What to make of the phenomenon of professing Christians who either give their support to Donald Trump or withhold their support from Joe Biden, the only other candidate standing between Trump and reelection, because they find Biden to be insufficiently Christian?
These people are to be differentiated from the core Trumpist. The core Trumpist is unwilling to criticize Trump on any point, feels unalloyed enthusiasm for all of the bigotry, hatred, and general malevolence that he expresses, mistakes his profound and comprehensive ignorance for a higher knowledge, believes all his lies, denies or makes light of his personal moral failings, and regards him as an outstanding political leader.
Core Trumpists did not elect Donald Trump to the presidency. There were not enough of them. Donald Trump was elected by peripheral Trumpists, penumbral Trumpists, mauvaise foi Trumpists who deny that they are Trumpists.
Mauvaise foi—Sartre’s term for the duplicity of consciousness that permits one to say and do and be things while being unaware, being unwilling to be self-aware, unwilling to own responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. In English: bad faith. But I am thinking of bad faith in another sense: religious faith that loses its balance, that becomes doctrinally myopic, that obsesses on certain particular points while neglecting the weightier matters of judgment, justice, and mercy, that cannot see the forest fire because it is is staring so intently at particular twigs of its favorite trees. I am thinking of faith in the sense of fanaticism.
I know Catholics who will withhold their vote from Joe Biden because Joe Biden agrees in faith and practice with most American Catholics. Because of this they are willing to help reelect Donald Trump. I know Protestants who will withhold their vote from Joe Biden because his stance on certain points is more in line with the Southern Baptist Convention of the 1960s and 1970s than with the Southern Baptist Convention of the 1980s and the present.
Thought experiment for such people:
Would they vote for Joe Biden if he agreed in every point of faith and practice with Walter Rauschenbusch? With Reinhold Niebuhr? With W. A. Criswell? With Martin Luther King? With the Dalai Lama? With Jonathan Sacks? With the current pope? With the biblical prophet who legislated that a person who takes the life of another should be punished by death, but the person whose violent attack causes a woman to abort (miscarry) should only face a fine?
Would they vote for Joe Biden if he agreed in every point of faith and practice with the biblical author who wrote that entire Canaanite nations should be obliterated—men, women, and children? What if he agreed with the biblical author who wrote that men convicted of having sex with each other must be stoned to death? What if he agreed with the biblical author who decreed that the parents of a recalcitrant teenager should have that teenager stoned to death?
We all know Trumpists who justified their vote for the most corrupt president in American history by protesting: we’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing a president. I think I know Trumpists of another type who seem to think, when they consider Trump’s only viable opponent, that we’re electing a prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It’s hard for me to discern the moral difference between the two types.
Either I do not know the difference between faith and fanaticism, or some of my friends don’t.
2 thoughts on “Faith, Fanaticism, and Trumpism”
Re: fanaticism – (“action or speech such as might result from possession by a deity or demon”). That definition reminding me of Hosea’s use of ruah, which signifies both wind and spirit. Of Israel Hosea declared that a “spirit (ruah) of prostitution leads them astray” (4:12). He sharpens the point by insisting that they have come under the influence of a demonic-type delusion so potent it is capable of wrapping them up and blowing them about like a dry leaf in a whirlwind — ruah (4:19). Under its hypnotic sway they foolishly “sow the wind” (ruah) by putting their trust in all the wrong places: repetitive sacred rituals, religious building programs, sacrifices, glib promises of prosperity teachers, and the assurances of “the great king” (5:13) who loves to boast, brag, bully and strut about. The possession is such that with a fanatic’s deluded zeal they think they can control the ruah (the political power they have sworn allegiance to). As a result, the people of God should ready themselves to “reap the whirlwind” — supa, which is the whirwind on steroids (8:7). But, Hosea is not a warning about a judgment that can be avoided by genuine repentance. The time for avoidance has past. The idolatrous syncretism displayed in the worship of the twin golden calves of personal peace and prosperity is too entrenched. The people’s emotional attachment to National security and militarism, combined with systemic injustice, too interwoven into the national fabric. Interestingly enough, The people of Israel drew back from the prophet with angry repugnance. Then, with a dismissive sneer, they denied the charge of fanaticism or demonic “possession/delusion”. Their retort? “You are the man of ruah (9:7). What they meant was “you are the one who is under the power of a divisive, judgmental spirit. In point of fact, they were flipping the table on him and accusing Hosea of being the fanatic. And as they turned away, no doubt, they promised the poor, deranged and deluded prophet that they would pray for him that he would come to his right mind and stop preaching such alarmist nonsense.
Thanks, Tim, good thoughts.