Bertrand Russell wrote his famous essay, Why I am not a Christian, back in 1927 as the aftermath to a talk give to the National Secular Society in Great Britain. It was subsequently published as a pamphlet. I read it in 1980 when I was a Vista Volunteer in North Carolina, where most of my work involved a lot of interaction with local southern churches. Ever the philosopher, Bertrand’s essay is really a short philosophical treatise in which he addresses some of the arguments in favor of God and Christ, to wit:
- The “first cause” argument, that God came before everything else, begging (of course) the question of who made God.
- The “natural law” argument, which is that because nature’s laws work so well, that must meant that there is a supernatural “law giver” who makes those things happen.The “argument from design,” which is essentially the argument that anything as perfectly designed as our world must also have a perfect designer.
- The “argument from design.” The argument that ” everything in the world is made just so that we can manage to live in the world, and if the world was ever so little different we could not manage to live in it. That is the argument from design.”
- The “moral arguments for Deity,” which is the argument that “there would be no right or wrong unless God existed.”
- The “argument for the remedying of injustice,” a variation on the moral argument, which is the argument that “the existence of God is required in order to bring justice into the world.”
Russell disposes of all of these arguments with his characteristic wit and acumen, and then tackles some other issues, including the character of Christ, some defects in his teachings, how people accept religion on the basis of emotion instead of argumentation (and especially fear), and how some churches have retarded progress in humanity.
Those were Russell’s arguments against Christianity, but I have my own.
The Character of God
As described in the Holy Bible, the character of God is, well, not so good. His distinguishing feature – I’ll be using the traditional male pronoun here, as it is used in the various English language Bibles – is jealousy. Followed by inconsistency or unpredictability. And God is murderous. He kills often and indiscriminately.
One commentator has counted up and estimated that God has killed 2,476,633 people (or almost 2.5 million) in the Bible. Another commentator counted the number as 2,270,365. Another commentator counts 399,933 killed by God directly, 2,017,956 Killed by God’s followers, for a total of 2,417,889. 1 That same website indicates that Satan is only reported to have killed Job’s children, and only after God gave him permission. But whether it’s 250,000, 2.5 million or 25 million, it’s clear that God kills a lot of people in the Bible. Beginning with everyone on Earth, aside from those who made it into Noah’s Ark, at the time of the great flood.
Now, let’s overlook for a moment that Noah’s Ark is a derivative story, derived from earlier creation myths. What did all the people of the Earth do to deserve to be exterminated? I mean, this is a genocide of Biblical (pun intended) proportions. Apparently, one of the reasons is that humans were consorting with the “Nephilim,” who were “giants” and, depending on your interpretation of the Bible, either the offspring of God, or fallen angles, or the cumulative legacy of Cain and Seth.2 In any case, nowhere is there to be found any Biblical warning that consorting with the Nephilim, whoever they were, would result in a death sentence for essentially all of humanity. This, from a just and loving God.
Or let’s take another example. In the story of Moses and the release of the Isrealites from bondage, God continually “hardens” Pharoah’s heart so that God may release more plagues on the Egyptians, resulting of course in the massacre of all their first born sons. Pharoah, it appears, was ready to release the Israelites after the first three or so plagues. But that wasn’t good enough for God. He had to keep on rolling until he had amassed ten.
Or let’s take several smaller examples: at Kadesh, God had instructed Moses to “speak” to the stone to bring forth water instead of striking it, and Moses failed to follow God’s instruction and – like he had done to draw water from the rock at Rephidim – struck it instead. For this seemingly trivial mistake – and even though he had led God’s people out of Egypt – God punishes Moses by refusing to allow him to join the people of Israel in the promised land. Seriously God?
Or, as God is raining down fire and brimstone (think volcanic ash) on Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife can’t quite resist the all-too-human temptation to turn around and look at the spectacular destruction that is going on behind her, and God turns her into a pillar of salt. Seriously God?
There are also other bizaare and inexplicable inconsistencies in the descriptions of God, such as when God “wrestles” with Jacob until dawn, apparently – although omnipotent – unable to defeat him. God subsequently renames Jacob “Israel” (even he had already previously renamed Jacob “Israel”) and gave him the land of Israel, even though God had previously given him the very same land. Seriously God?
Women, especially in the Old Testament, are also repeatedly raped without consequence. The “great men” of the Bible also repeatedly introduce their wives as their “sister” so other men can, well, rape them or take advantage of them.
