I was really struck by a line in David Cay Johnston’s excellent The Making of Donald Trump, “Trump says he does not see any reason to seek divine forgiveness because he has done nothing wrong in his entire life, an oft-made observation so at odds with the most basic teachings of Jesus that I am at a loss to explain any religious leader embracing him.”
I understand: one of the most basic tenets of Christianity is Original Sin. So Trump calling himself a Christian should be offensive to any Christian who takes their religion seriously. But add to that a man like Trump who so clearly has sinned again God, and it makes you want to bang you head against a wall. Still, I think I can explain: religion is politics.
Earlier today, I was looking at the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus forecast for the 2016 presidential election. Trump has a 99.3 percent chance of winning Utah. I understand: Utah is a red state and you may think it is no big deal. But back in March, there was a whole lot of reporting like Kira Lerner’s Mormons Detest Donald Trump. It wasn’t alone in reporting this idea:
Professor Bowman also said, “Trump, both in his private life and his public persona — his crassness, his affairs — all of that kind of thing offends Mormon sensibilities.”
Mormon’s Love Trump!
Real Clear Politics, however, has Trump leading Clinton by 14.7 percentage points.
Let’s contrast Trump to Clinton for a moment. She may be something of a hawk, but she certainly isn’t a demagogue who will persecute religious minorities. She certainly seems to have lived a socially conservative life. And despite what most people seem to think, Clinton is actually quite religious — a lifetime member of the United Methodist Church.
But the Mormons of Utah aren’t swayed by this, just as conservative Christians elsewhere aren’t. And I think they are right not to be so. Because their religion isn’t about Kolob or magic underpants or any of the other silly things that Mormons are rightfully known for. As much as I may look up into the night sky a marvel at existence, that just isn’t what religion is for the vast majority of people. For them, religion is social. And that means that it is political.
Religion Is Politics
So when a Catholic takes Communion, they don’t actually believe that the little wafer literally turns into the the body of Jesus — even if they tell you that they do. They are just making a public statement, “This is who I am in the society of which I am part.” And this is why American protestants went from not caring about abortion in 1970 to caring about little else in 1980.
This is a fact that we liberals — especially of my generation — miss when it comes to religion. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace and have a very hippy conception of the man. But that’s just one Jesus. It’s one I like: guy who didn’t care about hygiene, hung out with the dregs of society, and stood for the poor. But for conservative Christians, Jesus is more like Rambo, coming back to kick some ass.
Conservative Christians Should Love Trump
So we can’t claim that our own Jesus (Especially people like me who aren’t believers anyway!) is right and that others’ are wrong. None of it matters. I used to use the term “cultural Christian” as a pejorative. But I now tend to think that all religious (and areligious and anti-religious) belief is merely tribal signaling.
Donald Trump will cut taxes on the rich. Donald Trump will make it harder to get an abortion. Donald Trump will deregulate. These are the reasons that Mormons and other conservative Christians will vote for him. Religion is politics. And it always was. Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” I believe modern conservative Christians are working the opposite side, “Blessed are the powerful, for they shall inherit the earth.” I think they are wrong. In fact, I think they are evil. But I think they are quite right to support Donald Trump.