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 inauguration day sermon of Robert Jeffress on God is not against building walls, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/01/20/god-is-not-against-building-walls-the-sermon-donald-trump-heard-before-his-inauguration/?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1.
On Jennifer Rubin’s commentary on Trump’s inauguration speech, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/01/20/trumps-america-is-a-rotten-place/?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1.
On religion and reason, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2014/12/religion-and-reason.html;
On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/01/the-greatest-commandment-common-word-of.html.
On a fundamental problem with religion, see http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/2015/05/a-fundamental-problem-with-religion.html.
On the need for a politics of reconciliation in a polarized democracy, see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2016/10/the-need-for-politics-of-reconciliation.html.