The Bible has no prohibition on slavery, which is viewed as completely commonplace. Even Jesus does not condemn slavery in any way, but essentially instructs slaves to behave their masters. Three examples of what Jesus had to say about slavery:
- Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
- Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)
- The servant [slave] will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given. (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)
And all of this is, of course, approved by our loving and perfect God.
The Holy Trinity
As we have previously seen, the early Christian Church spent a great deal of time debating the concept of the trinity, which was the source of a great deal of theological disputes. These disputes took place in the 4th Century AD, and included the “Arian controversy,” which was essentially about the relationship between God and Jesus, and whether the father and the son were essentially equal parts of the “Godhead.” The resulting conclusion that they were equal parts is, well, really just plain silly.
How can Jesus be equal to God? God is all powerful ac cording to the Bible. Jesus can’t even keep himself from getting crucified. God can “create” a new son whenever he wants. It’s a patently silly notion, that Jesus is equal to God.
But it gets much sillier from there, because not only do we have Jesus as a co-equal part of the Godhead, but we have the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost) as well. First of all, the question arises, what is the Holy Ghost? And the answer seems to be truly tautological. So, for example,
- Wikipedia explains that the Holy Ghost “is the third person (hypostasis) of the Trinity: the Triune God manifested as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; each person itself being God.”
- Encyclopedia Britannica informs us that the Holy Spirit, “also called Paraclete, or Holy Ghost, is in Christian belief, the third person of the Trinity.”
- And finally, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia explains that although “distinct, as a Person, from the Father and the Son, He is consubstantial with Them; being God like Them, He possesses with Them one and the same Divine Essence or Nature.” The Holy Ghost “proceeds, not by way of generation, but by way of spiration, from the Father and the Son together, as from a single principle.”
So basically the explanation is that the Holy Ghost is the third part of the Godhead. Which does not help at all in explicating what the Holy Ghost is supposed to be. Why does the Godhead need a third part? Nobody knows. And in reality, the explanation probably has much more to do with the belief in spirits that ancient people had than any kind of theological necessity.
But what we have, in effect, is a three-headed God3, where the necessity for the three heads is entirely unconvincing, and where the big advantage of monotheism is supposed to be that you only need to have one God. The three heads essentially countermand or derogate from this alleged big leap forward.4
The Historical Church
The Catholic Church, which has now grown for several centuries out from the small early Church of “Jewish Christians” eventually became what can only be described as a mammoth institution, whose current wealth, according to several sources, is “impossible to measure.” That’s because the church, as a whole, has enormous amounts of land, remarkable historical buildings, priceless works of art, in addition to billions of dollars in investments. The wealth of just the Vatican has been estimated at between $10 to $15 billion dollars, which is roughly equivalent to the governmental wealth of major European countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. It’s also estimated that in the United States alone the Church has an operating budget of about $170 billion.
The Corruption of the Catholic Church
It was, of course, the corruption of the Catholic Church that led to the Protestant Reformation. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the sale of indulgences, but that was only after centuries of corruption on the part of the Catholic church. The Protestant Reformation led to a series of religious wars that culminated in the Thirty Years’ War, an entirely unproductive conflict that resulted in the massacre of as much as one-third of the population of greater Germany. The Catholic Church was, and remains, unimaginably wealthy, which contributes substantially to its historic corruption. So, for example, rich families could historically buy high positions for their sons in the Catholic Church, assuring that they would go to heaven and attain salvation. A peasant, on the other hand, had to pay for a child to be christened. And had to be done as a first step to getting to heaven; in addition, peasants had to pay to get married and had to pay to bury family members in holy ground. In any case, it is beyond the scope of this article to list all of the ways in which the Catholic Church has been corrupt throughout history, but as with so many things, Wikipedia has already done the work for me: some group of authors has already compiled a lengthy list which the reader can, of course, peruse at their leisure.
