White evangelical Christians who apparently were “one issue” voters willing to sell their morality and soul by supporting Trump over an issue like abortion, prayer in schools, secularization of society, too liberal SCOTUS, demonization of liberals like the Clintons and Obama, etc. are in my experience not as dense as their stance might portend; there had to be some “sacred” reason(s) they would knowingly be supportive and culpable of the bigotry, immorality, and intellectual bankruptcy of Don of the present White House. Finally, I have discovered at least one such reason.
Up until recently all the clues I had from evangelical Christian friends and family, always reluctant to talk politics and/or religion with me, were comments like “God moves in mysterious ways!” (from the hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper (1774), based upon Romans 11:33) or “Hillary is evil!” Then my friend and former student Dr. John Andrews sent me a link entitled “The Political Theology of Trump” by Adam Kotsko, which begins with the question “Why do evangelical Christians support Trump?” Kotsko, who is apparently white and an evangelical Christian, pointed out something concerning the Old Testament that “clicked” with my life-long experience with white evangelical Christians. Turns out, for some white evangelicals, to support Trump is to support God’s will; to not support Trump is to work against God’s plan!
First, let’s be clear about whom I’m writing. I am not talking about all Christians; I am not talking about all evangelicals; I am not talking about all white Christians. I am talking about a minority within a minority within a minority…, like the innermost figure in a Russian matryoshka doll, or nesting doll, or stacking doll. This minority group is mightily qualified and nuanced. White, Protestant, evangelical, biblical literalist, apocalyptic, and often holier-than-anyone-else describes this group well. I need an acronym to cover efficiently all these qualifications — White, Evangelical, Protestant, Christian, biblical LiteralistS, or WEPCLS, pronounced “wep-cils.” (I’ve not included the nuance of politically conservative, which I assume is obvious.) WEPCLS vote for and support Trump with hypocrisy so “huge” and blatant they seem unaware of it, like not seeing the forest for the trees.
Here in the “Bible belt” part of Texas, it may not be apparent that the WEPCLS constitute a minority. After all, the large First Baptist Church of Dallas with Dr. Robert Jeffress, well-known Trump supporter, as pastor, is seen as a beacon of WEPCLS values. But even this congregation is not 100% WEPCLS. When all Christians nationwide and worldwide are taken into consideration, then even we Protestant Texans can see WEPCLS as a minority.
Second, the reason something “clicked” about the Old Testament with me is that, for those of you who don’t already know, I’ve lived my whole life among WEPCLS; many of my friends and family are WEPCLS and, therefore, voted for Trump. (Personally, I “got” the “W” in the acronym down pat! 23 and me showed me to be Scots-Irish, English, French, German, and Scandinavian; I’m so white I squeak!) The denomination in which I grew up, Southern Baptist, was and is replete with WEPCLS; not all Southern Baptists are WEPCLS, but every congregation in which I have been a member contained and contains not a few WEPCLS. Why did I not over the years join the WEPCLS? Because, briefly, I early on asked questions answers to which were NOT “Because the Bible said so,” “Because the Church, Sunday School teacher, pastor, your parents, etc. say so,” “Just because,” “Because God made it that way,” “You shouldn’t ask such things,” etc. These woefully inadequate and empty answers made me take a closer look at the Bible, and by the time I went to college I had read both testaments and began to see why so much of Scripture was not the subject of sermons or Sunday School lessons. (See Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012] on my website www.ronniejhastings.com) In short, I did not become a member of WEPCLS in large part because I did not become a Biblical literalist, and over time the idea of evangelizing others based upon faith that had few if any answers added to the social divisiveness around me — added to the “us vs. them” syndrome, the bane of all religions.
In addition to WEPCLS’s Biblical literalism, which is the clue to their support of Trump, it is my opinion the WEPCLS have sold their birthright from the Reformation with their emphasis on conversion and conformity. The Reformation gave birth, it seems to me, to a Protestantism wherein congregations are not groups of sheep (pew warmers) led by shepherds (the clergy), but, rather, are groups of meritocratic believers, each one of which has his/her own pathway and relationship to God. Moreover, WEPCLS have turned their backs on the great gift of the Enlightenment to everyone, including all believers — that everything is open to question, including this statement; there are no intellectual taboos. The human mind is free to question any- and everything, in the fine traditions of Job and doubting Thomas. It has not been that long ago a WEPCLS friend of mine referenced Martin Luther negatively because the Reformer was not godly enough and blamed the Enlightenment for the blatant secularism of today. To ignore both the Reformation and the Enlightenment categorizes the WEPCLS as woefully anachronistic — downright medieval even.
