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.