A while back, I read Thomas Asbridge’s massive (784 pages) history of the Crusades, and eventually it made my head spin. There is just too much history there to casually comprehend. In essence, the Crusades were the attempt of Christians to “recapture” the Holy Lands – and especially Jerusalem – from the Muslim “hordes” that resided in the Middle East shortly after the spread of Islam in the early Middle Ages. The First Crusade was called for by Pope Urban II in 1095, and the ninth and final Crusade took place between 1271 and 1272.5 In between there were seven others, all of which led to varying degrees of success. More often than not, the Muslims succeeded in holding back or thwarting the Christian armies. On the occasions where the Christians did succeed in recapturing Jerusalem or portions of the Holy Land, they were not able to hold onto them for a long time. The reason for this is simple: the Christian armies were way out of their natural European territory when occupying the Holy Land, whereas the Muslims of the Middle East were essentially at home. In the end the Christians were not able to protect their supply lines or receive enough reinforcements to maintain sovereignty, and not enough Christians were interested in relocating to the Holy Lands and starting a new life there to make the operation successful. The Crusades involved lots of colorful characters that most of us have heard of – like “Richard the Lionheart,” for example – but the question remains, what was the point? And here the answer is elusive. The immediate goal of the First Crusade was to guarantee pilgrims access to the holy sites in the Holy Land under Muslim control; the longer range goal may have been to reunite the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of Christendom, which had separated in 1054, with the Pope as the head of the united Church. The reasons for the subsequent Crusades are similarly political (as opposed to theological), and the full history is far too complicated to replicate here.
For present day Muslims, especially those of a fundamentalist or radical persuasion, the Crusades are the model for war between Islam and Christianity, and a model, by the way, where Islam prevailed far more often than Christianity did.
The Inquisition is the historic and long-lasting persecution of “heretics” by the Roman Catholic Church through its internal “judicial” agencies. The inquisition began sometime in 12th-century France to combat religious sectarianism and in particular a belief system known as “Catharism.”6 In the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the concept and scope of the Inquisition was significantly expanded in response to the Protestant Reformation. Its geographic scope was expanded to other European countries, resulting in the Spanish Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition, whose two kingdoms in turn operated additional inquisitorial courts throughout their respective empires in the Americas, Asia, and parts of Africa. In general, the two “major” inquisitions would be classified as the “Medieval” Inquisition and the “Spanish” Inquisition.
The “institutions” that prosecuted the Inquisition were not abolished until in the early 19th century, after the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and after the Spanish American wars of independence in the Americas. The institution survived as part of the Roman Curia, and was given the new name of “Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office” in 1904. It was renamed again as the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” in 1965.
There aren’t any good or reliable statistics of the number of people executed as a consequence of being tried by one of the courts of the Inquisition, but rough estimates are that maybe 150,000 people were tried and about 6000 people executed in both the Medieval and Spanish inquisitions. That results in the relatively modest execution rate of about 4%, although, of course, many other punishments were also inflicted. Those punishments regularly involved what we would now describe as torture, although torture could and obviously was used during the “investigatory” phase as well, in order to extract confessions. The Inquisition was also the period of time where large numbers of people, especially women, were accused of and prosecuted for being witches, frequently being blamed for things like crop failures and harsh winters.
The Sexual Abuse of Children by Priests
The Crusades and the Inquisition are relative ancient history; not so the sexual abuse of children by priests. This is an issue that I am particularly familiar with – not out of personal experience, thank God (pun intended) – but rather because the issue really first became public right here in my hometown of Boston Massachusetts. How it was investigated and become public is detailed beautifully in the 2015 film “Spotlight,” which follows the efforts of the “Spotlight Team” at the Boston Globe to uncover this massive scandal. In some ways, the abuse of children by priests shouldn’t come as that big a surprise to anyone given the Catholic Church’s completely unreasonable requirement of a vow of celibacy for its priestly class. It might be a nice fiction that priests should be “married” to the church, but real life doesn’t work that way.7 And especially as the world has gotten more modern and more explicitly sexualized, to expect the priests and nuns of the church to refrain from all sexual activity is so divorced from the actual psychological and physical needs of human beings, as to be absurd. And then to expect that this class of sexually repressed men could give advice on marriage – as the Catholic Church expects of its priests – just compounds the absurdity.
Although it is not demonstrably provable, the Catholic Church seems to have attracted a large number of gays and lesbians into its ministries and nunneries. And, as a separate and unrelated phenomenon, it also seems to have attracted a large number of pedophiles. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in a recent study, has estimated that about 4% of priests have sexually molested underage parishioners. According to the Bishop Accountability website, there are about 15,000 identified child victims of priestly sexual abuse worldwide. Regardless of how many victims there actually are, what is perfectly clear is that large portions of the Catholic hierarchy were well aware of the problem for decades, and did all they could to sweep the problem under the rug.
