Saturday, January 21, 2017

Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous and Corrupts Our Politics

  Rudy Barnes, Jr.

           Until November 2016 I could not have imagined Donald Trump being elected President.  Back in December of 2014 I commented on religion and reason.  After yesterday’s inauguration of President Trump, whose election was made possible by putative Christians, I am convinced that much of what passes for Christianity in America is unreasonable and even ridiculous.

            Before his inauguration yesterday, Trump heard a sermon by Robert Jeffress, described by Sarah Pulliam Bailey as “a Southern Baptist pastor who has a history of inflammatory remarks about Muslims, Mormons, Catholics and gays.”  His sermon was taken from Nehemiah, set in a dark, nativist and exclusivist period of Jewish history.  Jews returning to Judah from exile built a wall to purify Judaism from non-Jews.  Jeffress’ point was that “God is not against building walls.”  It was just what Trump wanted to hear.    

            President Trump’s inauguration address followed Jeffress’ nativist theme.  According to Jennifer Rubin, “The speech was a dark, ugly tribute to ‘America First,’ [in] the language of nationalism, nativism and protectionism.”  Decrying “American carnage,” Trump used “creepy statism” to define patriotism: “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will discover our loyalty to each other.”  It was American exceptionalism on steroids, reminiscent of fascist totalitarianism.
In promoting Trump and his political demagoguery in the name of God, Robert Jeffries is not alone.  Other popular evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, and Paula White have made a mockery of the teachings of Jesus by promoting self-centered doctrines of the prosperity gospel coupled with an exclusivist atonement doctrine.

            And the problem is not unique to America.  In Israel, an unholy alliance of ultra-orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians seek to replace the Dome of the Rock mosque on the ancient temple mount in Jerusalem with a restored Jewish temple, and they oppose any return of occupied Palestinian territory as part of a two-state peace process.  

            Religions have polarized politics around the world, fulfilling the aphorism of Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the masses.  There is hope, however, that while religion is a major cause of fear, hate and political division, it can also be a means of political reconciliation.

            The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is considered a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Unlike Nehemiah, Jesus taught in the story of the good Samaritan that our neighbors include those of other races and religions, and that it is God’s will for us to tear down walls and build bridges to reconcile us.

If Jews, Christians and Muslims could make loving their neighbors of other races and religions a common word of their faith, religion could be redeemed as reasonable.  Only then could religion help make a politics of reconciliation possible.  Otherwise, religion will continue to be ridiculous, corrupting our politics with fear, anger, hate and division.

Notes and earlier commentary on this topic:

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see

On the need for a politics of reconciliation in a polarized democracy, see


  1. I participated in a small (and very peaceable) protest march through downtown Dallas last night. Halfway through I had an idea for a sign: "Jesus Wept." I imagined that if any reporter had come up to ask me about it, I would've explained my belief that Trump is an affront to Christian principles. Today, I keep looking for someone else holding that sign to show up on social media, in an image from the ongoing protests all over--haven't yet seen it. (I would also love to see someone put an accent over the "u" and turn that famous Bible verse into a commentary on the anti-Christian motives of Trump's anti-Mexican-immigrant views.) But there are, I am sure, progressive Christians--black, brown, and white--out there marching today. I believe we'll hear more from them. Maybe next time I'll have my own protest sign ready, for real.

    1. I suspect that Jesus weeps through us, just as God loves and weeps through us. And don't forget that Jesus expressed his contempt for sanctimonious and hypocritical religious leaders of his day (see the seven woes of Matthew 23). Like Jesus, we are not limited to weeping over the sorry state of our political affairs. Thanks for demonstrating your Christian values at the protest.

  2. (I would also love to see a good Koran verse on a protest sign. Or something from the Torah. "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly" would be a fine one for a march.)