By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
Democracy has made us masters of our own destiny, but demagogues like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have exploited democracy and Christian nationalism to promote evil in both politics and religion. Edward Simmons has asked, “Who can deny that we are living in a period when evil is on the ascendant in our globalized world?”
The 18th century Enlightenment was based on reason and advances in knowledge, and it ended the divine right to rule with the advent of democracy. Today autocracy is making a comeback. A 21st century enlightenment is needed to end the ascendancy of evil, and restore the primacy of reason and truth in politics and religion.
Toxic church doctrines ignore the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus that are summarized in the greatest commandment. It is to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves. God’s will is to reconcile humanity, and Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in politics and the church.
Demagoguery has sacrificed Jesus on the altar of radical-right politics. Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is motivated by a Russian world ideology promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church; and in America most white Christians support a radical-right America First ideology. Both are based on the nativist great replacement theory, or white supremacy.
Jesus once said, if you hold to my teachings, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:31, 32). You don’t need to be a Christian to know the truth that will set you free. Demagogues are not the real enemy in a democracy; voters are their own worst enemies. While demagogues are deceivers, they can’t suppress a desire for the truth.
Unprincipled demagogues obscure both truth and reason to promote their worldly power; and the reason and truth needed to overcome blind loyalty to demagogues are too often ignored in nationalist forms of Christianity. In Russia, Putin censures the media to obscure the truth; while in America, social media sites promote all manner of radical-right causes.
Knowledge and truth can end the blind loyalty of Russians to Putin’s megalomania to resurrect the Soviet Union with the destruction of Ukraine’s democracy. If Russians don’t reject Putin in the elections of 2024, they will doom their own minimalist democracy and freedom, and leave Russia a pariah nation. The same can be said of Trump’s future in America.
Putin and Trump are demagogues who share a bipolar view of politics and religion that subordinates knowledge and reason to a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. Satan seems to be winning the popularity contest, reflecting the depravity of human nature and corruptions in Christianity. The future of democracy depends upon the inexorable power of God’s truth and reason to overcome evil; and the jury remains out until the elections of 2024.
In response to his own question, Why Do We Let Evil Prosper?, Edward Simmons has said “There are purveyors of modern technologies, using them for deception and personal gain at the public expense, who have captured the most popular forms of media, undermined the moral foundations of a party that once saved our country from internal destruction, and subverted entire segments within Christianity so that they no longer follow the fundamental message of Jesus. Political leaders are no longer held accountable, no matter the long-term damage to democracy, human rights, or the equal and fair administration of justice. Truth is being drowned out by algorithm-generated tsunamis of false information.
What Is Evil? The first verse of Psalm 1 provides a functional description of evil. It happens when wicked people attract large followings, or block the way of the truthful. …It refers to ethical standards stated in the Sermon on the Mount, parables like the Good Samaritan, and the Golden Rule. Seeking and adhering to the truth is coupled with ethical behavior in the Torah and the Gospels as part of respecting the God behind truth. According to this Psalm, those who are grounded in the truth will bear fruit and ultimately will flourish, while the wicked lack grounding and their accomplishments will lack substance or permanence. This Psalm is a statement of faith that ultimately evil must lose, even though we see it prospering to greater or lesser extent in various historical periods.
So how can we recognize a wicked person? According to Psalm 1, we recognize them by their behaviors and the people they choose to associate with. The most obvious current example of wicked behavior is Vladimir Putin who does not care for truth, justice, or basic human empathy.
Why Is Evil Prospering? The answer is clear in the case of the United States. First, far too many Americans have deserted truth, basic honesty, and respect for the law as they choose political leaders to support. Those who stand against evil are vilified using algorithm-driven methods that follow the Russian example. They claim to do it out of religious or political principles that transparently turn reason inside-out. Second, there are people in Congress and in positions in state governments who are more determined to gain or hold on to political power at the expense of every value they claim to support and in violation of the oath of office they took.
What must happen next is for Americans to muster the courage and determination to stand against the forces of evil, no matter the momentary sacrifices, until the current surge of evil is defeated.” See https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/the-urgent-question-for-today-why-do-we-let-evil-prosper/
Alexander Dugin is a Russian far-right intellectual and confidant of Putin who sees the ascendancy of evil in America and the West, with Russia as “the spiritual and cultural inheritor of the legacy of the Roman and Byzantine empires, the center of a distinctly anti-European dominion, one powerful (and authoritarian) enough to withstand the perceived threats of liberal modernity, multiculturalism and progressive values. The notion of an independent Ukraine, in this view, is a fiction propagated by the “secular authorities” of the decadent West. Instead, to the Russian president, Russia and Ukraine exist in “spiritual unity” — not only because of their shared Orthodox Christian faith but also because both peoples claim the lineage and cultural ancestry of “Ancient Rus,” a medieval, Kyiv-centered federation. The idea of “spiritual unity” hints at a mystical strain in Putin’s thinking. Indeed, he appears to see his imperial war as an earthly manifestation of a wider, mythic battle between traditional order and progressive chaos.