An ideal example for this is the case of Father John Geoghan, the Catholic priest who was essentially the “smoking gun” for the Boston Globe Spotlight team report. In a 31 year career, Geoghan was moved through six separate parishes, including the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saugus, St. Bernard’s Parish in Concord, St. Paul’s Parish in Hingham, St. Andrew’s Parish in Jamaica Plain, St. Brendan’s Parish in Dorchester, St. Julia’s Parish in Weston, all of them in Massachusetts. He was also sent to four separate treatment programs, including the Seton Institute in Baltimore, Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada. He was eventually sent to the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests after being pensioned, and finally defrocked after criminal charges were brought against him.8 In substance, what the Globe Spotlight uncovered – and was able to prove through Church documents that were eventually unsealed – is that the church knew that this guy was a pedophile a couple of years after his 1962 entry into the priesthood.9
The Perversion of Christ’s Message
Let’s begin by acknowledging that I’m no Biblical scholar, and I haven’t read much of the New Testament, which doesn’t distinguish me from most Christians, by the way.10 But unlike most Christians, I have read a lot of books by people who actually are Biblical scholars.These include Karen Armstrong, Bart Ehrman, Dominic Crossan, Reza Aslan, Philip Schaff, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Huston Smith, Jonathan Kirsch, Mark Roncace, Phillip Yancey, and Dan Barker. 11 From these various scholars I have learned that Christ really preached about two primary things more than all others: first, how to get into the kingdom of Heaven; and second, to take care of the poor and dispossessed.12 While there are scholarly and theological disagreements about what Christ preached about — and whether that was the same thing as Saint Paul — two things we know that Christ did not preach about are abortion and gay rights. Or “family values.” In fact, the Bible says nothing at all, not in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, about abortion.
The entirety of the supposed sin of homosexuality comes from Leviticus 18, which also says that it’s an abomination to eat shellfish, which has led to the ironic site, God Hates Shrimp. In fact, the Old Testament includes 613 laws, and not a single one of them is about abortion. And Jesus said nary a word on the topic. And yet, if you listened to conservative evangelicals, you would think this was one of the central tenets of Jesus’ message. Have any of these zealots actually read the Bible? It doesn’t seem so.
Now, the United States is filled with a large number of megachurches, defined generally as having 2000 or more people in average weekly attendance. Some of these churches have truly extraordinary attendance: for example, the Life.Church in Edmond Oklahoma has a listed weekly attendance of 53,000, while the Church of the Highlands in Birmingham Alabama has 48,000 and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas has 43,500. By comparison, Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play, has a capacity of 65,878. The pastors of these churches tend to make an enormous amount of money. So, for example, it is believed that:
- Kenneth Copeland has an estimated worth of $760 million.
- Bishop TD Jakes has an estimated worth of $150 million.
- David Oyedepo has an estimated worth of $150 million.
- Pat Robertson has an estimated worth of $100 million.
- Benny Hinn has an estimated worth of $42 million.
- Jesse Duplantis has an estimated worth of $50 million.
- Joel Osteen has an estimated worth of $40 million.
Now in that list, Kenneth Copeland is definitely an outlier, and it appears that he has been exceptionally adept at his use of multimedia. But the others on the list aren’t making chump change either.
These megapastors all seem to defend their personal wealth with a retreat to the Prosperity Gospel, a belief among some Protestant Christians that financial blessing and physical well-being are part of a contract between God and humans, where human faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes is rewarded by God with material wealth and physical health. The prosperity gospel has been characterized as being a branch of “muscular Christianity,” a mid-19th century movement originating in the United Kingdom and characterized by a belief in patriotic duty, discipline, self-sacrifice, manliness, and the moral and physical beauty of athleticism.
To many critics, the prosperity gospel has become to represent “the conflation of American-style capitalism, religion, and Republican party politics.” One of the ironies of the Prosperity Gospel is that it has at least part of its origins in the “New Thought” movements which emerged in the 1880s (a predecessor the current New Age movement). That movement emphasized the power of the mind in achieving mental and physical health. Russell Conwell, in his famous sermon “Acres of Diamonds” equated poverty with sin, and asserted that anyone could become rich through hard work, an illusion that still plagues the United States today. “Mind power” teachings were apparently brought to Pentecostalism by E. W. Kenyon, a Baptist minister and adherent of the Higher Life movement. Donald Trump’s “personal” televangelist, Paula White, who in 2008 declared bankruptcy after the purchase of her Lakeland property for her “Without Walls International Church,” is perhaps the worst exemplar of the prosperity gospel today. White, who is a bit of a wackadoodle, has been accused by other ministers, including conservatives ministers, of making all kinds of heretical statements, including that Jesus was not the only son of God. I’m just waiting for her to be indicted on some kind of financial crimes. Then she can join her fellow wackadoodle Jim Bakker, who was indicted in 1988 on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy, resulting in his conviction a year later on all 24 counts. That was, of course, only after he had made a $279,000 payoff to silence former church secretary Jessica Hahn, with whom he had a consensual affair (if you believe him) or who was drugged and raped by Bakker (if you believe her). Personally, I’m going to go with Hahn’s account.