Incidentally, the mixing of politics and religion by so many WEPCLS (an attack on separation of church and state) is very unsettling because it is so un-American. As Jon Meacham, renowned American historian, said in his book American Gospel (2006, Random House pbk., ISBN 978-0-8129-7666-3) regarding the Founders’ view of the relationship between the new nation and Christianity, “The preponderance of historical evidence….suggests that the nation was not ‘Christian’ but rather a place of people whose experience with religious violence and the burdens of established churches led them to view religious liberty as one of humankind’s natural rights — a right as natural and as significant as those of thought and expression.” (p. 84) (See also my The United States of America — A Christian Nation? [June 2012] at www.ronniejhastings.com.)
Back to the clue of why WEPCLS support Trump. If one is a Biblical literalist, chances are you have to hold the Bible as your sole source of truth — the source of true science (creationism and intelligent design) and of true history (Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Adam and Eve were actual historical beings, Joshua actually commanded the sun to stop in the sky, Mary of Nazareth was impregnated through some form of parthenogenesis, Jesus was resurrected back to life after crucifixion, etc., etc.). As time went on it was to me like adult Biblical literalists actually believe Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Satan, the Easter bunny, ghosts, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Uncle Sam all exist just like the live friends and family that surround them instead of as concepts in their heads. As I studied epistemology in college, it became obvious one could justify and believe in literally anything through faith. Evidence-based truth is non-applicable to a Biblical literalist, and therefore is not applicable to WEPCLS.
Eventually, I became a physicist who likes to teach, instead of a WEPCLS. This post represents how the teacher in me compels me to pass on knowledge as best we know it at the present; to not be skeptical as all good scientists should be, and to not pass on what evidence-based skepticism cannot “shoot down” as all good teachers should do, is for me to fail my family, my friends, and all my fellow homo sapiens.
Recalling my days as a Sunday School teacher who relished the rare lessons from the “histories” of the Old Testament (like I & II Kings and I & II Chronicles), let me give you in brief outline the Biblical history that animates the WEPCLS (especially if Old Testament history is not your cup of tea):
1.) After the reigns of kings David and Solomon, the Israelite kingdom (consisting of the 12 tribes associated with the 12 sons of Jacob) split in twain, 10 tribes in the north known as Israel and 2 tribes in the south (close to Jerusalem) known as Judah. Each new kingdom had its own line of kings. The split occurred around 930 BCE (Before Common Era) or B.C. (Before Christ).
2.) Beginning about 740 BCE, the Assyrian Empire, which replaced the “Old” Babylonian Empire, invaded and overran the northern kingdom of 10-tribe Israel over some 20 years under the Assyrian kings Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul), Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, and Sennacherib. The 10 tribes were scattered in an Israelite diaspora and became known as the “lost tribes” of Israel. Assyria replaced the displaced Israelites with other peoples from the wider Mesopotamian region who became known by New Testament times as Samaritans. Sennacherib tried unsuccessfully to conquer 2-tribe Judah in the south, being killed by his sons. These events are covered in II Kings, Chaps. 15, 17, & 18, in I Chronicles Chap. 5, and in II Chronicles Chaps. 15, 30, & 31. The prophet known as “early Isaiah” from the 1st of three sections of the book of Isaiah is the major “prophet of record.”
3.) The Assyrian Empire was replaced by the “New” Babylonian Empire under King Nebuchadnezzar II and by 605 BCE the kingdom of Judah was succumbing to Babylon in the form of three deportations of Jews to Babylon in the years 605-598 BCE, 598-597 BCE, and 588-587 BCE, the third resulting in the Babylonian Captivity from 586-538 BCE following the siege and fall of Jerusalem in July and August of 587 BCE, during which Solomon’s Temple was destroyed. The end of II Kings and II Chronicles record the fall of Judah, and the Book of Jeremiah, Chaps. 39-43 offers the prophetic perspective (along with the book of Ezekiel), with the addition of the books of Ezra and the first six chapters of the book of Daniel.
4.) After Cyrus the Great of Persia captured Babylon, ending the Babylonian Empire and beginning the Persian Empire in 539 BCE, the Jews in exile in Babylon were allowed by Cyrus to return to Jerusalem in 538 BCE and eventually rebuild the Temple (II Chronicles 36:22-23 and “later” Isaiah). The book of Daniel records Cyrus’ (and, later, Darius I’s) role in the return and the book of Ezra reports the construction of the second Temple in Jerusalem begun around 537 BCE. Construction, toward which contributions by Nehemiah were incorporated with Ezra, lasted at least until 516 BCE.
