The Emerging Messianic Impulse of Evangelical Christianity

Faith is an indispensable component of the human experience. 

Faith can be religious or humanistic, spiritual or even political, but when faith goes to the wayside, hope is lost, despair creeps in, and life seems impossible.

The claim that faith can be political does not mean that faith should be political. Politics is not worthy of our ultimate concern. It is worthy of serious concern, but politics should always be subordinate to a higher order.

Faith must grip our whole being, starting in the center and stretching out to every thought, word, and deed—that is the nature of ultimacy. A concern is ultimate, and therefore worthy of faith, only when all other affairs are in its service.

"God" is the most common word used to symbolize ultimacy. This symbol is useful because it includes its own criticism. Part and parcel of the symbol "God" is an understanding that it references the ineffable—that the reality to which it points is beyond words, including the word "God." Thus, it encourages us to proceed in awe and silence, the path of prayer and meditation.

Fundamentalism makes an idol of the word. It hangs onto every word, rather than the transcendent reality those words triangulate. In this way, literalism denies "God." It creates a vacuum in the human experience, which secondary concerns exploit. Money, fame, and politics battle for the heart of man. The victor becomes a false idol, a god.

When the throne of ultimacy is usurped by politics, the religious or spiritual impulse becomes an agent of the state or the party. Politics becomes a god or objects of faith. This is communism and fascism—and I believe history will add to this list, Trumpism.

Evangelical Christianity in America mistook the word for the reality the word symbolized, and in so doing displaced real power. It lost the vibrant spark that brings religion and spirituality to life. It filled this void with the Republican party, which provided the illusion of power. They sang the right hymns at election time, but in intervals pursued a traditional conservative agenda, resisting the lesser angels emerging from the evangelical rebellion. Illusions are immediately gratifying but ultimately disappointing, so the search continued for a concrete symbol of faith, growing darker and more desperate with each cycle.

Attempts to reconcile Donald Trump with classical evangelical Christianity are futile. He is an anathema to Christianity—a vulgar, thrice married, porn-star philandering billionaire with a history of preying on the weak. But it must be remembered: Rampant fundamentalism in evangelical Christianity chose words about god over the reality of God, leaving a power vacuum masked by a god-like mirage. This image is no longer outlined by the Gospels. It is defined by what now concerns evangelicals ultimately, politics.

The political iteration of evangelical Christianity is not accountable to Christian ethics; that was dislodged long ago. It is pure politics masked by the pretense of Christianity. There is no higher order morality to which it is subservient. It is politics of a base-nature, tribalism. When politics achieves ultimacy, it blindly serves the in-group, not principles. When evangelicals commit themselves ultimately to politics, with no accountability to the Gospels, the result is a form of identity politics beholden to racial, ethnic, and religious markers.  This is the banner Trump carries.

While Jordan Peterson and his "Intellectual Dark Web" brethren rail against a subculture of identity politics on college campuses, Donald Trump has stepped into a power vacuum on the right and seized a political party that controls thirty-three States, both Houses of Congress, and of course, the White House. But he didn't just take control of the party, he became the base's ultimate concern. He embodies the barbaric form of nationalism pushed by those lesser angels released from purgatory in the wake of evangelicalism's rebellion against Christianity. Donald Trump's aggressive, unwavering fidelity to white-Christian nationalism turned him into a concrete symbol of faith for many self-identified evangelicals. He stepped into the messianic silhouette they have been anticipating for years and brought it to life.

Trump is Christ-like in the sense that he has usurped the role of Christ in evangelical Christianity. He embodies the ultimate concern of evangelicals, and is, therefore, God-like. This is why efforts to check him with the example of Christ fall on deaf ears. It's not that evangelicals think Jesus would condone separating children from their families at the border. It's that Trump's policy of separating children from their families at the border better serves their goal of preventing immigrants from crossing the border. They don't care what Jesus would do because they are trying to do something else.

Evangelicals mistook words about God for the reality of God, displacing God and creating a vacuum, which was exploited by base instincts that Trump embodies. Jesus is the old exemplar. Trump is the new symbol of evangelical power, and white-Chrisitan nationalism is the emerging messianic impulse.

Faith, Belief, and Meaning

"Faith is pejoratively described as believing a claim that lacks evidence.

