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God Bless Donald Trump

The role of religion in his electoral victory

Before we get to God, a fact: Hillary won. According to the latest count, she got nearly half a million more votes. And the only reason she will not be president is because of the anti-democratic Electoral College, which no one understands, no one can explain, and no one can defend.

Also, before we get to God, an acknowledgement: There is no one single reason that Trump won, but rather, many reasons, of varying significance, that all played out together to result in his triumph. These reasons are demographic, economic, cultural, and political, involving everything from apathy (nearly half of Americans didn’t vote) and age (young people don’t vote, older people do), to Russians working on Trump’s behalf (denied by Trump, but now revealed as true) and Rust Belt alienation (they’d have voted for Bernie, I suspect).

That said, I’d like to talk about the role of religion in all this. To be specific: strong believers in God, who have a lot to do with why Trump—a tycoon who brags about sexual assault, disparages women, mocks the disabled, fans the flames of racism, denigrates Muslims, caters to anti-Semites, stiffs his employees, and is endorsed by the KKK—is now the most powerful man in the world.

His victory was helped, in part, by the most religious among us: Evangelical Christians. Indeed, a full 81% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump. And of people that attend church at least once a week, 56% of them voted for Trump. Now, compare these percentages to the secular among us: only 26% of non-religious Americans supported Trump, and of people that never attend church, only 31% supported Trump. Thus— albeit with the notable exception of African Americans—the correlation is clear: The more strongly Christian among us, the more Trumpish, and the less strongly Christian, the less Trumpish.

         What’s the deal?

Hatred of women comes first to mind. While there are millions of good, ethical religious people who support women’s rights and equality, the Bible is unambiguous: women are second class citizens, at best. Not only does God establish male authority and decree that men must “rule over” women (Genesis 3:16), not only is Eve blamed for the Fall of Humanity (1 Timothy 2:14), not only are women considered men’s property (Exodus 20:17), but the very rape and murder of women is even approved by God (Numbers 31:7-18). Am I just cherry picking? Grabbing a few noxious quotes from Scripture to be polemical? Perhaps. After all, there are also a few passages from the Bible that speak to women’s equality and value (Galatian 3:28, for example). But even so, the noxious quotes I’ve chosen clearly have a strong, on-going effect in our world, for numerous sociological and psychological studies show that the stronger one’s faith in God, the more likely one is to be sexist. For example, nearly half of strongly religious Americans believe that a wife “should obey her husband,” but only 15% of secular Americana hold such a sentiment (What you Don’t Know About Religion, But Should, by Ryan Cragun, pg.113). And as a recent study published in Social Science Quarterly found that “Evangelical Protestantism…is a strong predictor of whether Americans will hold biases against female political leaders.” According to the study, “Evangelicals are nearly twice as likely (as other voters) to believe that men make better political leaders than women.”

And then there’s the deep hatred of gays and lesbians. Once again, God’s book is clear: homosexuals are wicked and evil (Romans 1) and homosexuals ought to be killed (Leviticus 18-20). While millions of ethical Christians do not subscribe to these toxicities, many do. Indeed, Mike Pence, our new Strongly Christian Vice President, is so full of hatred for gays and lesbians that in 2013 he voted for legislation that would imprison any homosexual couple who apply for a marriage license. And again, social science shows the degree to which Evangelicalism is a strong predictor of anti-gay and lesbian rights: a 2010 study found that while 70% of strongly Christian Americans think that homosexuality is “always wrong,” only 19% of secular Americans harbor such a view (Cragun, p.119). And a 2015 Gallup study found that while 65% of weekly church attenders find homosexuality “morally wrong,” only 15% of people who never attend church feel that way. Homosexuality is a completely natural, normal form of human love that harms no one. It is only the God of the Bible and His ardent followers who feel differently. And they have just voted loudly and clearly.

Then there’s the fear and hatred of other religions. While many Christians accept and even celebrate other faiths, Evangelical Christians generally insist that only they have and know the truth. All other religions are false at best, demonic at worst. Thus, one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism is that it slices the world up between us vs. them. The saved vs. the unsaved. Those who love Jesus and those who don’t. Those going to heaven and those slated for hell. This is a horrible, pernicious way to look at humanity. And it breeds intolerance. And that intolerance has been the banner of our new president’s campaign: maligning an entire religious group. It is irrational and dangerous, and it will be inaugurated in January to the grateful cheers of the most fervent followers of Jesus.

Another prominent feature of strong Christianity that factors into Trump’s election is its high correlation with authoritarianism. People who are very religious also tend to value obedience to authority much more than secular people, who tend to value independence of thought and personal autonomy. For instance, when parents were asked what characteristics they desire in their children, 49% of strong Christians said “obedience,” while only 25% of seculars said “obedience;” conversely, 59% of secular parents said “independence,” but only 40% of strongly religious adults did. (Cragun, p.88). Donald Trump is the most authoritarian candidate this country has seen in years. It is no accident that Evangelicals embrace him. Obedience to a male authority figure is in their spiritual and cultural DNA.

 Finally, ignorance and fear of science. Despite the fact that Evangelicals embrace the beneficial products of science—CAT scans, cochlear implants, flat screen TVs, ipods, etc.—they tend to reject any scientific claims or findings that challenge their faith. This matter is most crucial when it comes to climate change/global warming. It is real. It is happening. The evidence is overwhelming. And yet most Evangelicals deny it. And that denial is taking over Washington, D.C. The planetary repercussions will be devastating. And irreversible.

In short, there is a lot of blame to go around for Trump’s victory. But surely a significant portion falls upon the shoulders of the strongly religious, who sanctimoniously claim to be moral, who self-righteously claim to have “values,” and yet they just helped elect the embodiment of immorality into the presidency.

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I know that there are many who will find the tenor and tone of this blog post off-putting. They will say it is too snarky, too angry, and above all, disrespectful of people of faith. That may be so. Perhaps I need to be more accepting of people’s strong religious views and see the good in them. Perhaps my condemnation is just making things worse. I can see that may be so. Forgive me. But today, I’m finding it very hard to feel compassion or respect for ideologies that denigrate people of color, that embolden sexual harassers, that legitimize Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, that deny global warming, and that prop up a man who seems to have no values at all, save self-aggrandizement.

Are there decent, humane men and women of faith—truly ethical Christians—who do not share Trump’s poison? Of course. They are in abundance. But sadly, their more benign and benevolent version of Christianity did not win the day on November 9. 

To those millions of non-Evangelical Christians out there who adhere to the truly loving teachings of Jesus, and to my fellow secular Americans, I would ask you both to get active in the causes you care about, and fight to make this world more humane and more just in the face of Trump’s ascendancy. And to those 81% of Evangelicals who voted for Trump, I would ask you to look more critically at your beliefs and examine the ways in which they have helped put in power a man who—if his campaign promises are kept—will cause unimaginable harm. 

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