cross on issues they are convinced are important to their god, but because they don’t understand their faith, are concerned with the wrong issues – just like The Donald.
  • Conversely, they won’t take up the plight of those their scriptures do actually tell them to be concerned about (see James 1:27) – just like The Donald, and again, and again.

Donald Trump, like your average nominal Christian – believes everything he reads but doesn’t read anything he believes. He’s used the Bible as a prop in his pony show, but he doesn’t know it or study it. He doesn’t love the scriptures or seek god in them. It’s more like a key that unlocks the door to Christian voters than anything – I would hope that American Christians would see through all that, the reason they don’t is because his faith is so similar to theirs.

Trump on Abortion vs The Bible on Abortion

Evangelical Christians are known for their fervor on the issue of abortion rights, that being the case – it has been the policy of the Republican Party to use it as well as homosexual marriage and being “tough on crime” (better read as “jailing blacks”) as part of their Southern Strategy to polarize Southern Dixiecrats against their former Democratic party in the wake of the Civil Rights Era.  The abortion issue is one that didn’t exist until it was made to exist and the Bible was used to fool nominal Christians into believing that their god had a problem with it. My friend Neil Carter over at Godless in Dixie wrote an incredible article on the transition from non-issue to the one issue that evangelicals vote on now – I highly recommend it for further reading.

Suffice it to say, Trump and every other neo-conservative before him bear witness to one thing: The Bible is, on a scale of pro-life to pro-abortion (not even pro-choice) – very much pro-abortion, but that doesn’t matter if you can convince people that don’t read or understand the Bible that this is the hill worth dying on.

Trump and Grace

If I read the Bible in the way that my most educated, thoughtful, loving, and respected Christian friends read it – I read a story of grace. A story about mercy given to those who don’t deserve it with no strings attached. If I read the Bible in the way that the most hateful, xenophobic, and ignorant people I know read it – grace is still a central part of the theme there just happen to be more rules and rigamarole attached to receiving that grace.

Donald Trump’s Christianity seems to be a faith that lacks any semblance of grace. I say that because I see no evidence of it in his life or in the way he carries himself, even when he’s talking about his faith. The central theme of his faith is, “I have faith and here’s my favorite book of the Bible, Thessalonians!” as opposed to, “I’ve been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus, and that has humbled me to be more graceful and forgiving to other people.”

Trump sues indiscriminately, assaults women, discriminates against the poor and minorities, fails to pay his bills or keep his contracts, lies about his net worth (most of the property with his name on it is owned by other parties, he is paid a royalty for his name, for now), seeks for the death of the innocent and acquitted, cheats on his wives, among many others. He’s one of the least graceful men on the planet.  He’s just like every other nominal Christian I know, in other words.

Trump and You

3f2d57b701faea69dd204e9c0d476a8e“He tell’s it like it is,” or “he’s someone who’s finally saying what we’ve all been thinking,” are common reasons followers give for loving Donald Trump.  It’s true too, he’s telling you what you think the world is like – he’s confirming your biases. He’s telling you it’s just fine to be the sort of white evangelical Christian he is too – it’s fine to wave the Bible around like a prop, it’s fine to share that meme on Facebook with Jesus on it about not denying him in front of the world or he’ll deny you so you’ll feel comfortable about your salvation for the week, it’s fine to pretend like you are being persecuted because your kid’s teacher can’t lead him in prayer every day, and it’s even fine to build a big wall to keep undesirables out – because Jesus never said anything about sheltering those with heavy burdens.

If Donald Trump’s Christianity is a reflection of you and your Christianity I’m perfectly fine with that. The writing has been on the wall for a long time regarding the fortitude of America’s church, and you – dear Christian in your red “Make America Great Again” hat – are the reason.

You can be just like Trump if you want to.

Christian. By name only.

Grief and the loss of your faith

Moving Mountains

A poem written while reflecting on the loss of faith and the beginnings of my own personal grief.

This particular post is being written with the ex-christian and ex-believer who has embraced atheism or agnosticism in lieu of their former faith. This is done because this is where my best experience lies, however – for those that leave their faith for another many of these same words will ring true, and so I hope you will still read and take from it what you can – and share with me your own experiences if you are so willing.  I don’t write in this way to alienate anyone and I hope my words don’t do so – my goal is to provide those experiencing these emotions with some feeling of normalcy over what is happening and an understanding that they are not alone.
 
 

A couple days ago Neil Carter over at Patheos’ Godless in Dixie (Which is currently my favorite atheist blog btw) was gracious enough to use one of my posts from 2011 as a guest post on his very popular blog. That post, entitled “It Get’s Better: A Letter to Doubters” has made the round a number of times since I originally published it 4 years ago now and I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to follow up on it in some fashion, if you haven’t read it – I recommend you do. The emails and comments I’ve received since it’s appearance on Godless in Dixie have confirmed that need more than ever – and so today I want to discuss the process of grief and the loss of your faith.