Now, one could make the argument that God is not at fault for how people misinterpret him. Perhaps so. But clearly he has not done anything to set his followers straight.
Evangelical Support of Donald Trump
If anything has exposed the hypocrisy of the Christian right, then it is evangelical support for Donald Trump. After all, this is a man who has:
- Been married three times.
- Had five children with three different women.
- Cheated on every one of his wives.
- Had sex with a couple of porn stars.
- Been accused of sexual assault by at least twenty-five women and counting.
- Can’t recite a single verse of the Bible.
- Admitted that he has never asked for forgiveness.
- Claimed to know more about Christianity than the Pope.
- Stiffed and cheated countless numbers of contractors.
- Told about 15,000 documented lies in the first three years of his Presidency.
- Defrauded thousands of students at Trump “University,” in a case he had to settle.
But before we get to Trump let’s go back and look at how evangelism became a political force in American politics. As a political movement, evangelism — which has been around in the United States since both of the “great awakenings” — really came to the fore with Jerry Falwell‘s “Moral Majority.” The origins of the Moral Majority can be traced back to the period between 1976 and 1979 when Baptist minister Jerry Falwell embarked on a series rallies across the country to rally conservative Christians who believed that America was in a period of moral decline. The specific impetus to create the organization itself involved a struggle for control of the conservative Christian advocacy group the Christian Voice. The organization was founded in June of 1979 by Falwell and Paul Weyrich. The Moral Majority was located primarily in the South, and headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, where Falwell was the presiding minister of the Thomas Road Baptist Church. Falwell insisted the Moral Majority leadership also include Catholics and Jews, so that it would not be seen as an exclusively Protestant organization. The structure of the Moral Majority involved a set of political action committees, which ran political campaigns important to their memberships, and generally dedicated to the Christian conception of moral law.13 The two issues that most animated the base were opposition to abortion, and opposition to homosexuality.
While the Moral Majority as an organization eventually disovled, it’s legacy lives on proudly in evangelical political activism, which has remained robust and sustained throughout.
Now back in 1998, responding to Bill Clinton’s infidelities, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a Resolution On Moral Character Of Public Officials, which stated in relevant part:
- Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, . . . affirm that moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s People, when choosing public leaders; and
- Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and . . .
- Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.
The Southern Baptists don’t, of course, speak for all evangelicals. But they do speak for a large number of them. Needless to say the evangelicals had a field day with the Clinton impeachment, with Monica, with Linda Tripp, with blow jobs in the White House and the blue dress. With “what the definition of is is,” with a President who perjured himself because he didn’t want to tell his (very powerful) wife of the affair that he had been having in the White House (even though he, like everyone else, should have known it was going to come out anyway). Boy did they have a field day with that. And boy were they eager to impeach President Bill Clinton.14
Along the way, some Republican politicians were quoted saying things they will probably live to regret. So, for example, Mitch McConnell was quoted as saying “I am completely and utterly perplexed by those who argue that perjury and obstruction of justice are not high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Or Lindsay Graham was quoted as saying “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this Constitutional Republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
But those, at least, are political determinations relative to impeachment. Although both McConnell and Graham regard themselves as good Christians, theirs was not an attack based in theology. There stance is just hypocritical.
Then there are people like Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who tried to distinguish his support of Bill Clinton’s impeachment from his opposition to Donald Trump’s impeachment by saying, “My criticism of Bill Clinton in the nineties wasn’t based on his personal behavior. It was based on his public policies and it was based on the fact that he engaged in obstruction of justice, perjury and suborning perjury.”
Yeah, fat chance that explanation is going to satisfy anyone, Ralph.
Back in 1998, when Bill Clinton lied his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Christian megapastor James Dobson declared it was “foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!” America was facing “a profound moral crisis” Dobson warned at the time. These days he’s as quiet as a church mouse.
One of the rationales that Trump supporters have dug out of the Bible is the notion that Trump is like King Cyrus. King Cyrus, also known as Cyrus the Great, was a real Persian King who ruled from 600 to 530 BC. In the Biblical story he conquered Babylon and ended the Babylonian captivity of the Israelis. Although Cyrus us clearly not a Jew, he is an example that people from outside of the tribe can be used as “God’s instrument” when the moment fits.
