Saturday, November 12, 2016
Trump’s defeat was supposed to destroy the Republican party. Instead, Trump’s victory will destroy evangelical Christianity. The damage of muted support for his losing candidacy could have been mitigated; the damage of enthusiastic support (as measured by actual votes) for his victory will never be forgotten. Millennials were already rejecting Boomers’ faith, through taking a different approach, through being openly more liberal, and through outright rejection of Christianity. What effect do you imagine enabling 4 years of a pussy-grabber-in-chief will have on them?
The destruction will come from the outside, from countless people like me who are newly motivated to expose the sham of evangelical thought. It will come from people who previously may have thought it unkind of me to do so, but who will now cheer me on.
But above all, it will come from within, from Millennial Christians who will look at what their religion has been exposed to be and seek to reform it before giving up with disgust. Evangelical Christianity has always been utterly impotent at winning peoples’ intellect; the only remaining sales pitch is “come to us, we will teach you how to be a better person.” With this final sales pitch undermined, no excuse for its failure could be sufficient.
Trump’s candidacy opened a rift within conservative Christianity, and with Trump’s victory, the rift will never be closed. The line is not drawn in conventional theological terms, it’s not denominational, and it’s not degree of devotion. The rift hinges on a question that evangelicals may ask themselves privately but dare not ask out loud without considerable dancing around the topic, lest they be branded as having weak faith.
The question is this: Does God do anything?
The old guard of the Religious Right will say “yes”, while thinking “no”. Or rather, “no” is simultaneously a briefer and more precise version of, “God wants to work through our political actions. When we watch millions of Christians voting for godly principles, we are seeing the work of God.” That is, God doesn’t do anything, Christians do it for him. Such a view accurately describes how the world works. Prayer is more powerful than voting, they say, while using calls to prayer to get out the vote. And thus, cutting a deal with Trump is not surrender, it’s practical. The goal is not a show of character, the goal is to seize power and use it to enforce Christian norms. They must do it themselves, because God won’t. If they take a principled stand and lose the election, they just lose. To put it mildly, this is the face of evangelical Christianity, both in raw numbers at the polls, and especially in terms of who holds the positions of leadership.
The next generation of evangelicals say “yes”, God does do things, and they mean it. (Or rather, vastly more Millennial Christians think this than Boomers.) They may not know God’s reason for allowing abortion and gay marriage, but they know he does allow it. If God’s top priority were stopping it, it would be stopped already. When presented with two not-equally-evil options, voting third party is to throw away an ultimately useless commodity, a vote, in exchange for a more powerful one, a testimony. The central question is not which of the two candidates would be better; the central question is which stand will lead more people to Jesus. These evangelicals have a complete understanding of what was chosen this week. Their religion of trying to save people from their sins is gone, it has become a political organization clawing for power at any cost.
The rift cannot be healed, once opened. One group bases their point of view on their understanding of how reality works, and they are correct: the only justice to be found in the world is the justice that people fight for. The other group bases their point of view on an accurate understanding of the tenants of their faith: God is in control and we should act like we believe it. Many will learn to see the other sides’ point of view, only to discover that this shines a light on the central problem, the contradiction between how their faith suggests the world should work, and how the world works. Both sides will thus correctly infer the other side to be a path out of Christianity.
Such a rift is nothing new. Evolution presents exactly the same problem, with creationists believing that evolution is a path out of faith, and Christian evolutionists believing the same of creationism. Both sides are right. The Trump rift will much deeper; to not have an opinion on evolution is a live option. With Trump, the options included not voting, but a decision was forced.
Trump is perhaps the greatest tool for making atheists I will ever receive, and God knows I will wield it. But I wish I didn’t have it. I fully expected Trump to lose in landslide, because I expected evangelical Christians to vote their conscience. I wish evangelical Christians continued to have as strong of a claim to sincerity as Mormons.
Posted by Jeffrey Amos Heavener at 11/12/2016 02:14:00 PM
And then Trump took Evangelical Christians to a very high mountain and showed them all the Cabinet posts in the world and their glory. And he said to them, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
And they replied, "We like saviors who weren't crucified."
Posted by Jeffrey Amos Heavener at 11/12/2016 02:04:00 PM