The Death of Faith

Traditionally grief is a process that occurs after the death of a loved one and for many in the ex-christian and ex-believer communities the loss of their faith is very similar to the death of a loved one. I personally believe that just how death-like this process might be depends on how sincere and life consuming one’s faith has been – but even the nominal believer will experience the symptoms of loss when recognizing that he or she no longer holds the same beliefs that once rang true.  In other words – the devotion you have to your god or faith will be directly proportional to the pain you will feel as that faith dies.

This faith death is often spurred by a series of realizations, often the embracing of doubts that have long been quieted by the desire to leave well enough alone. Whether it be a recognition that  your particular holy book doesn’t meet the criteria for evidence and truth that you once thought it did, or  the epiphany that your own cognitive biases have held you in a belief system that new information simply can no longer reconcile. Whatever the reason and however abruptly or agonizingly long this death takes to occur the end result will seem very confusing and difficult to explain – most people say that they feel alone in the world and, despite a sense of data overload that accompanies all the new information coming to you about the faith you no longer hold, a sense of quietness that seems unlike any other that you may have experienced before.

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Why Cling to Faith?

People of faith  often share an experience that is so rarely discussed among themselves that, at first glance, it seems as if it’s existence is completely covered up – this quiet secret is not rare in any way at all, however, and most people of faith know more about doubt than they are willing to admit in public or even in private to their peers. There has to be a reason for this hush surrounding the uncertainties that are likely to accompany faith and that often do – that reason is that with doubt comes consequences.

And so doubt is buried and ignored and handled with no real help at all.

The first moment in which a person has an inkling of doubt about something foundational to their understanding of reality and something they have up until this time known to be true is utterly terrifying. Most people, as they test these feared waters, find themselves bravely dipping their toes in and then quickly retreating as soon as they realize just how difficult this will inevitably become.  Faith is that thing we most fear questioning as the implications of being right vs. being wrong are eternal and severe.

“I’m going to start by questioning the goodness of god,”  or “I’m not sure who Jesus really was,”quickly turns into supplications made out of an overwhelming fear often generated by the simple thought of this intent toward questioning. Fear is faith’s built in survival mechanism, you threaten faith – even momentarily and even in the most seemingly miniscule way, and fear will overcome every crevice of your person. This is precisely why many never fully experience doubt – they try it out, become overwhelmed by fear, and retreat to the comfortable lie they’ve always known.

Those who fully embrace doubt do so at the expense of every comfort they’ve ever known.

The first time I started to approach my doubt I recall being absolutely terrified to the point that I trembled.  I would lay awake at night pouring with sweat as I prayed for forgiveness for my uncertainty, knowing – like Pascal – that the price of being wrong was heavy and eternal and yet at the same time fiercely angry at the god who would allow for such muddy waters where the truth about his will and existence were concerned. It’s easy to be a young man who knows only his faith and only the basics of even that – it’s much more difficult to have a library of religious knowledge at your feet and still view your own faith with the same objectivity that worked previously.

Unlike Pascal and nearly every young apologist I’ve ever encountered I understand something about belief that, upon first approach, is very difficult to swallow; you are not in charge of what you believe, you will believe what you are convinced is worthy of belief – but never anything that hasn’t met that criteria. You may study and learn and throw yourself into your faith – but if you, for whatever reason, later become unconvinced of the truth of that faith – not believing it’s tenets is entirely out of your control. Simply put:  You cannot believe what you do not believe.

That’s what makes doubt so dangerous, once it’s seed is planted it cannot be stopped – and once well rooted and growing it won’t be pulled out by any amount of force. Of course, there are counter measures one can make – all of which are, in my experience, temporary.  Most who experience doubt retreat quickly and then employ some sort of cognitive dissonance to explain away their experience – but as I said, these efforts are generally fleeting and as long as they may last the dormant root of doubt one day revives and lays the faithful to waste once again. I certainly experienced this a number of times throughout my life as a Christian. If I look back on it the times that I was most outwardly devout they are likely also the times I was most fiercely attempting to dissuade uncertainty. I think many people are the same way; their desperation leads to devotion – strained though it may be.

As surprising as it may seem to those unfamiliar with this territory, I’m not describing any unknown phenomena. There isn’t a pastor alive today with more than a few years experience that hasn’t been precisely where I’m describing, in fact, there are ministries set up just for pastors who are so burned out that they are in peril of losing sight of what it is that led them into the ministry in the first place. Doubt, despite it’s obvious existence in the day to day life in even the most average of Christians – is a topic spoken of like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. “That which shall not be named,” largely due to an overwhelmingly and absolutely justified fear that a congregation that gets even the slightest whiff of doubt may oust their beloved clergyman altogether.  Uncertainty a dangerous thing to admit to when your financial well-being depends on a steadfast commitment to absurdity.