Another tale that was cherry-picked out of the Bible concerns Queen Esther, who saves the Jews from being slaughtered. In the narrative, which takes place in Persia, King Ahasuerus is seeking a new wife, and Esther is chosen for her beauty. The king’s chief advisor, Haman, is offended by Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, when he refuses to bow before him. For this trivial offense, Haman requests and and is granted permission from the King to have all the Jews in Persia killed. Esther, acting carefully, foils the plan, and wins permission from the king for the Jews to kill their enemies instead. Under this analogy, Donald Trump is the savior of the Jews, just like Esther before him.
Recently two journalists, David Brody and Scott Lamb wrote the laughably titled book “The Faith of Donald Trump,” in which they try — and fail — to make out a case that Donald Trump is a man of faith. What they are able to ascertain is that (1) Trump himself is definitely not an evangelical; (2) that Trump’s mother had strong roots in Presbyterianism; (3) that the paternal side of Trump’s family has strong roots in German Lutherism; and (4) that Trump had a relationship with Norman Vincent Peale, who was the pastor at the Church where Trump’s family attended.
The two authors also do a nice job of tracing some of the history of Presbyterian and evangelical churches in modern America. But these things do not make Trump a Christian.
Why do Brody and Lamb believe that Trump is man of faith? Because he told them so. As quoted in their book:
While Donald Trump has a healthy ego, buckets of self-confidence, and a belief that he can get the job done, he doesn’t leave God out of the equation. He knows God is bigger and better than him. How do we know? He has said it with his own lips, declaring to me on his California golf course that “God is the ultimate! I mean God created this and here’s the Pacific Ocean right behind us . . . there’s nothing like God.”Brody, David. The Faith of Donald J. Trump (p. 316).
So, these two believe that Trump is a man of faith because he told them so? Trump, the same guy who has lied 15,000 times in the first three years of his Presidency? That’s the basis for their claim that Trump is a Christian?
Finally, as Brody and Lamb note, it’s “no secret that white, evangelical Christians, while still dominant politically, see their culture slipping away. They’re not the majority they once were and they’ve been looking for that fierce protector.” And Trump “relishes the role of culture warrior.” And there it is, my friends.
Evangelical support, as the more honest ones themselves acknowledge, is simply transactional. He brings them what they want: conservative judges, and “pro-Christian” policies.15 Some people believe, as was noted in a recent article by the Humanist, that Trump “single-handedly saved Christmas.” From what? From having to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” in situations where you don’t know the belief system of the person or persons that you’re talking to.
There was, of course, a breach in the dyke, so to speak, when Mark Galli, the retiring editor of Christianity Today penned a December 19, 2019 opinion piece that Trump should be impeached and removed from office. The reason for this is:
The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.16Mark Galli, Christianity Today, December 19, 2019
Trump responded in his usual restrained manner with a Twitter tirade. But this time Christianity Today was not backing down. Timothy Dalrymple, the President and CEO of Christianity Today published a follow-up opinion piece on behalf of the magazine in which — after acknowleding the strong feelings on both sides that the article engendered — he explained that the magazine was holding fast “to our view that the wholehearted evangelical embrace of Trump has been enormously costly.”
Christians and Muslims are hardly the only anti-Semites existing in the world, but they are the only ones who are persecuting the same people with which their own God is associated with. They are, after all, the three “great” religions associated with the Abrahamic branch, and they all putatively worship the same God.
Now, many of my friends believe that, having already elected a black man as President, we’ll elect a woman, a gay man and maybe a gay woman before we elect a Jew as President of the United States. They may very well be right.
“Anti-semitism” as a term is a bit of a misnomor. After all, it’s not a reference to all semites, which includes Arabs and Assyrians who speak semitic languages. It’s used in modern English to denote an anti-Jewish prejudice.
Scholars are in general agreement that the roots of antisemitism go back to the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans back in 70 CE.17 After these revolts the Jews were scattered in the Jewish diaspora, and have been a minority population wherever they lived until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
The authors of the Bible, unwilling to offend the Roman conquerors, gave the Jews a much greater role in the death of Jesus Christ then contemporary scholars believe is likely. It is highly unlikely, for example, that Pontius Pilate gave Jesus a “trial,” or that the Jewish priestly class of the time contributed anything to the trial.
Antisemitic “canards” can generally be divided into two categories: religious canards and economic and political canards.