I would say (with William James) that faith is the capacity to act where doubt persists. This capacity is also called courage and willingness; faith is just its religious moniker. If we lift faith from its religious context, this capacity is revealed to be essential.
Imagine life without faith. What domain of life is immune to doubt? We hardly ever engage life armed with the sum of relevant facts. If action is precluded by doubt, life becomes gridlock. The capacity to act in the face of uncertainty is, therefore, as necessary to daily living as honesty and love. The propositions that inspire leaps of faith become beliefs when those leaps prove reliably beneficial. Beliefs are ideas that lack the evidentiary basis of facts, nevertheless routinely inform our actions because, by way of faith, they have proven themselves tried and true. In this sense, faith and belief function much like a “working hypothesis.” They bridge the gulf of doubt separating reason and the imperative to act.
The constellation of beliefs that guide an individual’s actions is commonly called their belief system. The mechanism of faith remains essential, but particular beliefs have a shelf life. Healthy beliefs inspire acts that lead us in the way of meaning. Inherited beliefs are useful only if they successfully navigate the present terrain. Beliefs expire when the problems of meaning they were adopted to address change. The beliefs we inherit from our ancestors are, for this reason, often outdated. This is why faith is so essential. It enables us to form new belief systems, draw fresh maps of meaning.
Doubt is chaos. It is a field of diasporic details, often conflicting, never cohesive, which breeds indecision and inaction. This is the obstacle faith overcomes. It leaps from one shore with no assurance of landing on another. When it finds dry land, belief builds a bridge. Belief mythologizes the gap, lending rhyme and reason, which serve as the basis for future passages. This rhyme and reason is an internal logic. It is a subjective truth, not a tapestry of objective facts. Faith and belief are not antithetical to reason. They paint a picture that maps onto reality, only that reality is our life, not the cosmos. Therefore, faith and belief appeal to an inner authority.
Hope dawns when chaos is transformed into order. In this moment the way forward is revealed. The frustration of being stranded is replaced by excitement and anticipation about the adventure ahead. This is the quintessence of the sensational variety of spiritual experience. At their core, these experiences are loaded with meaning. Faith takes the expeditionary leap. Belief then provides the internal rationale to bring the conscious mind along. Suddenly, a missing portion of our map is unlocked. An area of our life that was once a source of confusion now makes sense, which is to say, warrants action.
The internal spark that validates belief is the experience of meaning. This experience brings our beliefs to life. It animates them, moving us to vigorous action. And it is to this authority that our beliefs must appeal. Not religion or science, but meaning." ~ excerpted from "Triumph of Principles" (my upcoming book)

Finding Our Political Voice: I or We?

Democracy is beholden to the will of the people, not truth.

It is up to the people to align their will with truth. But what standard of truth will be used? The Truth or a truth?

When we speak from the perspective of "I" we honor our truth. This subjective truth consists of our past experiences, and the thoughts and feelings authored by those experiences. The perspective of "I" is frequently at odds with that of "we," the objective, collective, aggregated, statistical, data driven domain of scientific truth. To which should we pledge our allegiance?

The grieving parent unwilling to accept nothing short of an assault weapons ban and the gun owner that believes more guns make us safer, both speak from the perspective of "I," and both find themselves at odds with scientific data. But that does that negate their thoughts and opinions?

An assault weapons ban would surely help curb the epidemic of mass shooting that plague our schools. But data shows that assault weapons account for less than half of all mass shootings and only a tiny fraction of overall gun deaths. Still, if you just lost your daughter to an AR-15, an assault weapons ban speaks wholly and completely to the one effect of mass shootings with which you are most concerned: the loss of your daughter. It eliminates the weapon that took her life, and in so doing, provides some assurance that it won't happen again, which lends purpose to the otherwise meaningless death of your daughter.

Similarly, data shows that homes with guns are significantly more prone to suicide, and to a lesser degree, homicide. But gun owners frequently claim having a gun makes you safer. After all, they own guns and have not been victimized by suicide or homicide. However, this confidence comes from the perspective of "I." The data does not show that owning a gun guarantees homicide or suicide; the statistical perspective of "we" only says it makes it more likely, thereby, on average, not safer. If these studies were controlled by variables like mental health, proper training, and safe storage, then I am sure the numbers would lean more toward safer, which is a solid justification for stricter gun laws. Naturally, we all want to think we belong to the responsible group, and we might; but few people buy guns thinking, "This will make me more prone to suicide and homicide." Gun owners purchased guns thinking it would make them safer, not increase their risk of homicide or suicide.

It seems to me that both "I" perspectives have merits and faults. I think we have a responsibility to voice our truth, but in the body politic, all these I's have to become a "We." There has to be compromise. When our perspective hardens, it prevents us from solving problems. The hardened perspective of gun advocates tends to obstruct common sense regulations that would keep certain weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people, and moreover help ensure proper handling and storage. The hardened perspective of gun control advocates tends to forestall physical security measures that would make our schools safer for our children and their teachers.

It seems to me that when our will is informed by subjective truth, but ultimately tempered by the objective standard, compromise is more likely, and compromise is indispensable in a democracy. The hardened "I" leads to obstructionism. It gets us nowhere. America has to return to the perspective of "we," or no progress will be made on issues like guns and healthcare.

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