Clergy aren’t the only people with a vested interest in maintaining a faithful status quo. The average believer will have invested a good chunk of his or her life into building a social construct consisting mainly of people who won’t challenge their beliefs. Within this social construct exist friendships and families, churches and social clubs that watch out for one another; if there is anything that the religious are good at it’s being inclusive of those with homogeneous stances and beliefs on the issues deemed important by the bodies that make those decisions.  It should be noted that they are also incredibly good at being exclusive to those who fail to fall in line. It doesn’t take long for a convert into your average religion to notice what happens to those that begin to fall out of line, many of us grew up hearing the gossip about the backsliders in our churches and watching how those people slowly became appendages of little or no use – only to be cast away.

Not only does the average believer have an interest in maintaining membership in “The Social Club”, they also generally want to maintain the simplicity of faith.  It’s altogether easier to believe that every disastrous moment in the life of a person is a part of some divine plan, and to rely on whispered prayers in times of difficulty or crisis for comfort rather than facing this cold and unforgiving universe as it is. I don’t even have to mention the benefit of promised eternal heavenly reward (even if imagined) to make the ease of faith seem like an improvement over the harshness of a life without those small comforts.

The faithful cling to their faith in lieu of exploring the questions and uncertainties haunting the back of their minds for many reasons – most of them having to do with the sheer terror they face when attempting to approach those questions, the danger of losing their social or family structure as well as their membership in a believing majority, and the exclusion provided by those that remain – who exclude for fear that doubt may be infectious.

And it is.


Discussion points:

Are you a Christian or other person of faith clinging to your faith?

What keeps you from embracing the questions and critiques you have about your beliefs?

Are you a former believer who has experienced something similar to that which is described here?

What made you finally decide to begin allowing your questions to drive your thoughts? Where did they lead you?

Tebow, The Bible, and the Christian Persecution Complex

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t start this post out with a certain disclaimer:  I don’t know a thing about football and have never cared much for what I estimate to be the most unintelligent of all the sports (hate mail can be directed to this address) – I’ve only recently  heard about Tim Tebow and couldn’t personally care less about his football career – I just think his recent success gives rise to a great opportunity to discuss a few things that I find to be vitally important

 

Tebow, God’s Favorite Quarterback:

I hang out  and socialize with an inordinate amount of Christians, it’s something I’m open to and greatly enjoy – but rather recently it seems that the most common topic among many of them is now none other than Tim Tebow, the quarterback (he throws the football) for the Denver Broncos (a team in the NFL). Tebow’s iconographic rise to Christian stardom seems to be the result of his willingness to make public expressions of his faith.

From a Superbowl commercial in 2010 with a decidedly pro-life message (and sponsored by Focus on the Family) ,to the now trademark Tebowing that seems to be a new spontaneous fad among all sorts of Christians, and frequent mention of his faith during interviews you cannot avoid the fact that Tim Tebow is a Christian and proud of it. Christians seem to have been desperate for a well known sports star to call their own and they’ve found one in this Heisman winner and are quick to defend any ill words directed his way.

In yet another example of how sometimes we atheists only need to sit back and wait for someone to say something ridiculously stupid his pastor, Wayne Hanson of Summit Church in Colorado, has even gone so far as to attribute a 6 win streak earlier this year to being “God’s Favor“.

The God of the Christian Bible has a vested interest in American Football.

Just let that sink in for a moment.

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(Another) Former Atheist Embraces Faith

The world of Christian news has been buzzing lately with news that Rich Suplita, Professor of Psychology for University of Georgia and former sponsor for the campus’ atheist club UGAtheists, has renounced atheism and embraced the Christian faith.

Suplita isn’t the first atheist turned Christian to be used as fodder by the evangelical camp; Anthony Flew, Lee Strobel, and others are all well known as “former atheists” that saw the “light” – nor will he be the last. These types of conversions excite the evangelical community around me, they think that seeing a man like me return to faith for whatever reason will eventually break whatever barrier they believe prevents me from being a believer. I pay attention to why people believe though, and Rich’s stated reasons fall short of reasonable.

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Bad Reasons for Rejecting Christianity

I make it a habit to read any book that a Christian is willing to purchase and send to me, or at least to give it a shot. A few months ago a local Christian youth pastor gave me a copy of the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller, I began reading it a couple weeks ago.

