The perils of plutocracy should be obvious, but clearly they’re not.This is somewhat ironic among its biblical fan base, which seems to be where the GOP draws its energy.As the truth about Brett Kavanaugh becomes public knowledge, his religious supporters dig in their heels and blame the victims.As one of the many who grew up far from privilege I found Shamus Khan’s analysis in the Washington Post eye-opening.Khan makes the case that those who grow up in rich families and attend the “best schools” are endowed with the constantly reinforced message that the rules do not apply to them.They can get away with things that others cannot and, in general, they are let off the hook for things that lead to imprisonment for other citizens.What’s surprising is the Bible-thumpers applaud this.
It also explains more than Kavanaugh.Trump is also a child of privilege and his entire term in office so far has been one of personal exceptionalism.Many actual presidents were impeached or censured for acts far less offensive than those 45 commits.The wealthy, however, are not held accountable.Where is the Bible when we need it?The Good Book is no friend to those who enjoy great riches.In fact, one of the most constant refrains of Scripture is that against the privileged.With great wealth comes great responsibility—the obligation to help those less fortunate.The idea of getting away with what you can is hardly evangelical.
If the literalists can overlook the misuse of wealth, it is still more surprising that they can pardon lying.Since the rules do not apply to the privileged, their own narrative bears the conviction of righteousness.They can’t have made a mistake since their money proves them right.Morality can be counted in dollars and cents.It is for those of the underclasses to come up with high-minded ideals and hold themselves to them.Wealth is its own justification.Back in the days when America was young, the French lost patience with governance by the elites.But then, the Fundamentalist class didn’t have much of a voice then.It was the Age of Reason.An Age out of which we’ve apparently grown.Fake news, alternative facts, heavy-drinking frat boy justices, and women-groping presidents.Can we not see the parallels with the other great plutocracy of the Roman Empire?Ironically, it survives today only in the form of the church it sanctioned.
As Evangelicals continue their unflinching support for Trump, Rudy Giuliani has at last said something that rings true with these “Christians.”According to a Washington Post story 45’s lawyer declared, “Truth isn’t truth.”This was regarding the Russia probe, something that would’ve led to the ouster of any real president by now.We’re all used to Trump’s constant state of obfuscation after all these long months, and the former mayor of New York has just come clean—truth is what we want it to be, no more, no less.It is a meaningless word, a chimera.If the son of god in the White House has broken the law (and he has) then the truth is there’s no law to be broken.Democracy is just a made-up word in the hands of the Republican Party.
Now, I don’t have much truck with politicians.Leopards, according to a certain book, can’t change their spots.Nevertheless, Evangelicals should object to Giuliani’s direct assault on their sacred text.The Good Book, you see, is all about “the truth.”But the truth isn’t the truth.When it claims that Jesus died to atone for your sins, that can’t be the truth because the truth isn’t.The only truth is what Trump personally wants.And the GOP won’t lift a finger to stop him.Long ago it was clear that the party of Lincoln had abandoned the will of the people they’re elected to lead, but if there were truth we’d see the deep, stinking muck of corruption everywhere within its doors.At least you’d expect the neat and clean Christians to object.
A certain man about two millennia ago said, according to the Book, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”But Rudy says “Truth isn’t truth.”The Beatles said they were more popular than Jesus and the public revolted.Rudy says Trump has more authority than Jesus and the Evangelicals cheer.The capacity for untruth has always been part of politics.Most politicians know to lie discreetly, when fact-checking will reveal some ambiguity.Now the gospel-truth is whatever comes from the unholy mouth of Trump.There is no truth.There are alternative facts.There’s fake news.Surely the Prince of Peace wouldn’t have cancelled a military parade.Meanwhile someone once said “the truth will set you free.”The great Giuliani has informed us, however, that there is no truth.And if truth isn’t truth, there’s no hope of freedom.At least according to a guy named Jesus, whoever he may be.
If a horse can be made a senator, surely an ass can be made a president.History can be unkind to those who think too highly of themselves.It’s a horse of a different color than Incitatus that’s on my mind today.This past week I read a news story in the Washington Post about Justice (there may be some double-meanings here, so hold onto your horses).Justice used to be called Shadow, and Shadow was an abused horse.Justice is now suing his former owner.The story explores the question of whether animals can sue.As a vegan for moral reasons I can see the point, but I also have to wonder how you defend those who have no voice to be heard, kinda like the electorate in the sham of a democracy.How do we know what a horse really wants?
