Friday, November 11, 2016

Christians And Trump

My biggest fear from a Trump presidency is that it will be seen similarly to the Bush presidency. That is that Bush was seen as the proto-typical Christian. People thought about being Christian very much in those terms. I can't be a Christian because I can't think like Bush. Often people identify 911 as the event that spawned the New Atheism movement. That all religious people could be labelled as violent because these religious fanatics were obviously evil. Yet I have rarely heard this argument. 

What also happened right around that same time is that Bush became president. His win was associated with the Christian right. He was not just supported by evangelicals. He was an evangelical. So people, quite understandably, took him to be a typical Christian. If you did not know any conservative Christians he was the stereo-type. 

Think about it. The New Atheist associated Christianity with violence and with a lack of intelligence. I would not say that about Christians I know. They tend to be quite a bit less prone to violence and on average quite intelligent. Yet the association works. Why? Because Bush's policies were quite violent and they were often anti-intellectual. So it was not a big leap for people to assume all Christians were like that. 

Now we have Trump. He has much weaker ties to Christianity. He does not self-identify as an evangelical. His personal life shows nothing a Christian would find impressive. Yet conservative Christians voted for him. Some of them did so with great hesitation and some of them were with Trump from the beginning. At the end of they day their support for Trump was pretty solid. Stronger than their support for Romney. 

Now many would say they voted against Clinton more than they voted for Trump. They would have preferred someone else. Still I can see that in the minds of the people who don't know many Christians they can easily associate Christianity with being impressed by Trump.

We need to get to a place where Christianity is not associated with any political party. We need to transcend politics. Pope Francis said this on Oct 2nd.

Now, I will set the issue aside and speak about something theoretical, rather than speaking about the concrete problem. When a country has two, three or four candidates who are unsatisfactory, it means that the political life of that country is perhaps overly “politicized” but lacking in a political culture. One of the tasks of the Church and of higher education is to teach people to develop a political culture. 
There are countries – I am thinking of Latin America – that are excessively politicized but lack a political culture. People belong to one party or another party or even a third, but for emotional reasons, without thinking clearly about the fundamentals, the proposals.
He ties this sort of problem to a failure of the church and of higher education. It makes sense to me. The spectacle of people being pressured to embrace all the the agenda of one party or the other is a symptom of people having a poor understanding of philosophy and/or theology. They don't understand the connections between ideas. Which ones are logically connected. So people run back to their party and just swallow everything. 

In same ways it does reflect badly on Christianity when Christians behave this way. It means they have not developed a sophisticated way of critiquing the politics of the day. They just pick a side like everyone else. It is not completely true. Conservative Christians have pushed certain policies into the Republican platform that would not otherwise be there. Still it is quite limited. 

On the other side you have progressive Christians that really have not impacted the Democratic party even in a limited way. The Democratic elite have impacted them for sure. In fact, they are so dominated by secular thought it is hard to find places where they disagree with atheists. 

So what do we do? We carve out for ourselves a place that is truly counter-cultural. Can we do this without the Catholic church. I thought so once. I thought the Christian Reformed Church I was part of did this well. Their secret? Christian education. They really took that seriously. So they could maintain their own robust intellectual tradition separate from secular thought but broad enough to address all the issues that come up. Pope Francis also mentions education. 

Still GK Chesterton says the Catholic Church "is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." Ultimately we can't separate ourselves from our culture without the graces given to us by God in the church. We will inevitably get God wrong in some serious way on some issue. So yes, we need to educate people to think with their faith in every area of human endeavour. But we need to be guided by the church when we do so. 


  1. Good post. "The New Atheist associated Christianity with violence and with a lack of intelligence." Yes, they do, but I think it is a two-step thing. First point, the New Atheists are specifically Christian-oriented atheists. They explicitly reject Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They're not out explicitly rejecting, say, Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrians, if they've even heard of him. It's Jesus the Christ and His Church whom they don't like. And so, the second step: they deliberately blur all "religions" together, Anglicanism to Zoroastrianism and everything in between, so that when they see something they don't like, say violent Islamicist terrorism, they can use that to slag Christianity with, because "all religions are the same." But always it is Christianity that is the true target of their foaming hatred. It's not Sikhism or the Bahá'í Faith that they want to discredit.

  2. Thanks. I do agree with most of what you said. I don't know that it is always deliberate. There are so many atheists it is hard to generalise. Also, the phrase "foaming hatred" seem a bit harsh. I get where you are coming from. Sometimes they are pretty angry when all they know about you is that you are Christian. Still many express their negative feelings differently.

    I do think it will help if Christians today are known as lovers of peace. So many Christians supporting the party that has gotten us into bad wars is particularly damaging. At a minimum we need to disassociate ourselves with the violent parts of their platform. I know many Christians vote Republican because of the abortion issue and that is a good thing. Yet we need to make clear the Republicans are not getting blank cheque from us on the reset of public policy.