Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

The lunatic fringe

If there's one thing I still don't understand about the past eight years of politics, it's the ongoing support of right-wing Christians for Donald Trump.

It's baffling.  The people who have been screeching "family values" for forty years support a guy who is a thrice-married serial adulterer who paid hush money to a stripper and porn star.  The same folks who want the Ten Commandments posted in every public school classroom back someone whose main claim to fame is breaking all ten on a daily basis.  The MAGA crowd considers Trump a "good Christian man" despite the fact that in a public speech he said his favorite book of the Bible was "Two Corinthians" and couldn't quote a single biblical verse from memory.  And the central tenets of the faith -- humility and repentance -- prompted him to state in an interview, "Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?"

What has added a whole new layer of bizarre pretzel logic to the situation is that at long last, it's registering with evangelicals that their support of Trump contradicts the actual words of Jesus Christ.  You know, Jesus Christ?  The guy the Christians believe is the Son of God?  The one the religion is named after?

So when Jesus's words fly in the face of what Trump says, it's gotta be one or the other, right?

Well, when confronted with this conflict, a majority of the evangelicals...

...side with Trump.

This has finally begun to alarm at least a few evangelical leaders, like Russell Moore, former head of the Southern Baptist Convention.  Moore said in an interview a couple of days ago:

It was the result of having multiple pastors tell me, essentially, the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount, parenthetically, in their preaching — "turn the other cheek" — [and] to have someone come up after to say, "Where did you get those liberal talking points?"  And what was alarming to me is that in most of these scenarios, when the pastor would say, "I'm literally quoting Jesus Christ," the response would not be, "I apologize."  The response would be, "Yes, but that doesn't work anymore.  That's weak."  And when we get to the point where the teachings of Jesus himself are seen as subversive to us, then we're in a crisis.

I'd say so.

In an odd synchronicity, this is a theme that comes up in my novel The Chains of Orion (scheduled for release in November).  In it, a violent reactionary cult called the Zealots revere the memory of an early spiritual leader, Blessed Julia Lowell.  But when a new manuscript is discovered containing the actual words of Blessed Julia, written in her own hand -- and those words command doing exactly the opposite of what the Zealots are actually doing -- they reject the document out of hand rather than change their ways, and ultimately assassinate the religious leader who brought it to light.

As Susan B. Anthony so trenchantly put it, "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

Add to all this the fact that some of the most outspoken evangelical leaders have, in the last few years, seemed to lose the plot completely.  The latest examples include self-proclaimed prophet Hank Kunneman, who "guaranteed" Trump would win re-election in 2020 because God himself said so.  He hasn't been much inclined to address the question since then, but just two weeks ago said that Jesus told him personally "not to apologize" for the error.  

Then we have Lance Wallnau.  Wallnau, you may remember, is the guy who in April went on record as saying that Satan was responsible for Tucker Carlson being fired by Fox News.  Well, he's still hard at it.  (Wallnau, not Satan.)  Just a couple of days ago he said he'd heard a voice while he was praying telling him, "Donald Trump will be elected for one more term," but when he turned around, no one was there.

But instead of seeing this as a sign of an incipient psychotic break, most of the evangelicals consider this business as usual.

Then there's Pastor Greg Locke, who is in another league entirely.  Locke's insane ravings have appeared here at Skeptophilia before, but he took a further leap into Cloud Cuckoo Land this week by preaching a sermon railing against The Barbie Movie, culminating with bringing out a Barbie Dream Home he'd purchased and demolishing it using a baseball bat to which he'd tied Bibles.

I swear I'm not making this up.  If you don't believe me, check out the video.

In a sane world, behavior like this would lead to the audience erupting in gales of laughter and Pastor Locke being hustled off the stage, given horse tranquilizers, and never allowed near a public event again.  Instead, the reaction of the crowd who had gathered to listen to him can be summed up as "Hallelujah!"

A friend of mine explained the response of evangelicals to Donald Trump as, "Of course they support him.  He hates the same people they do."  Free thinkers, the non-religious, immigrants, brown-skinned people, women in non-traditional roles, LGBTQ+ people.  As long as he demands an America free of any of those, the members of the Religious Right will vote for him enthusiastically.

To which I respond: well, okay.  But, you know, the Gospels?  The purported actual words of Jesus?  That contradict ninety percent of what Trump and his cronies are saying and doing?

I'm sorry, I still don't get it.

Given the fact that I just wrote a novel about this phenomenon, you'd think I wouldn't be as gobsmacked as I am.  Somehow having the lunatic fringe I wrote about in a fictional setting leap off the page into the real world is a little alarming.  At least some of the Christian leaders (like Moore) are recognizing the problem, and I have hope that a lot of moderate and progressive Christians are as appalled as I am.

Until they are in the ascendancy, however, I'm afraid that we're going to be stuck with living in a world where, as Oscar Wilde put it, "Life imitates art more than art imitates life."


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