If horses could draw or sculpt, Xenophanes quipped, their gods would look like horses.Asses, it stands to reason, worship one of their own.Animals should have rights, but the difficult question falls onto our species—how do we know what they want?Anyone whose spent time with animals knows that they think.I can see a cat in a neighbor’s yard from my window.Separated by a flimsy-looking hurricane fence is the next yard over where two large dogs often prowl.If the cat and dogs happen to be out at the same time, there will be barking and braying but the cat will not appear to show concern.The way my heart hammers at those barks, however, I have to suppose my feline friend also feels a bit of fear at the threat.The cat must decide how to act, but it also must know that a barely visible fence keeps the canines at bay.
What does Justice want?It’s a loaded question, for sure.As much as we wish there might be, there is no Lorax to speak for the trees.Or horses.Nevertheless it’s obvious that horses think.Perhaps like Job, Justice wondered why he was being punished after being a good horse.The church magnanimously grants that animals cannot sin, after all.One must wonder, however, about breeds developed by human engineering to be destructive, but that’s another parable.While Justice might be given a day in court, and might win a cozy stall and protection from the elements, those of use bound by language will never know if justice has been served.The limitation is our own.Just ask Balaam.
They’re going to look pretty ridiculous when this is all over.Like sheep without a shepherd.Evangelicals, I mean.The fact is they’ve jettisoned everything they stood for to support a pseudo-president constitutionally incapable of telling the truth and now they must be wondering about what they’ve lost along the way.Stories in “liberal” sources such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Atlantic have raised the question repeatedly—why don’t Evangelicals hold Trump to the same standard they hold all other people?His backing and filling have been obvious to anyone capable of thought, and yet the bestselling books in America for the past two weeks have been tomes about how the liberals are lying.What’s an Evangelical to do when truth has lost its meaning?
While I was still an Evangelical, in college, we debated endlessly how to get at Truth with a capital “T.”No matter how you sliced it, diced it, or even julienned it, Truth had to come from the Bible somehow.Two things the Good Book was against unequivocally were lying and adultery.Who’d have thought Southern Baptists would be standing in line to change divine law, by their own definition?And for what purpose?To support a man who clearly doesn’t share their values, and shows it daily.These former Communist-haters now cozy up to Russia with a familiarity that suggests Trump isn’t the only one sleeping around.As a former Evangelical, I have to wonder whatever happened to the concept of the double standard.This was never considered right or fair or biblical.Now it’s all three.
Just this past week the Washington Post ran a story about an Evangelical pastor preaching a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments.Somehow they’ve made their way from courthouse lawns into churches, it seems.The week he reached adultery, he didn’t know what to say to his Trump-supporting flock.He himself supports a leader whose told an average of hundreds of lies per day since January of last year.Among them allegations that he didn’t commit adultery.Or pay to have it covered up.Or know that his lawyer had paid to cover it up.But when said lawyer realizes that the shepherd doesn’t care about sheep—can’t even find one in a paddock—he suddenly remembers that there is Truth with a capital “T.”But Evangelicals don’t have to listen to anyone named Cohen.After all, they have wool in their ears.Just don’t read what the Good Book says about hearing what you want to hear.What’ve they lost?Not just their shepherd, but their very souls.
When death’s not the final word, it’s hard to argue.This is such a basic level of disagreement between religions and culture that it may be impossible to avoid conflict.Not that I condone it, but a couple in Oregon, members of the Followers of Christ Church, let their newborn die rather than seek medical attention, according to a Washington Post article.I have to admit that the Followers of Christ is a sect of which I’d never heard—there are thousands of such groups—but I’m guessing that at the base of their refusal to seek help was a deeply held belief in the afterlife.Almost impossible to comprehend unless you’ve accepted it profoundly yourself, this single teaching is a game changer.The child who dies, although tragic from our perspective, has not, in the eyes of a religion transcending death, lost anything.
It’s sometimes difficult for us to to realize just how radical a teaching Christianity was in its early days.The myth of the martyrs may well have been overblown, but the fact is here was a sect that didn’t fear death like the vast majority of people do.Resurrection is a powerful concept.Those who truly believe in it have nothing to fear.Modern-day sects that take this seriously may respond quite differently to crises than “normal” religions.In a situation Niebuhr would’ve recognized, this “Christ against culture” outlook is never easily resolved.True believers will accept punishment on the part of secular authorities as a form of martyrdom.The fear of death on the part of the vast majority of people outweighs, I suspect, professed belief in the afterlife.
