Hellishly Holy

Perhaps we wouldn’t dread presidential campaigns so much …


… if we looked at them as learning opportunities. They are, you know? … learning opportunities, whether we like it or not. Just think how much more we know now about the Bush family history (i.e., Grampa Prescott being a Nazi sympathizer) had not we wanted so desperately to find more reasons not to vote for George W. in 2000 and 2004.

Without the 2012 race, I personally would have never learned of Joseph Smith’s prophecy that a “white horse” would rise from within the LDS church to lead America out of a future tight spot and convert the U.S. into a Mormoncracy. (It doesn’t seem Mitt Romney was the same white horse about which Smith was talking.)

How many of us would have ever heard of Bill Ayres or Saul Alinski without Sarah Palin endlessly shrieking their names in 2008? How many would know about Gennifer Flowers, or October Surprises, or P.T 109 without them becoming focal points, however briefly, during one presidential campaign or another?

And I can tell you for damn sure that I personally would have never, ever learned of … or wanted to think about much … a certain by-product of a certain sexual activity that didn’t even have a proper name until Rick Santorum’s run for the Presidency four years ago.

Now, whether we are better off knowing these sorts of minutiae is a different question, as is if such historical tidbits have any relevance in either modern society or our daily lives. But as a man who believes all trivia is good trivia—as long as it is true trivia—I regard knowledge as valid for its own sake, regardless of how vital it is that we know it.

With this in mind, Tuesday morning, as I went crawling through the Internet looking for the after-shocks of the big debate, I learned for the first time the name and story of someone many people consider an important American voice and thinker. His name is Phillip Yancey and his story (and the reason I’d never heard of him before) is that he writes books—lots of ’em, evidently—from an evangelical Christian perspective. (Not exactly within my normal range of interests.)

The reason Mr. Yancey popped up on the Clinton/Trump radar screen is because, in a recent interview, he expressed his dismay that other evangelical Christians—and lots of ’em, obviously—were supporting Donald Trump for President.

As Mr. Yancey said: “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs, that they would somehow paint him as a hero, as someone that we could stand behind. … To choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.”

I have no reason to suspect Mr. Yancey isn’t being truthful about his confusion. It is indeed a shock to millions upon millions of us, Christian or not, how a man of Trump’s standards could have turned such sordidness into a serious knock on the front door of the White House.

But as to why so many of the most fevered among Christians desire him to ascend to the Iron Throne is less a mystery about Trump, as it is about those fevered Christians. There is nothing mysterious about Trump. He is as blatant as a fart and as overt as a skin disease. The things other people try to hide—marital infidelities, shirking his duties as an American citizen, fraudulent enterprises, ignorance, vulgarity, vanity, a vacuous intellect, etc.—Trump flaunts as though he were proudly flashing his genitals to a subway car full of schoolgirls.

But those “evangelical Christians” who have Mr. Yancey so perplexed, I am convinced, have a deep secret, and have had it for a long, long, time—at least as far back as the various inquisitions, witch trails, heresy courts and pogroms that haunt the past of Yancey’s religion like the ghost of some thoughtful priest who went to the stake for his thoughts, or some Russian Jew slaughtered by a raucous mob of the most fervently faithful.

That secret? They don’t give a hoot in Hell about Christ … about what Christ said … about what Christ taught. All piousness and preachiness aside, that’s not at all what they’re into Christianity for, this Christ stuff.

Nooooooooooooooo! They’re in it for the retribution, the revenge. The payback. It’s as plain as the nose on Pat Robertson’s face. Christianity for them is no more than a platform from which they can damn the disbeliever, punish those different, condemn the outsider, and glorify their own unglorious selves. They have used their religiosity for the same purposes a tribe of headhunters would use a ceremonial ax, or a coven of vindictive witches would deploy a withering curse.

Seriously, have the raucous mobs of devout believers ever directed their righteous anger towards the ignoramuses in their community? Have they ever set forth on a crusade to eradicate the uncurious, the uneducated, the stupid from their midst?

Nooooooooooooooooo! In fact, for this particular strain of pious Peters, as often as not, a good old-fashioned evangelical Jihad has been their way of keeping the curious from spreading their questions, the educated from spreading their answers, and the smart from spreading any notion that it’s good to be smart.

Donald Trump is as natural a leader for this bunch as  the loudest, most vicious baboon in a clan of baboons. In Trump, they have found a bully to tell them whom to bully next. A fraud to whom they can look up to justify the fraudulence in their own lives. A braggart whose naked malice makes them comfortable with their own malevolence. He is the advent of what they are muttering when they hope no one is listening.

To those who would decry this view as another example of Christianity under attack … yeah, maybe it is. I’ve never hidden my disdain … nah, let’s call it for what it is: disgust … of whatever you want to call that crowd for which the likes of Pat Robertson (or Jerry Falwell, or Franklin Graham, James Dobson and Bryan Fischer, etc.) speaks.

Yet at the same time, many of the finest, kindest, most decent people I’ve known were not incidentally the most mindful Christians I’ve known. I can’t tell you if they considered themselves evangelicals. All I know is they do their best to live what they believe, not hide behind it.

I say good luck to Mr. Phillip Yancey with whatever’s left of his career as a leading evangelical voice. However, I suspect that—thanks to the learning opportunities presented by this presidential campaign—he’s learning more about his audience than he ever wanted to know.