The Biblical histories and books of the prophets concerning the historical events described in 2.) through 4.) above show a “divine pattern” which WEPCLS have seized upon. The great cataclysms brought upon the ancient Hebrews after Solomon were orchestrated by God as punishment for the sins (turning from God) of His Chosen People, and, moreover, God used pagan, heathen kings like Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar to punish His people and a pagan heathen king like Cyrus for the restoration of His people. For instance, Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant in Jeremiah 25:9 and is promised that the Babylonian’s land will be wasted only two verses later (Jeremiah 25:11). Later Isaiah calls Cyrus God’s “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1) and promises Cyrus God’s divine favor (Isaiah 44:28 & 45:13), while nonetheless declaring that Cyrus “does not know” God (Isaiah 45:4).
In other words, the WEPCLS have been swept up in the “divine revelation” or “special knowledge” that whatever happened to the ancient Hebrews (all the death, destruction, and utter humiliation), God was always in control of both punishment and reward, using unGodly evil empires as his tools to chastise His wayward “children.” Being Biblical literal-ists, the WEPCLS “naturally” transfer these Old Testament revelations to the present day, seeing “evil” Trump as God’s tool to punish the secular world for resisting God’s plan according to the interpretations of the WEPCLS. Trump as God’s tool is WEPCLS’s “special knowledge” through which all their issues like abortion will be “taken care of” without regard to the pagan, heathen, and evil attributes of that tool — just like the pagan, heathen, and evil actions of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian rulers were disregarded by the prophets.
Trump is a tool all right, but not God’s tool.
Before applying “higher” Biblical criticism (or just biblical criticism) to WEPCLS’s interpretation of scripture, look at the conundrum the WEPCLS have created for themselves. Trump is so unGodly the absurdity that evil can be a tool of good is somehow proof that this must be, in the end, of God; Trump must be God’s President. And the more unGodly the tool, the greater proof that the tool must be of God! It reminds me of the Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard’s assertion that the absurdity of accepting Jesus as God on nothing but pure, blind faith is all the more reason for taking the leap of faith and accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and personal Savior. Or, on a more mundane level, it reminds me of the creationist scientist on the banks of the Paluxy River announcing that the absence of human prints in the Cretaceous limestone alongside those of dinosaurs must INCREASE the probability that human prints ARE to be found; in other words, absence of evidence means presence of evidence! One can’t help but think of an Orwellian “double-speak” mantra “Bad is good!” and “Good is bad!”
Faith, like falling in love, is irrational, but falling in love is not bat-shit crazy!
The epistemological problem with faith-based religion is that any one religious belief cannot be shown to be better or worse than any other. By faith the WEPCLS believe the Bible is the Word of God established as everlasting truth about 1600 years ago (when the biblical canon was finally hammered out by acceptance of some books and rejection of others). For them truth is “set in concrete,” never to be altered by facts thereafter. despite the uncomfortable truth that God’s “concrete” of Jesus being God in the Trinity was not established as truth until about 400 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. What became amazing to me is that such canonization into unmoving, unchanging truth can only be defended by ignoring hundreds of years of new facts. If I were living in Europe around 1500, the fact that the Bible does not record the existence of a whole New World of two huge continents would make me revisit the rigidity of my faith and my beliefs. Nor does scripture mention all the scientific facts that evolve with ever-increasing evidence year after year, because the Bible is pre-scientific and written way before widespread literacy.
Because Christianity is “set” in history for biblical literalists, and because history has become a forensic science, Christians such as the WEPCLS do not have history on their side, just as all other believers who believe solely on faith. The forensic science of biblical criticism shows that literalists such as the WEPCLS do not have to become atheists or agnostics if they seek the most reasonable and probable view of what must have happened in the past for the Bible as we know it today to be in our hands. They must accept more historical facts than they presently do — facts that are compatible with as objective a view of the past as possible, facts that conjure the broadest agreement across Christendom, facts that place Christians in a majority armed with modern techniques of forensic history and forensic science, like archaeology and the history of Judaeo-Christian scripture (See the Dec. 2018 issue of National Geographic).