Beliefs about the Jews that are based in religious or cultural myths include:
- Guilt for the death of Jesus of Nazareth
- Host desecration
- Ritual murder and blood libel
- Anti-Christian bias
- Accusations of impurity
- Well poisoning
24 When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
25 Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
Other beliefs here — many of them emanating from the Middle Ages — include that Jews stole communion wafers and desecrated them; that they murdered Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals19; that they poisoned the wells of Christians; that they were trying to destroy Christianity 20; and the notion that Jews were unclean and (perhaps) into bestiality, as introduced through the myth of the Judensau.
Economic and Political Canards
Beliefs about the Jews that are based in economic or political myths include:
- Jewish world domination
- Jewish control of the media
- Jewish control of the world financial systems
- Usury and profiteering
- The “Kosher Tax”
- The propagation of communism
- Causing wars, revolutions, and calamities
- Causing antisemitism themselves
- A “pogrom” against Native Americans
- Dual loyalty
- Cowardice and lack of patriotism
- Inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust
- Playing a major role in the slave trade
- Organ harvesting
- Conspiring in the 9/11 attacks
If the religious prejudices about Jews stem more from the Middle Ages, then the economic and political prejudices are of a more recent vintage. Some of that prejudice can be date back to 1903 and the publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , the authorship of which has not been definitively established. The “Elders” is, in any case, a fabricated text which was alleged to be a report of a series of 24 meetings held at Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, at the time of the first Zionist congress. This documents was first published in Russia, apparently as a parody, before it was disseminated throughout Europe as if it were real. It claims to record the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global Jewish hegemony by controlling the press and the world’s economies.21
There are a number of antisemitic canards concerning Jews and banking, including myths such as that world banking is dominated by the Rothschild family, and that that Jews control Wall Street and the United States Federal Reserve system.
One of the ironies of these myths is that Jews, during the middle ages, were forced into professions related to trade and commerce because they were legally excluded from other professions. For many years Catholic doctrine forbade lending money with interest, thereby pushing non-Catholics into money-lending businesses. 22 Because of economic restrictions Jews also often worked as “middlemen” and traders of various kinds. As trade and finance became more prominent in developing economies, it also tended to create a jealousy of Jewish success in these endeavors. In an ironic counter, Jews were also blamed for the propagation of Communism, and that Jews were the people originally responsible for the Russian Revolution.
The Kosher tax conspiracy theory suggests that food producers who want their food to be considered “kosher” must pay an exorbitant tax in order to be able to display the kosher symbol on their food.
If there is one event that should have proved beyond doubt that there is no loving God, it would be the Holocaust. The Holocaust involves one group of believers – people who professed to be Christians – sought to completely annihilate another group of believers – people identified as Jews – even though the second group believed in exactly the same God as the first group.23 The God of Abraham. The God of both the Old and New Testament.
Now, to be sure, Nazism was not primarily a religious movement. It was primarily a racist movement, and its primary ideology was a racist ideology. But Nazis did believe themselves to be Christian. Adolf Hitler labeled himself a Christian, although the sincerity of these views is debatable.24At the time that Hitler came to power, Germany was roughly 2/3rds Protestant, 1/3rd Catholic, and about 1% Jewish. Hitler, through his policy of “Gleichschaltung” wanted to “normalize” even the churches to be consistent with Nazi ideology. Accordingly, Hitler created the National Reich Church, ( die “Deutsche Evangelische Kirche”) as a unified state church that espoused a single doctrine compatible with National Socialism. Regardless of the minutiae, most of the Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust believed themselves to be “good” Christians obeying the will of God.
In a certain kind of way, the Holocaust is actually consonant with the history of the Jewish people as told in many of the books of the Bible: the Jews lose their faith in God or are somehow disloyal to God, and God abandons them to their enemies and let’s many of them be slaughtered. This abandonment causes the Jews to renew their faith, at which point God takes them back and then goes out and helps them slaughter their enemies.
This analogy would work better, of course, if after the state of Israel was formed, they had been able to come back and pulverize the Germans. But that had already been taken care of by the allies. At least the newly incorporated Israelis did get to pulverize someone, which was their Arab neighbors, who had made the unfortunate miscalculation that the Israelis would be there for the taking. The Six Day War put an end to that Arab fantasy.
The Jews have historically endured the unfortunate moniker of God’s “chosen people.” If so, then during the Holocaust God “chose” them to become the victims of incomprehensible crimes and mass extermination. What kind of God does that?
- One commentator identifies 158 separate incidents in which God kills people in the Old and New Testament.
- If the Nephilim were the offspring of God, then it becomes clear how easily God can have offspring, thereby rendering the sacrifice of his “only son” meaningless.
- The Bible itself never mentions the word “Trinity” and never claims anywhere that God is tripartite. The closest it come are verses which mention God, Jesus, and the Spirit: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” See Matthew 28:19.
