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Why religious illiteracy is killing us

Fixing what pro-Trump Christians broke will take time

I originally had some hope that President Donald J. Trump's election loss would fairly quickly begin to restore sanity to his supporters who identify as evangelical Christians.

Cross-flagTo suck up to political power, they had abandoned their long-held religious principles for someone whose entire life has been a repudiation of those principles.

But it's increasingly clear that the damage done not just to American Christianity in particular but to religion in general is going to be long-lasting. A simple, "Oh, sorry," isn't going to cut it. For one thing, most evangelical Christians seem nowhere close to offering such an apology, many still believing that Trump was God's chosen instrument and -- weirder still -- that he didn't lose the election.

Indeed, some pastors of many churches that such pro-Trump voters attend are continuing to preach a gospel that's in sharp contrast to the historic gospel of Jesus, who emphasized love for all, including the downtrodden and the stranger. And if pastors step out of line in their sermons they quickly get called on the carpet by the Trump true believers.

As this Good Faith Media column notes, Trump's "churchgoing followers, who’ve marched in lockstep from Parler to the pews, are listening out for anything their pastors might say that doesn’t jibe with the baptized bigotry of white Christian nationalism.

"The irony, of course, is that one so uninterested in and uncomfortable with the basic beliefs, values and trappings of the Christian faith can appeal so overwhelmingly to those long engaged in congregational life. They are willing, even eager, to shape their faith accordingly – and demand it of others."

The column's author, John D. Pierce, executive editor and publisher of Good Faith Media, adds this: "To preach from the ancient texts and implore listeners to follow Jesus’ life and example is a clear call to humility, justice, truth, sacrifice and compassion. Yet, those attributes and values have simply vanished from what many Americanized Christians now hold most passionately.

"Don’t believe me? Ask some pastors. I have. . .(Y)ou’ll hear the frustration, disillusionment and disappointment that drain their souls."

One of the opinion leaders for pro-Trump Christians has been author Eric Metaxas, who, as this RNS opinion piece notes, has been supporting Trump's delusional claims of victory over Biden. Indeed, the article reports that Metaxas says Trump won in a landslide and "as a result, Metaxas forecasts, many will be imprisoned for attempting to steal the election, an attempt that he calls 'the most horrible thing that ever happened in the history of our nation.' Thankfully, 'Jesus is with us in this fight.'”

It's hard to know what to do with such loonyness, such utter daftness. But I do know it's fruitless to try to reason with irrationality.

The author of the RNS column, Robert K. Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, says that recovering from this catastrophe will not happen with "a quick fix. Trump’s willingness to entertain conspiracy theories may have contributed to his supporters’ eagerness to do the same, but this problem will not end with the Trump presidency. Critical discernment is not a light switch to be turned on and off at will; it’s a discipline to be cultivated. Christians who want to pull their fellow believers back from the conspiratorial worldview need to commit for the long haul."

All of which breaks my heart. There have always been divisions within Christianity among people of goodwill who hold different opinions. But the fantasies that Metaxas and others have bought and are trying to sell challenge the core of the faith's commitment to truth and must be recognized for what they are. That, however, will take some time.

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ANOTHER RELIGIOUS PERSECUTOR NAMED

The U.S. State Department finally has done the right thing and named Nigeria among the 10 worst national violators of religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended including Nigeria on the State Department's list of bad players since 2009. This list doesn't get as much publicity as it deserves, but the U.S. is right to point out that religious freedom is a basic human right and to complain when other countries violate it.

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P.S.: My friend Markandey Katju (we were schoolboys together in India for a time), a former judge on India's Supreme Court, has responded to the recent American presidential election by writing this short reflection. See if you agree with him:

Long live the American people
 
The victory of Joe Biden in the recent presidential election has been widely welcomed all over the world. By electing Biden, the American people have once again proved that they are a truly great people. They sometimes make mistakes, like people everywhere, but then they realize and correct their mistakes.
 
The great American War of Independence (1775-1781) was a revolution which declared principles that resonated all over the world, such as that all men are created equal. Though in practice these principles were sometimes departed from -- for example, in the treatment of Native Americans and Blacks, most Americans have realised their mistake and corrected it. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution declared the rights of man and were incorporated in the constitutions of many countries, such as in Part 3 of India's Constitution.
 
Americans shed their blood in the Civil War in the fight against slavery and in the Second World War in the fight against Hitler's tyranny. They have made a huge contribution in science, technology, literature, etc. and are blazing new paths for the world to follow.
 
Long live the American people!

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