What then does biblical criticism have to say about WEPCLS’s interpretation of the Old Testament stories involving Assyria, Babylon, and Persia? Note the span of years covered by the events 1.) through 4.) above — essentially 930 BCE to 516 BCE. If you look at faith-based, conservative listings of the books of the Bible covering this span (I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah) and when they were written, you would be told the books were written contemporaneously with or soon after the events with which they deal. But biblical criticism, which we have had since the 19th century or earlier, is, through archaeology and study of the origin of scripture (Dec. 2018 National Geographic), finding that they were all written well after the events as rationalizations or apologetics for the tribulations of what are supposed to be God’s Chosen People who He loves. (To say God employed “tough love” dealing with the ancient Israelites is a gross understatement indeed!) For a fairly well-established example, the book of Daniel was not written during or soon after the Babylonian Captivity or exile (586-538 BCE), but rather was written in the 2nd century BCE, circa 165 BCE. Further, it appears the author of the book of Daniel was writing about the 2nd century persecution of the Jews under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes using the prior persecution of the exile as a cover. The same dating fraud is committed concerning the books of the New Testament, especially the Gospels. Faith-based conservatives such as the WEPCLS want the Gospels written well before the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in 62-70 CE (Common Era or A.D. , anno Domini), as close to the life of Jesus as say, Paul’s letters. But biblical criticism based upon historical research shows the Gospels to be written during or after the Revolt (See Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012]).
As we enter the 21st century, we know much, much more about the origins of the Bible than ever. What is needed in Christian scholarship of the scriptures is more polemics, not more apologetics. For WEPCLS to ignore this new wealth of historical findings for the sake of their medieval-like literalism is intellectually anachronistic and irresponsible. Consequently, the WEPCLS give non-Christians a bad name, as many non-Christians erroneously think WEPCLS represents all Christians.
Epistemologically, the WEPCLS commit the intellectual fraud of decontextualization, the practice of plucking a source out of its context so that its plucked state of being ripped from historical references makes it applicable to any time whatsoever, even a time bearing no relationship to its original intended applicability. The WEPCLS have decontextualized much of the histories and major prophets of the Old Testament so that they can be used for their conservative, Trinitarian, evangelistic purposes. Higher Biblical criticism has exposed their attempts to relate Old Testament references to Old Testament historical individuals as being references to the coming of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To relate God’s use of Godless leaders in the Old Testament to today’s situation is not the WEPCLS’s first “fraudulent rodeo.”
I urge everyone in Christendom to apply biblical criticism to expose WEPCLS as a corrosive influence to Christian evangelism. I urge believers of all religions to use the same techniques of biblical criticism to their own faith-based creeds and/or practices. I urge non-believers to apply these same techniques to combat the politicization of theologies of organized religions.
My own experience in biblical criticism suggests it does not necessarily mean the WEPCLS retreat further from intellectual inquiry nor mean that it drives one away from Biblical consideration forever. The Bible itself often is all that is needed for its foibles to be exposed; often the Bible is its own best critic. For instance, I found that by comparing pre-exile-written II Samuel 24:1 with post-exile-written I Chronicles 21:1, one discovers how the concept of Satan, a parallel to the Zoroastrian (Persian) evil co-god Ahriman (counterpart to the good god Ahura Mazda), was introduced into Judaism by the exile (and later into Christianity). Calling upon other sources from archaeology, the Christian scrolls found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt show that there were at least 21 possible Gospels, not 4. These scrolls also show how the early Church bishops strove mightily to suppress and destroy these “lost” Gospels and also perpetuated the besmirching of Mary Magdalene’s character. To my surprise, when I placed Genesis 1 in its literary context, I saw it was not a history of the beginning of the world at all, but, rather, a comparison of the “superior” Hebrew Creator god with the “inferior” gods of neighboring peoples; my respect for Genesis 1 has risen considerably. Biblical criticism opens your mind to broader horizons not suggested by the Church, and helps to understand the archaeological findings relating to ancient religions.
Biblical criticism and its related readings applied to consensus world history has led me to work through a “most probable” scenario of how to me Christianity came into human history (Read in order on my website www.ronniejhastings.com Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012], Sorting Out Constantine I The Great and His Momma Feb., 2015], Sorting Out Jesus [July, 2015], At Last, A Probable Jesus [August, 2015], and Jesus — A Keeper [Sept., 2015]). Any person so “armed” and inclined can come up with their own scenario as well or better than I.
Regarding this matter of Biblical or biblical proportions and votes for Trump, I hope I have not failed my family, my friends, or my entire species in passing on what I see as the best of a growing majority consensus.