Tag Archives: sin

Prayers for The Donald

Donald Trump is an evil man in the most banal sense of the word.  And by “banal,” I don’t mean trivial; any man with Trump’s wealth, fame, and connections certainly has destructive potential to be taken seriously.  I simply mean that there is nothing particularly unusual or ingenious about his wickedness.[i]

Biblically speaking, his malevolence is nothing new under the sun.  He is Solomon using women as objects of amusement and pleasure.[ii],[iii]  He is Pharaoh identifying resident aliens as the enemy, isolating them from the local population, enslaving their bodies and exploiting their strength.[iv],[v]   He is Pilate, with his casual contempt for the land he would govern.[vi],[vii]  He is Herod, with his monument-building and ruthless aspirations to political greatness.[viii],[ix]  He is, in other words, a dangerously flawed human being gleefully plumbing the depths of our human potential for awfulness.  Millions of us love him for it.[x]  And millions of others can’t tear our eyes away, though we may wish to.

That said, what kills me isn’t Trump.  Just as Jesus said, “You shall always have the poor among you,” we will also always have megalomaniacal dickweeds among us…often contributing to the perpetuation of poverty, but that’s a topic for another post.  What kills me, as always, is the so-called Christian response to him.  On the one hand are the Christians who piss themselves with joy every time some toxic vitriol about a) brown people, b) women, c) people with disabilities, d) non-Americans, e) prisoners, f) have I missed anyone? comes out of Trump’s mouth.  On the other hand are the Christians, like yours truly, who secretly pray for a stray asteroid or one piece of bacon too many to simply remove Trump from the human equation.

Obviously, any celebration of evil (on the one hand) or prayerful exercise of evil (on the other hand) is patently un-Christlike.  I think Trump delights some Christians because he openly displays the rottenness that contaminates the human heart, particularly American human hearts with our conflicted and self-contradictory history and national identity of “liberty and justice for all”/slave-holding, genocide, and oppression of women and foreigners.  In this respect, Trump gives us a vicarious thrill when he spouts off about women bleeding out of their eyes (“or wherever”), or prisoners of war as “losers,” or roughing up brown people exercising their right to free speech.  I’m sure a great many Christians agree with their ever-lovin’ hearts and minds with the hateful sentiments behind such comments, but on some level, I think we all find Trump entertaining because yes, “he just said that.”  And it touches a similarly corrupt chord in all of our hearts.

Being a political liberal and a “progressive” Christian, I’m generally self-congratulatory about taking the moral high ground on social and political issues  But when Trump strums those corroded strings in my heart, in that soft, mealy spot in my own character, I respond as most of my kind do: with hot, righteous, but not altogether justifiable indignation.  Then, being a proper religious, I pray.  I’d be lying if I said I pray for Trump’s welfare, or for the heart-healing I think his ardent fans need.  No, I pray for Trump’s destruction.

The great political theorist and ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that only power can confront power and an evil and corrupt establishment cannot be brought down with sit-ins and kumbaya.[xi]  An apt political observation, but it doesn’t stand up to Jesus’ command to love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[xii]

I can’t for the life of me think of how to pray, with integrity, for The Donald, nor for many of our national and global leaders who seem bent on building empires for themselves on the backs of other nations and of their own people.  The best I can do is grieve my sin (yes, I just said that) and let God do the praying for me.  Paul wrote in his final letter, the letter to the church in Rome:  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[xiii]

We don’t know how to pray as we ought, or live as we ought, or hold each other or our public officials accountable as we ought because to do so would cast a circle of light over all of our sins.

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[i] These terms probably seem quaint or even archaic.  “Wickedness,” “evil,” and “sin” don’t see much play in my progressive Christian tradition, which is one of many ways educated, white, liberal Christians quietly acquiesce to the viciousness of our society: we patently refuse to call it what it is.

[ii] I Kings 11:1-3, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650964

[iii] “18 Real Things Trump has Actually Said About Women,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023

[iv] Exodus 1:8-22, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651105

[v] “Debunking Donald Trump’s Five Extreme Statements about Immigrants and Mexico,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/doliaestevez/2015/09/03/debunking-donald-trumps-five-extreme-statements-about-immigrants-and-mexico/print/

[vi] Luke 13:1, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651271

[vii] “Hey Trump, Don’t Use “Crippled” as a Metaphor for America,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-kuusisto/donald-trump-and-the-crip_b_8510368.html

[viii]  “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great,” http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html

[ix] “How Donald Trump Abandoned his Father’s Middle-Class Housing Empire for Luxury Building,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/10/the-middle-class-housing-empire-donald-trump-abandoned-for-luxury-building/

[x] A long, but fascinating article in The Atlantic features thirty reasons, from all along the political spectrum, for why so many Americans support Trump’s presidential bid:  “What do Donald Trump Voters Actually Want?” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/donald-trump-voters/401408/

[xi] I confess, this is a bit of a paraphrase.  For Niebuhr’s actual position, see Moral Man in Immoral Society.

