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Hauerwas on President Trump’s religion and American idolatry

Hauerwas on President Trump’s religion and American idolatry

Stanley Hauerwas says that Donald Trump is a pious man and that his religious convictions run deep. It’s just not Christian. It’s idolatry. And America, or his view of it, is his church.

Washington Post:

Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim — taken on faith — that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.

There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped.

Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry. Idolatry, of course, can be a quite impressive form of devotion. The only difficulty is idolaters usually end up killing someone for calling into question their “god.”

Trump’s inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. His statement — “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” — is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.

Christians believe that only God demands “total allegiance.” Otherwise we run the risk, as Trump exemplifies, of making an idol out of some human enterprise.

The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests that we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Quoting the Bible, he even suggests we will learn to live together in unity.


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Doug Carpenter

When the Gospel was read from Matthew 5 today, it included the beatitudes. Just reading those and talking about them made some think it was a “political” sermon.

Jay Croft

Hello, Doug!

That’s exactly why I preached on the Epistle yesterday (actually, the second half of it) rather than the Gospel.

Prof Christopher Seitz

The millionaire/billionaire class of actors and software producers is also becoming unhinged in recent public rants. Fortunately they don’t feign to be Christians in the least, so their conduct is what one might well expect. Blowing up the White House, self-justified wrath and vituperation, imaginary assassinations and on its goes. To call Madonna a pagan would probably please her. Her lyrics and body language speak for themselves.

Gregory Orloff

“Fortunately they [“the millionaire/billionaire class of actors and software producers”] don’t feign to be Christians in the least…”

Thank heavens for at least that little bit of honesty on their part, then!

Of course, those who identify themselves as Christians are to be concerned far more about their own conduct and what it tells others than the conduct of non-Christians:

“We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often belie our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many pagans refuse to believe what we say. ‘If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,’ they ask, ‘why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give away their riches and live in simple huts.’ So these pagans conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgment of the pagans about you is more accurate than your judgment of yourself. When the pagans accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty.”

Those words of John Chrysostom resonate just as meaningfully in 21st-century America as they did in fourth-century Constantinople.

Prof Christopher Seitz

AMEN. The attractions of this world and this-worldly thriving entice left and right with a vengeance and without discrimination.

Bill Louis

You all will go to any lengths to demonized Donald Trump. If you care to review what went on at the women’s march, i.e. Vagina costumes, vagina hats, disgusting signs and foul, disgusting language you will see what real paganism and idolatry is all about. I couldn’t believe that several churches congregants and priests attended such a disgusting event. All I see from the EC is articles praising what went on there. So who are the pagans?

Gwen Palmer

Out of a couple of million marchers, do the costumes of (a dozen? Even hundreds, when found among that many?) define the whole march as disgusting?

I did see such photos, but saw hundreds more, and the vast majority merely showed a whole lot of marchers simply declaring their support of civil and equal rights for women and all minorities.

As for Mr. Trump, his vile behavior goes way outside the bounds of mere politics. One can support conservative stands without turning a blind eye to his horrifying acts.

Wayne Rollins

If a prophet arose in the style of Isaiah or Jeremiah, he or she would proclaim, “Thus says the Lord: DUH!” While our idolater in chief continues to defy the teachings of Jesus by executive order, we have to acknowledge a couple of things, for starters. The evangelical movement that helped place him there believes exactly as he does. It is a political movement that observes civil religion most highly. Secondly, and more important to Episcopalians, I think, is that Trump only had to look around the Washington Cathedral (not a national one in any sense except in our own arrogance) and find the trappings of his religion everywhere. It’s easier to find state and national flags there than it is to see a cross, as it is in many of our churches.

Jay Croft

I had low hopes for the Cathedral service but was heartened by seeing the Cross leading the procession.

I don’t really like the label of “Washington National Cathedral.” The proper name is “The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.”

Alan Christensen

Trump was shaking hands with clergy as they processed out, and this verger moved his verge from his left hand to his right just as he was passing by him. I like to think that was a very subtle burn!

Paul Woodrum

I would suggest Trump worships money more than nation and that being President is just one more way to increase his own wealth. So far it seems to be working. Win or lose, for Trump it would have been a $win, $win situation.

Bill Ghrist

I just read something in Krista Tippett’s latest book “Becoming Wise–An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living” that illuminates this question about the seeming “worship” of money in a way I had never understood. She quotes from an interview with Sister Campbell (of “the Nuns on the Bus”):

“A report had just come out that the average C.E.O. of a publicly traded company got $10 million in salary a year, and they were going for $11 million. I got to ask [some entrepreneur, C.E.O. types], ‘Is it that you’re not getting by on $10 million that you need $11 million? I don’t get it.’ And this guy said, just like this–‘Oh, no Sister Simone. That’s not it. It’s not about the money.’ He said, ‘It’s that we’re very competitive. And we want to win. And money just happens to be the current measure of winning.'”

I think this explains Donald Trump better than anything. What he worships above all else is not nation, not money, but winning.

Bill Ghrist

That’s Sister Simone Campbell, of course (I wish there were a way to edit a comment).

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