Posted on March 23, 2017
Raised as a main-stream Christian, I’ve always had a hard time understanding how right-wingers can think they are Christians, let alone thinking that main-streamers are not. One important mechanism goes like this:
1. They DEFINE “Christian” as a believer that
a. Jesus is God;
b. the Bible reveals the truth about Jesus; and
c. to be born-again (i.e. receiving adult awareness that Jesus is God and Jesus is the pathway to heaven) and to repent one’s sins is to be guaranteed a place in heaven.
2. Since they believe these things (more accurately, they believe that they believe these things) they are Christians.
Moreover, as long as they adhere to these beliefs they are still Christians no matter what terrible sins they may commit
3. Since mainstream churches define “Christian” differently, they are not Christian.
In mainstream Protestantism, being a Christian is NOT a matter of creed, i.e. specified beliefs. Instead it is a matter of being fully open to Jesus’s message. Part of Jesus’s message included an astringent distrust of creedal faiths–remember all that stuff about Sadducees and Pharisees?
So the notion of faith is completely different:
right-wing faith is a closed set of verbalized beliefs.
mainstream faith is openness to God and to experiences of the world God made.
Interestingly, both main-stream and right-wing Protestants are theologically agreed on salvation by faith, not works. In other words the path to heaven depends on having faith in Christ, not on taking Christian actions. However they have diametrically opposed ideas as to what “faith” actually means–openness versus closure. (Main-streamers add the observation that your faith is hardly real if it does not lead to good actions.)
Since most of the Protestant right believe they will go to heaven if they have a correct creed and repent of their sins, they are wonderfully secure and happy in their lives. They can do anything they want, so long as they do sincerely repent before they die. Moreover, since they have repented many times before, they feel secure in the belief that they can repent again in good time. Therefore deep down they believe they can give in to any temptation and still go to heaven (unlike the rest of us, because we have the wrong creed).
Therefore when you accuse them of the sins of hypocrisy and cheap grace and arrogance and self-centeredness and ingroupism which all of this implies, they will typically reply “Yes, I admit that I am a sinner. We are all sinners. However I do accept Christ’s message, and therefore I can hope to be saved.”
Much like the “all lives matter” movement, they seemingly acknowledge the point while swallowing it up in vaporware.
So how could the soi-disant Christians support an atheist like Trump?
1. Trump has not directly said he is an atheist, so they can persuade themselves that Trump can still be saved.
2. They are convinced that the entire “conservative” agenda reflects God’s will. Trump was (and on many things, still is) an unknown factor on many issues, which makes him the lesser evil. On many other issues he is on the “conservative” side, which puts him on God’s side.
3. He was the choice of the party whose primaries they worked in, which demonstrated that it was God’s will that he should run.
4. Importantly, Trump supports allowing churches to endorse candidates.
5. In case all else fails and supporting Trump was a sin, they will repent and God will forgive.
More important than religiosity, however, is the underlying psychology of ressentiment and identity politics. Trump was the candidate who expresses the status anxiety and rage that has always fueled the politization of fundamentalist churches.