Saturday, November 12, 2016

Day of the Donald: Reflections on the Church in America and Apostasy

Let me lay out what this is not, along with some preliminaries: This is not a liberal whine piece. I don't think the apocalypse is nigh because Donald Trump won, even though I was quite surprised. I think Trump is vapid and a consummate liar, yet he is hardly different than Clinton. This is nothing radical, but pretty plain for those not blinded by partisan range and have the competency to think outside of US geography. She was just as belligerent, perhaps more so, when it came to US missiles reigning death upon geopolitical roadblocks and enemies. This is not a piece to talk about Trump's merits or lack thereof. It's clear he's pretty evil and base. Of course, he will renege on many of his talking points because that's all they were. Under his regime, people will suffer for all sorts of reasons.

What this is is a reflection upon the state of Christians in America, who overwhelmingly voted Trump into office. This is not to say they should have voted for Clinton, nor that I am overwhelmingly distraught that he won (though economically I will probably have a somewhat harder time). But it is a reflection upon general apostasy from Christ for the same old Babylonian ideology of lust for power and love of the World.

This is not a new turn of events, Americana is a pretty well established cult from the foundation of this country. But what is new is that this took a bold new step in an even more disturbed direction. This is perhaps the dawn of a new form of idolatry, akin to when Evangelicalism (as politically-active, Fundamentalist-lite) embraced the New Conservatism of Buckley and Goldwater, combining traditional social mores and Capitalism. These two are antithetical to each other, but the tension is maintained to form a coalition. Nationalism ties the knot between the two.

What I find interesting is Falwell Jr., a man with a seared conscience if ever, who spoke about the Evangelical revolt from their "leaders". Many so-called intellects informed Evangelicals to not vote for Trump, and yet they did. Falwell Jr. chalks this up to the so-called Gospel, that promotes forgiveness, which is code for bracketing all questions of Trump's moral qualities and character. Of course, that same argument could be applied to anyone. Why not vote for Clinton with the hope for God regenerating her or orienting her policy decisions? The argument rests on a strange, and convenient, mix of empirical evidence and immaterial faith. It's really about access to the machinery of government and power. Falwell Jr. is trying to play the same game his dad played, and will probably go down in flames.

But Falwell Jr. is right that Evangelicals rejected their supposed leaders, and this reflect a couple different things.

First, it reveals the fundamental structural deficiency in Evangelicalism. The visible Church has been completely collapsed in a club-type polity, with no real bearing on your spiritual life. Now a days, with the internet and even greater sense of mass transport, this club does not even require you to join, pay dues, or have a shared set of fundamentals or creeds. Fundamentalists rightly criticize Evangelicalism for this: in trying to reach everyone with something, they got a bunch of people to believe in nothing. The legalism and harshness of Fundamentalism reflect other serious doctrinal, ecclesial, and spiritual problems. But they at least understood that Christ built a Church.

The leaders of Evangelicalism are not in fact ordained or appointed leaders, they are many times self-appointed talking heads that market themselves well, get a small cult-following, and know how to use the internet viz. podcasts, online sermons, blogs etc. They claim to speak for, or to, the movement, but the so-called movement is radically individualized. This is the curse of mass-media and why Evangelicalism basically lives off a Propaganda and Commericial mentality, even as some speak against it. This latter sort of thing, which is more common than not, is a sign of bad conscience and is contradictory only on a surface level. In reality, declaiming the thing that props you up can, in a way, ease tensions. It's like the protester against banks and 1% with the newest Iphone. It's the child slamming his door on his parents, not aware that all the tools of his rebellion are predicated on a certain conformity to the system. It fundamentally does not subvert or undermine, but many times inadvertently props it up.

Thus, many Evangelicals, people whose vague-ish belief in Jesus Christ as Personal Savior, did not revolt against their leaders, these people are not their leaders except when the mass of people agree with them, nor do they belong to any real semblance of the Church. They were merely acting out of their new Americana sensibility.

This new sensibility, secondly, ironically involves a twisted reflection of the Social Justice values that they rejected. Evangelicalism has embraced a kind of identity politics, one that is white (usually framed as "American" tout court), gendered (Complimentarianism-Egalitarianism debate reflects a lot of this), and religious ("find your identity in Christ"). After years of more and more stringent identities that need to be promoted and reflected, and their seeming infinite fracturing, has become the pervasive paradigm and form of rhetoric Evangelicals use. Combined along with post-modern post-structuralism, found in the quasi-idealism of World-View Speak, there is no longer a call to weigh evidence. Ideology becomes the only means of seeing or doing anything. I'm not saying that things are just obviously this or that, in a kind of neutral Lockean Empricism. But if we abandon any tools of rational thinking, not as something inherent but hard-won, then we're lost in a torrent of insanity. And when your particular tribe (white Evangelical) happens to be a powerful voting bloc, one will gain the muscle to bully the other smaller tribes around.

Yes, this is a symptom of a larger social phenomenon, but it shows just how worldly and delusional the cult of Americana, combining Christ, Caesar and Mammon, truly is. The Church has lost its prophetic voice, it ceases to be a Heavenly Society that exists throughout all the World. It's lost its eye to discern good and evil, seeking not power but peace, knowing that This Age, where the Devil is god, is full of death, fear, and coercion, and where this path is rejected for something else. Instead, in a false sense of mission and evangelism, where Propaganda reigns, conformity to the patterns of This Age is common.

Donald Trump is like the character from the Watchmen, the Comedian. He sees the sheer darkness at the heart of This Age, and decides to become a parody of it. He embraces a will-to-power and nihilism that show how hand-wringing is a complex set of gestures to salve our conscience of its complete and utter complicity in death and destruction. Trump, like the Comedian, forgoes this and reveals the face of things in his own ruthlessness and contempt. This is the sort of resentment and hatred that burns in the hearts of Evangelicals, whose worthless Jesus is either sidelined, morphed to fit the newest paradigm, or departs. In the full sense of the word, many of these people worship the Anti-Christ. Perhaps it's telling that many of their Gospel accounts end on the Crucifixion and death of God. They truly live as though God were dead, contrary to their string of movies that falsely claim the contrary. 

What ought Christians do? How do make sense of this ecclesial mess? I don't have many answers. My eyes enlightened, the true catastrophe is not Donald Trump, who is a mere sea-beast that rises up to stomp across the Land. God sends such because of the real catastrophe: an apostate people, the Whore of Babylon and a Synagogue of Satan. In a moment of victory, the cult of Americana feels vindicated in electing their champion. But his already conciliatory (for which I thank God) gestures towards Obamacare and LGBT rights symbolically reveal a candidate whose belligerence was tactical. Perhaps not he himself, but the Trumpist movement will eventually devour the Evangelical Church, probably at the behest of many so-called members, while all the world will laugh.

Pray that Christ the Vine will be fruitful, even if many branches must be pruned. Scripture teaches us that such is the case, and may we pray not for a painless process, but an enlivening one. Amen.

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