Place the current political climate into the mix and the colors will become even more vivid.Extremism is the flavor of the day.Mainstream Christianity, for all of its problems, has sought a balance between accepting the benefits of medical science—the social acknowledgment that taking an infant’s life is inherently unfair and unjust—and an official belief in an afterlife.It allows for a fairly comfortable existence of accepting belief without becoming the radical threat to a materialistic society that more extreme sects represent.In a nation where no controls exist because of the power of office favors those who believe in nothing so much as themselves, and even the rhetoric of right to life becomes meaningless.Sects and violence, to go back to my roots, sleep peacefully side by side.And when awakened, the right to be conceived can’t be extended to life beyond the womb for those who believe death’s not the final word.
Call me Ishmael. There was a time when I heard about archaeological discoveries impacting the Bible soon after they were made. Now I have to wait until they appear in the paper, just like everybody else. When I saw a story asking if a recently found statue head might be that of Jezebel’s husband a number of things occurred to me. First of all, how cool is it that a king is referred to as the husband of a more famous wife? Well, I suppose Jezebel is infamous, but as the Washington Post article I read indicated, some biblical scholars are inclined to view her more sympathetically as a strong woman in a patriarchal morass. Seems like something we should be able to understand these days.
Another issue is that underlying bugbear of wanting to prove the Bible true. There is little doubt that Jezebel’s husband, a king by the name of Ahab, existed. Quite apart from the Bible he is historically attested—one of the earliest biblical characters to have received outside verification. If he actually struggled with a prophet named Elijah or not, we can’t know. In any case, the non-talking head of the statue looks like just any other pre-Roman guy with a crown. The article wistfully wishes the rest of the statue could be found, but one thing that we know from ancient iconography is that ancient figures, be they gods or heroes, are seldom inscribed. As I long ago argued about Asherah, without definitive iconic symbols to identify them, ancient images must remain ambiguous.
What would iconically identify good old Ahab? Certainly not a white whale—it’s far too early for that. He was represented in the book of Kings as the worst monarch Israel ever had. Politically, however, he seems to have been somewhat successful. Would he have been represented with the grapes of Naboth’s vineyard? Or, like a saint, holding the arrow that eventually slew him in his chariot? Ahab is a mystery to us. Unlike Melville’s version, he’s a man eclipsed by those in his life, notably the prophet Elijah and his wife Jezebel. Although the latter’s been baptized into the acceptable form Isabel, her name is synonymous with being a woman who knows what she wants. In the biblical world her main crime was being born into a family who worshipped Baal. The difference between her day and ours is that if a Republican president declared himself a Baal worshipper, evangelicals would cheer and joyfully follow along. Rachel, after all, cannot stop mourning her lost children.
Unless you know what it’s like to face life with no real prospects beyond making it to Heaven when you die, you can’t understand evangelical angst. That last phrase might seem odd to you. Aren’t evangelicals uber-smiley, happy people angry over the way society’s going? Yes and no. Many of them were raised (or converted into) a faith that holds out no hope for this world and that constantly reinforces the idea that what we like is bad. Having grown up in that world, I knew what it was like to be hoodwinked by an evangelist. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but he was famous. He came to my small town and packed a local Methodist Church. During his rambling, long sermon, he had us afraid for Hell burning under our feet. Grateful that we’d just managed to avoid it, he announced there would be three collections that night: the first was your normal tithe. The second time the plates came around you were to empty your pockets and purses of all change. The third time, you were to contribute to his private jet. If you gave over a thousand dollars your name would be inscribed on a plaque inside.
Almost as if nothing has changed in the decades since then, a Washington Post story expresses amazement that evangelist Jesse Duplantis is asking his followers for a fourth private jet. Uncomprehending, the world doesn’t show much curiosity as to why otherwise intelligent people would give to what is so obviously a scam. Or why such people would vote for Trump. The academic world doesn’t understand evangelical angst. As I sat in that audience that night, a poor kid from a poverty-level family, I fervently wished I had more money to give. Until he asked for his plane. My young doubts crept in, for I had more angst than most other evangelicals I knew. Was this really the Gospel?
Later I saw him on television. His personal mansion had literal streets of gold. Jesus, he said, wanted us to get ready for Heaven right here on earth. Did this turn his followers against him? Decidedly not. In fact, he may have believed it himself. You see, neuroscientists have learned that our brains have the evolved capacity to hold and dismiss reason simultaneously, for strong emotional stimuli. Sex, for example, or music. Or religion. These can motivate people beyond the realm of logic, and they often do. Evangelical angst says you’re not buying a scam artist a jet to spread the Gospel, it says your trying to avoid Hell. Rational or not. And that, it seems to me, is more than adequate ground for evangelical angst.