- The advantage of monotheism are also never explained in Christian doctrine, as there is no obvious moral or even practical advantage to having only one God instead of many.
- The First Crusade also included, as a kind of sideshow, the “Rhineland Massacres,” which involved the destruction of Jewish communities in parts of greater Germany, and which acted as a kind of presage to the Holocaust.
- Catharism was a “Christian dualist” movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe between the 12th and 14th centuries. The belief system was rooted in the idea of two Gods or principles, one being “good” and the other “evil.” The good God was the God of the New Testament and the creator of the spiritual realm, whereas the bad God was the God of the Old Testament – the creator of the physical (as opposed to spiritual) world – whom many Cathars identified as Satan.
- In some Christian churches, a vow of chastity is made by members of religious orders or monastic communities, along with vows of poverty and obedience, in order to imitate the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, part of the absurdity is that there is nothing to prove that Jesus was celibate throughout his life, and there are even indications that Jesus might have been married.
- After being convicted of pedophilia, Father Geoghan was himself murdered in prison at the Souza-Baranowski maximum security facility.
- In one instance, Father Geoghan was alleged to have abused seven boys from the same family.
- As Bill Maher famously said, “To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree.'”
- I even read Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Jesus,” although I did find that book kind of unreadable, not because it was hard to read, but because it was essentially devoid of scholarship.
- At least on the surface, the character of Jesus seems to be much better than the character of God, discussed above.
- It should be noted that traditionally Christian churches did not get explicitly involved in politics, which is also in keeping with their status as 501(c)(3) organizations. In order to be politically active, religious organizations had to create political action committees, which are organized under a separate code in the tax law. Becoming directly involved in politics was a significant departure from what churches had historically done.
- One of the ironies of the impeachment process is that it was led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another guy strongly supported by evangelicals who had a personal history that involved three marriages, including famously serving divorce papers on his first wife while was still in the hospital recovering from uterine cancer, so that he could marry a woman that he was having an affair with. Gingrich then cheated on his second wife with the woman who become his third wife. He also had an affair with an intern back in 1974, whom, remarkably enough, he did not marry. If that weren’t enough, Gingrich was also sanctioned by the House for claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes, something which was a violation of the ethics laws that apply to the House. Gingrich was raised as a Lutheran, became a Southern Baptist during graduate school, and eventually converted to the Catholicism of his third wife.
- As was noted in a recent Washington Post article exploring the “unbreakable bond” between Trump and white evangelicals, “Although evangelicals preach family values and often claim moral superiority, history reveals that they are most interested in exercising political power and identifying politicians who help them do it. Evangelical leaders are sophisticated and pragmatic: Policy outcomes are what they really care about.”
- Galli went on to write “[t]he reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
- The Second Temple was destroyed as part of what is now known as the First Jewish-Roman war, or the first of three uprisings by the Jews of Palestine against the Roman Empire. The Kitos War (115–117 CE) was the second of these revolts while the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE) was the third.
- It wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council in 1962 that the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI issued the Nostra aetate, which specifically repudiated the belief that Jews are collectively guilty for the cruxifiction of Jesus.
- As recently as August of 2014 CNN reported on Osama Hamdan, a spokesman for Hamas, who, during an interview with the Lebanese television station Al-Quds was quoted as saying, “We all remember how the Jews used to slaughter Christians, in order to mix their blood in their holy matzos. This is not a figment of imagination or something taken from a film. It is a fact, acknowledged by their own books and by historical evidence. It happened everywhere, here and there.”
- Martin Luther made this claim in his treatise On the Jews and Their Lies, written in 1543, and which is arguably a source for antisemitic sentiment in Germany during the NAZI regime.
- The industrialist and antisemite Henry Ford funded the printing of half a million copies that were distributed throughout the United States in the 1920s. It was also used by the NAZIs and became assigned reading in some German schools after 1933, despite having been exposed as fraudulent by the Times of London in 1921.
- As one example of this doctrine, the Third Council of the Lateran of 1179 threatened excommunication for any Christian lending money at interest.
- As in the contemporary United States, many German Jews in the 1940s were “secular” Jews, which is to say that they didn’t necessarily believe in the God of Abraham, but that they identified culturally as Jews.
- The Führer himself was educated at a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria, where he had been a church chorister. Hitler’s favorite bed-time reading was Martin Luther, who, among other things, urged action against the Jews, including concentrating them in certain areas, drowning Jewish individuals and even wholesale murder.