Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Little Lord Trump (Le Roi) and His MVP, Jesus

Jerry Fallwell, Jr. endorsed Donald Trump today. Anyone who watched the video footage of  Trump's speech at Liberty University last week saw this coming. What was especially harrowing about the Liberty speech was how it put Trump’s lack of spiritual development on full display. Liberty is a Christian University. Students were required to attend. Whatever one thinks of these students, one must concede that they take the Christian Bible seriously. News outlets had a great time with Trump's “Corinthians 2” moment, because Trump’s blunder, his manner of citing the pinch of biblical text he felt he needed to incorporate into his Martin Luther King Day address, revealed that Trump is not a churchgoer. Trump has called himself “an Evangelical,” identifies as Presbyterian, and has lied about being a regular worshipper at New York’s Marble Collegiate. He claims he has received the “cracker” (as he calls it) and the “wine” as part and parcel of his Presbyterian worship. For those who hold Holy Communion sacred, this characterization of Christ’s feast at the altar is (at least) some kind of low-grade desecration. 

Poking fun at one’s own religion is, in the view of most people, less disrespectful than lampooning one's neighbor’s religion. Yet Trump, who does not really have a religion, appeared before a large group of tuition-paying students who care enough about Jesus to matriculate at a Christian university and cracked wise, characterizing a verse of the Second Book of Corinthians as "the whole ball game."

The way Trump speaks tells us so much about him. He consistently exhibits an inability be precise, a penchant for reductive fallacy and a sophomoric approach to building a logical argument. He appears not to read for pleasure or edification, which, I suppose matters only to those of us who like the idea of a president who reads. Trump’s favorite book is one he appears not to have much read and his second favorite is one he claims to have written.  

Trump has no grasp of international relations. He has floated the idea that his attendance at an expensive Northeastern military school is a near substitute for military service. His over-reliance on puerile superlatives not only reveals him to be a weak statesman but also forces his audiences to wonder why a wealthy white man who managed to pick up a degree from an Ivy league school orates as if he were running for the captain of the prep school’s JV football team? 

I wouldn't call Trump stupid. He is an astute businessman and seems to be a facile grifter (if his Trump University scam is any indication)  and he has managed to go far in a presidential campaign without the advantage of rhetorical elan. The linguistic flair we are accustomed to seeing in “snake oil” peddlers is missing entirely. Does Trump believe his fan base too slow-witted to understand anything beyond “make this country great?” If “yes,” is Trump correct in that assessment? If “no,” why does he speak to his supporters as if they are children?

I think the problem is Trump his spirit and psyche, not his English language aptitude. Here's an illustration. When I taught Middle School and High School English I used to use a fast trick to ascertain where a student's education had stopped. I'd give the English student in question a math problem. I had taught 6th grade math. I knew there was a good chance a 10th grader who couldn't do a 5th grade math had stopped learning before or shortly after 5th grade. Trump is probably good at math. But his use of language strikes me as indicative of some kind of delayed development. 
Often linguistic development and psychological development are closely linked. My theory is that Trump stopped growing at some point. He stopped developing at an age at which greed, desire to have sex with hot girls, lack of empathy and lack of spiritual depth are perfectly normal and in high drive. What 13 year-old heterosexual boy wouldn’t look at very woman in his presence with an overarching concern for her degree of pulchritude? Who but a 13 year old boy would retaliate by calling her unattractive? What 13 year-old boy doesn’t want to win every contest, beat the best, dominate the game? 

I would be happy to have an atheist president. Indeed, I often think an atheist president, a leader untethered from the tyranny of organized religion would be very good for our nation. On the other hand, I am a Christian, and I find the promiscuous tossing about of God’s name for no purpose beyond getting votes repugnant. Donald Trump is ramping up his Christian status while dismissing most of what Jesus taught. “Two Corinthians, 3:17, that’s the whole ballgame” is a not even funny mockery made for political gain. Ironically, there's truth n that artless quip. To Trump the presidential race itself, as a game, and Jesus as a Most Valuable player.

Donald Trump is pimping out Jesus for props. Well-conceived blasphemy can be positive and I believe there's a place for even very irreverent jocularity in faith, belief and even ritual, but when I hear Trump, a man who so flagrantly embodies all that the Jesus of the New Testament is not, call Communion a "cracker," not I am offended. Not because I am sensitive to Holy Communion jokes--We make those at home-- but because it is clear that Trump has little use for Christianity beyond its potential to help him rack up votes. 

Back when I was in Catechism class, we called breaking the third commandment “using the Lord’s name in vain.” Trump, the rich man who can pass into Heaven as easily as a camel can pass through the eye of a needle, takes the name of Christ in vain when he plays at being a man of faith in exchange for votes. Trump has done the opposite of selling all he owns to follow Jesus. Trump has contempt for refugees. Trump is a warmonger and a scam artist. His acolytes may think he is the “Way” but even they know he is neither the “Truth” nor the “Light.” I don’t know whether Trump is a Christian--no one can know such a thing about another--but I can see that to Trump, that Jesus is his tool.

Catholic theology places much importance on the connection between words and creation, and holds as one of its truths that incarnation a is a culmination in which the word is made flesh. “In the beginning was the word and the word was made flesh.” (John, 1:1) As a Christian with a religious practice, I find the Donald's bible trumping appalling. As a writer, poet and educator who has taught students ages 5 through 83 to write, argue, and speak persuasively, I note that Trump’s puerile manner of speaking should alarm us. I fear Trump's struggle with rhetoric suggests the possibility of profound arrested development or something worse. 