I’m only about six chapters into it so far but the first few chapters have left me with a certain notion that perhaps many Christians don’t quite understand why it is that people find themselves capable of rejecting their particular brand of god. These first few chapters contain rebuttals by Mr. Keller to common objections to the faith that he hears at his church in NYC and so far all of these objections have been superficial at best.

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The Appeal of Holy Books

Fred Phelps, the repugnant leader of Westboro Baptist Church and the  “God Hates Fags” protests at fallen soldiers funerals has one thing in common with Martin Luther King Jr., the most important figure in the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s who died in pursuit of equal rights and treatment of all people. That one thing they held in common was that they both believe(d) that the Bible is the Word of God.

There aren’t two people that I can say are more different than these men, yet they are both believers in this supposed “holy” book and consider it the inspiration for their life’s work.  How can two people so unquestionably opposed to one another in every way believe that this book is inspired by their same god?

From the outside looking in it can be rather bizarre for the non-believer to understand why books like the Bible and the Qur’an hold such wide appeal, so much so that they are  the most printed books in the history of print and because so many people have faith in their words they are the most trusted and believed works of all time. What drives people to these books? Is it simply the tradition or do they hold some great advantage over other books to embed themselves into societies?  Most surely it’s a combination of things, but I’d like to examine why it is that the books are so beloved as well as why such seemingly different people can and do adhere to the same texts.

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Who Hijacked Your Faith?

I’m going to start a new series of posts called “Dear Church” , this will be where I’ll put all my frustrated rants and pleadings with the members of the Christian faith I’ve left behind. This will be the first in this series.

Who Hijacked Your Faith?

If you’ve  ever spent a lot of time around Christians, be they devoted or your standard backslider, it’s almost inevitable that a discussion about faith will eventually turn into someone making the claim that “Real Christians ®” would not do or say “x” – replacing “x” with whatever position they oppose and others eschew. The folks that say this often mean well but depend on the notion that their “True Faith ™ ” has been bastardized by what other Christians say and do and furthermore go on to explain why my understanding of their faith is flawed based on my experiences with these hijackers of their faith – meaning I can’t possibly make the rational or informed decision to reject that faith.

Dear Church,

I just want to know, who hijacked  your faith and what are you doing to fix it? Where did things go so wrong?

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Truth over Comfort

If you had to choose between truth and comfort which would you choose?

My last post talked about the very clear deception that occurs in Charismatic Christian churches, it was the truth but when I began recognizing this truth it was anything but comfortable.

Comfort, in my own words, is when your understanding of the world is something you are OK with. It’s when your way of seeing the world doesn’t have to be changed by anything because it doesn’t conflict with the way you want the world to be. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that a life of faith doesn’t have it’s challenges – what with denying your carnal desires and working to please the man in the sky all of your life – it’s tough for many that care enough to pursue it fully – but the idea of an afterlife of niceties kind of outweighs those cons.

I’ve always valued Truth…so much that I’ve often capitalized it as if the word Truth were just as good as the word God (actually, it’s better), the way I determine what is true has changed dramatically though; as I used to believe that if the Bible said it that it must be Truth. I didn’t even have to question that conclusion, my faith allowed for that to be so…it was comfortable to me and I had no reason to question it.

I remember when I first started feeling my doubts, it was very uncomfortable – kinda like sleeping on a bed of nails uncomfortable, it won’t kill you but it’s not a Serta™. It was at that point that I had to make a decision:  I could hush my doubts and try to forget that they had ever began…I could be comfortable where I was before or I could embrace the standard of evidence that I had been fully aware existed but ignored most of my life – I could pursue Truth despite comfort.  I didn’t know where it would lead me, I never expected to become an atheist but without fully knowing what the consequences would be – I told myself that it was Truth that I wanted, even if it hurt.

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Facing Doubt with Integrity and Honesty

There are a few Christian ministries popping up here and there that are dedicating themselves to ministering to doubters, one such ministry is called Credo House which has recently hosted a few podcast programs and blogs dedicated solely to being a haven for Christian doubters looking to restore their faith.   I contacted one of the ministers involved with this organization in order to offer to be a guest one of the pod-casts to give my testimony of leaving the faith.  He wasn’t interested.  I was surprised by the response because I thought this was an attempt at an honest examination of doubt and faith with the goal of giving people  hope that, regardless of where you end up as a result of your doubts, the depression, fears, and suicidal thoughts that often accompany these events can eventually get better.

Before I really became entrenched in facing and realizing my doubts about the Christian faith I had certainly dealt with doubts before. Small things like the Trinity, Biblical lack of clarity on some subjects, post or pretrib eschatology had made me question myself and the Bible in small ways but never in ways so ground-shaking as I eventually began to deal with.  I recognize that many of my Christian friends  deal with those same small issues and because of my own personal hindsight I recognize one of the main problems with the way believers of any faith deal with those doubts.

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