In a 1991 manifesto, “The Great War of the Continents,” Dugin laid out his vision of Russia as an “eternal Rome” facing off against an individualistic, materialistic West: the “eternal Carthage.” Dugin later argued the contemporary world order had to be understood as a pitched battle between the forces of “human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness” represented by the “Atlantic” Americans and Europeans, and the distinctly “Eurasian” Russian culture, which was still capable — unlike the sclerotic West — of honoring the mainstays of human life: “God, tradition, community, ethnicity, empires and kingdoms.” For Dugin, as for all Traditionalists, the culture war is a cosmic battleground: a jihad against a liberal order explicitly coded as demonic. As Dugin told “60 Minutes” in 2017, “We need to be free and liberated, not only physically as a state, as a people, but as well [a] revival of Russian logos, of Russian spirit, of Russian identity that is much more important.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/12/dugin-russia-ukraine-putin/?utm.
The Washington Post Editorial Board has described “America First” as America at its worst. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/14/america-first-is-america-its-worst/?utm. .
Michael Gerson has asserted that GOP leaders ought to banish officials who embrace “replacement theory.” But the racist ideas associated with the Buffalo killings are being granted impunity daily within the Republican Party. The problem is not just that a few loudmouths are saying racist things. It is the general refusal of Republican “leaders” to excommunicate officials who embrace replacement theory. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/16/replacement-theory-white-supremacy-banish-racist-gop-officials/?utm.
Doug Mastriono is a retired Army colonel and Trump-endorsed GOP nominee for governor in Pennsylvania. According to Michelle Boorstein he rejects the ”culture wars” of Falwell and Ralph Reed for a more supernatural war between the forces of good and evil. “Mastriano’s use of religion and politics is similar to Trump’s in that neither look to big denominations or established clergy or church sermons for influence. They instead tap into how disaffiliated Americans are becoming from organized religion. (Less than half of Americans belong to a congregation and three in 10 say they have no religious affiliation altogether.) Religious identity and practice are becoming hyper individualized, with no need for a denomination or clergy member to validate a person’s beliefs. People can be devoutly Christian whichever way they choose, including by following a political candidate’s message.
Mastriano speaks in stark terms about good and evil because “he sees the culture boldly holding Christianity in contempt.” Pastors are using common excuses: ‘Oh, we’re not supposed to be involved in politics.’ If that’s the way your church is, you’re in the wrong church.
”The Founders had varying views about the role of religion in general and Christianity in particular in public life. But since the 1980s, there has been a pronounced and organized effort by some conservative Christians, White evangelical Protestants in particular, to cast U.S. history as less religiously diverse and secularly minded, and then to argue for a kind of orthodoxy — or “originalism” — that would set these interpretations of the past as the mold for the future. Many conservative Republican leaders seem in recent years to be using more exclusionary and sharper religious language, some experts on U.S. religion say. As institutional religion has slipped in stature in a more secular America, rhetoric from the independent fringe of charismatic faith — where life is about a real, daily battle between Satan and God — has risen to the fore. “Things like: ‘You are the devil, you don’t belong in this country and I’m going to elect people who are on God’s side.’ This kind of rhetoric is incapable of discourse. There is no distinction between political argument and spiritual warfare. That is new,” said John Fea, chair of the history department at Messiah College near Harrisburg. Of Mastriano, Fea said: “I don’t think Pennsylvania has ever had a ‘God and country’ candidate like this.” Earlier generations of leaders who promoted “Christian values,” such as Falwell and Bush, Fea said, were making more cogent arguments about the role of faith in a diverse society and were engaged in public debates with real opponents. Mastriano, by contrast, makes it a badge of honor to not deeply engage with anyone but his supporters. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/05/16/mastriano-pennsylvania-republican-christian-nationalism/?utm.
“What matters most about Tuesday’s Republican primaries is how far to the right the GOP’s electorate has veered. The most important and frightening outcome is the decision of Pennsylvania’s Republicans — by a big margin — to make extremist state Sen. Doug Mastriano their party’s nominee for governor.
Mastriano is an ardent 2020 election denier — “insurrectionist,” is not too strong a word — who attended Trump’s rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot, organized buses to take Pennsylvanians to it and wanted the state legislature to overturn the popular vote for electors committed to Joe Biden. He spoke at a QAnon event last month, at which conspiracy theorists presented him with a ceremonial weapon they called the “sword of David.” Yes, democracy itself will be on the ballot this fall when Mastriano faces state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee. In a state where the governor appoints the secretary of state who oversees elections. Mastriano said he would “reset” the state’s voters rolls so everyone would “have to re-register.” See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/18/tuesday-primaries-show-that-trumpism-has-metastasized/?utm.
For previous commentary on Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America’s Holy War (March 2018), see http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
On issues of religion and politics with Putin and Trump in 2022, see
(3/26/22): Musings on Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture
(4/2/22): Musings on the Battle for Legitimacy in Democracy and Autocracy
(4/9/22): Musings on the Failure to Protect Freedom and Democracy in Ukraine
(4/16/22): Easter Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Toxic Mix of Religion and Politics
(4/23/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Why Americans Are Losing Their Religion
(4/30/22): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politicshttp://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/04/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.