Trump orates like a 12 year-old. He views women as a 12 year-old might---or perhaps as a slowly maturing Frat boy might.  His conception of God is like that a 12 year-old would be expected to have. He fears strangers ('the other') as a 12 year-old who hasn’t been taught to value differences does. Trump approaches religious faith like a 12 year-old forced to go to Hebrew school or Catechism class in order to get the big party and prizes that come with a Bar Mitzvah or First Holy Communion. 

I had the honor of sponsoring two of my nieces in Roman Catholic Confirmation not long ago. Each girl was about 14 years old at the time,  highly intelligent, uncommonly imaginative, healthfully oppositional in their challenging dogma and doctrine. Their religious director was a stickler for keeping some meaning in the preparation, so I was required to engage in a protracted dialogue with both girls leading up to the sacrament itself. These discussions of faith Baptismal vows, which they endured and in which I savored,  constituted some of the most affirming moments of my life. The developmental role of intelligent, independent adolescents is to push back against the conditioning of religious education, to be annoyed with God, to mistrust the whole thing, to recognize that religious conditioning has led them to the point of the Bat Mitzvah, or confirmation. There is fire and holiness in that struggle. 

I think Trump is like the 12 year-old who wants to sleep late on Sundays. He'll stay in Sunday School with Jesus because right now, Jesus is a winner and there are parties and big prizes at the end of the Liberty ball game.Trump's use of Christian text for use in the service of xenophobia, greed and bellicosity suggests that he is either spiritually tone deaf or has no clue at all about what Christians believe Jesus the rabbi of Nazareth is believed by so many to have said. There’s something sociopathic in this pandering.  

It is disturbing to see how disingenuous to see so many so-called "Christians" compromising their "Christian"values in order to follow the weirdly messianic Trump with his promises to make "America great again." Tea Party patriots who champion Trump now confirm what those of us on the left have always suspected. They don't care about Christ, or "pre-born" children, or keeping "Merry Christmas" in the retail lexicon. They care about keeping their money and guns, and the Good Lord Jesus was just a means to that end. 

And what does "make America great again" even mean? A grown man with some facility for language and even a scant grasp of American history would be telling us when it was that America was great. What is that New Jerusalem of the past Trump to which Trump in Pom-Pom girl booster mode alludes? Besides which, Donald Trump has racist contempt for much of the Americas. 

A grown man does not stand on stages and call military opponents “very bad people.” A grown man does not describe the mass murder and torture of Christians as "very bad things happening in Syria," especially while mangling texts from their sacred book as a means of getting votes. Often stunted psychological growth and arrested spiritual growth go hand in hand. I think we are seeing both in Donald Trump and we should be alarmed. If Donald Trump wins the GOP nomination, the GOP will be throwing down with a petulant and fickle child. 

I disagree with Cruz on almost every issue but I can almost imagine Ted Cruz functioning normally in a congregation, caring about the person beside him in the pew. In Trump’s case, I can not see this. I see him sizing up the guy next to him in the pew. If she is a woman, he is assessing her pulchritude and assigning her a number between 1 and 10. Donald Trump has no interest in the divine light in all  people. With the Donald, people are either "great," "losers," or "pigs."  

As a progressive Roman Catholic, I am surprised to find myself in relative solidarity, in this, with those ultra Orthodox Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians who resist the Christian Right’s acceptance of Donald Trump. They are far less interested in whether “Christmas” returns to the Starbuck’s cup than they are in helping a thrice-married preppie grifter who, not so long ago supported “partial-birth abortion” hijack the  Republican party. They know a man who doesn't believe in anything but himself is likely to go rogue once in office. Most of them believe calling female colleagues “pigs,” cheating on one’s wife and children, bragging about one’s extramarital sexploits and divulging fantasies of dating one’s own daughter are not really compatible with Christian feeling and thinking. Many believe a tax-shelter “university” designed to relieve na├»ve working people of their 401Ks is both something upon which Jesus of Nazareth would frown. Most think the filthy rich should belong/tithe to a church make charitable donations. Many believe Trump should have used his clout to support efforts to obtain more help for 911 first responders.

It’s a stretch to call that the event at Liberty a worship service. On the other hand, it might be legitimate to call a multitude of Christians discussing Christianity an assembly of "two or more gathered in His name.” A crowd so record-breaking large had gathered at Liberty U to hear Trump speak on the day our nation chooses to honor Martin Luther King Jr., that Trump was moved to "dedicate the record" King (No further mention of King was made). But Trump wasn't there for justice. He was there, among those gathered in his name, to close a sale. To throw some money around, to hawk some doves. As I watched that video footage, I half expected to see some onward Christian soldier take a lash the Donald.

Like most progressives, I don’t much like Ted Cruz either. But I suspect Cruz may, in his personal and in his political life, try to allow his Christian feeling to inform his conduct. I have a hunch—there’s never any way to know—that Cruz is at least holds some conception of Christ in mind. 

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has put Jesus on his team because Jesus is a good guy. Jesus is a the best religious guy. Moses is good, but Moses can't won. Allah? Forget about it. Jesus is very big with the people. Jesus is the best for getting rid of the Muslims. Jesus is popular. Jesus is a real winner. Jesus is the Most valuable player. Trump’s fervent prayer is that Jesus might blow on his dice