[xii] Matthew 5:44,  http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315653551

[xiii] Romans 8:26, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650687

[xiv] Illustration by Canadian artist, Dominic Philibert, http://dominicphilibert.blogspot.com/2010/09/donald-trumps-for-clarktoys-trailer.html

© Marian the Seminarian 2015


Fun with Calvinism: Total Depravity

I recently preached a five-week sermon series on what I figured was a generally safe subject for Christian consideration:  sin.  Most specifically, sinful temptations that are, in many ways, life- and faith-limiting.  Things like pride and avoiding risk and applying Meyer-Briggs analyses to Biblical characters.  Okay, so, that last one only applies to me, but in my defense, I didn’t realize the full gravity of the temptation until I mentioned the idea to a couple of retired pastors and one of them laughed so hard, he spewed beer out his nose.

Two things occurred to me that evening.  First, there are some topics that no one, not even a seasoned second-year seminarian with 18 whole sermons under her belt, should tackle from the pulpit.  (Judas Iscariot’s Meyer-Briggs type being at the top of that particular list.[i])  Second, I seriously need to bone up on my party-line theology.

So, as a service to my readers and in an effort to avoid more tragicomic self-humiliation, Marian will begin periodically posting robust theological reflections on some of the most compelling points of Calvinism.  All are welcome to bring your most pressing theological concerns to Marian by replying to this post.  Rest assured, Marian will address your questions before the End Times (unto itself, a theological topic deserving attention.)

To kick off this sporadic series, then, we shall begin at the beginning.

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

Picture the scene.  Twilight descends like a lover upon a verdant land replete with trees of every type.  The river of life winds through the tall grasses and birds and animals abound…okay, okay, what we’re really looking at here is a benignly neglected suburban lawn with a couple of flaccid Chinese elms and a garden hose that someone forgot to wind up.  But it’s the closest thing to Eden most of us can aspire to, so stick with me.

A couple, who we’ll call Adam and Eve, tends the garden (meaning, they just bought the house and a new lawnmower).  And lo!  Behold their friend from out of town, who we’ll call Sophia, emerging from the house, having just put her toddler, who we’ll call Lilith[ii], to bed.  The three friends gather in the purpling nightfall, feeling the brush of soft cool wind on their faces, savoring a quiet moment of mutual affection before retiring to the house to watch “Reservoir Dogs” on Comcast On-Demand.

And that’s when the snake enters the garden.

Eternal temptation of the reptilian brain stem...

Eternal temptation of the reptilian brain stem…

Having been informed of Mommy’s intention to spend the evening with her grown-up friends, a plan predicated on Lilith’s going to sleep now, Lilith goes berserk.  She screams bloody murder that makes Quentin Tarantino look like Nora Ephron.  Adam, Eve, and Sophia are helpless in the wake of Lilith’s total body meltdown.  Lilith’s shrieks continue until she’s too hoarse to shriek anymore, whereupon the sobs start.  This goes on for forty-five minutes.  Finally, Lilith collapses in a soggy heap in her bedroom where she basically sleeps it off for the next six hours.

The End…or is it Only the Beginning???

This tragic object lesson illustrates where Calvin’s idea of total depravity must have come from. Children come into this world with a hyena-like mentality, although, based on what I’ve witnessed in the cereal aisle, that analogy is rather unfair to hyenas.  Face it.  The reason kids raised by wolves do so well[iii] is because, like wolves, if given the chance, kids would prefer to run around naked, pee on everything, and eat raw voles.  THAT, my friends, is how we know total depravity is rooted in the human condition.  It comes into the world full-formed and expresses itself in tantrums, stealing cookies, not sharing toys, and diaper-escape artistry.

Now, my theory actually has nothing to do with whether or not, spiritually speaking, human beings come into the world stained by the original sin of Adam and Eve (the Genesis ones, not the ones in today’s story).  Rather, I think the reason Calvin came up with the idea of total depravity is because it’s just so frickin’ obvious when you watch little kids.  They’re savages, for crap’s sake.  And the fact that kids are like this only reinforces the old idea that the sin of Adam and Eve must have had something to do with sex:

So, although I realize I’ve shed far less light on whether or not Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity is correct than on the obvious fact that I have no children of my own (and it’s probably best that I don’t), now you know why the idea actually makes a lot of practical sense.  It’s a social coping mechanism.  So parents don’t feel so alone in the cereal aisle.


[i]  Although I’m sure you’re just dying to know what type he is.

[ii]  One of religious history’s more complicated characters.  Check her out here.

[iii]  Plenty of kids with wild animals for parents have turned out just fine.  For example: Mowgli, Romulus and Remus, and Moon Unit Zappa.

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© Marian the Seminarian, 2013


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