The Christian Right’s Original Sin

Donald Trump not only is dividing Republicans from Republicans; he is dividing Christians from Christians.

Christianity Today published an anti-Trump editorial, and several prominent evangelical clergypersons also have spoken out against him. However, a lot of the big shots of the Christian-Political Right still stand with Trump — Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, and the animated fossil of Pat Robertson, for example.

I wrote a few days ago,

I can think of two explanations. One, they think somehow they will maintain more influence in a Trump administration than in a Clinton administration. And maybe they would. Trump obviously doesn’t give a hoo-haw about religion, except when it can be made to reflect well on him somehow. He might very well support their anti-LGBT and anti-women agenda if they flatter him enough, because it’s obvious he doesn’t give a shit either way.

The other explanation is that these people have become so twisted that oppressing women and LGBT people is the only “morality” they care about any more, and all the stuff about lying, stealing, coveting, adultery , etc., are just details that can be sacrificed for their “greater good.”

The truth probably is a combination of both. Remember, these are guys who were elevated to prominence, directly or indirectly, by political operatives like Paul Weyrich who saw the usefulness of framing the right-wing political agenda as a moral crusade. These guys gave their blessings to the political Right in exchange for fame, wealth and the promise that they could become America’s moral arbiters.

Which brings me to Original Sin. Yes, Christian theology is a bit outside my usual area, but it does interest me. And I have no beef with Christianity; it’s just a shame more Christians don’t follow it.

I never appreciated the Original Sin doctrine until I read Reinhold Niebuhr‘s explanation of it, which differs considerably from what most of us were taught. But Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a highly regarded theologian, and I argue his opinion is as authoritative as anyone’s. And please note that both Niebuhr and I read the Genesis story as myth, not as natural history.

Niebuhr noted that the Serpent had said of the forbidden fruit, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, the great temptation was to be like God. This is a point that seems to get lost a lot.

So Adam and Eve ate the fruit and gained the knowledge, and from there came all human hangups, not to mention psychiatrists and lawyers. But we can put that aside for now. Water under the bridge.

Anyway, for Niebuhr, this is not something that happened only in a mythical past. Every human generation has succumbed to the same temptation by seeking power and self-glorification, he said.

“Man’s situation tempts to evil, provided man is unwilling to accept the peculiar weakness of his creaturely life, and is unable to find the ultimate source and end of his existence beyond himself,” Niebuhr wrote in Discerning the Signs of the Times (1946). “Being an insignificant creature with suggestions of great significance in the stature of his freedom, man uses his strength to hide his weakness and thus falls into the evil of the lust for power and self-idolatry.”

Just about the worst sin, to Niebuhr, was presuming perfect knowledge of God. He died before the modern Christian Right got off the ground, but his opinion of such creatures as Falwell (father and son), Reed, Perkins and Robertson comes through clearly in his writing. These are the guys who fell into the temptation; they ate the forbidden fruit; they assumed to know God’s mind and to hand out judgments on the rest of us.

Original sin, by tainting all human perceptions, is the enemy of absolutes. Mortal man’s apprehension of truth is fitful, shadowy and imperfect; he sees through the glass darkly. Against absolutism Niebuhr insisted on the “relativity of all human perspectives,” as well as on the sinfulness of those who claimed divine sanction for their opinions. He declared himself “in broad agreement with the relativist position in the matter of freedom, as upon every other social and political right or principle.” In pointing to the dangers of what Justice Robert H. Jackson called “compulsory godliness,” Niebuhr argued that “religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.” Religion, he warned, could be a source of error as well as wisdom and light. Its role should be to inculcate, not a sense of infallibility, but a sense of humility. Indeed, “the worst corruption is a corrupt religion.”

If there was ever a better morality play than what’s going on now in the presidential election, I can’t think of it. Those who were raised up through hubris and self-glorification are now being exposed as fallible and corrupt. Truly, their own sinful ways are revealed.

Dana Milbank wrote,

In the past, as Pulliam Bailey has chronicled, religious-right leaders claimed to care about personal morality. “We will not rest until we have leaders of good moral character,” Reed said back in the Monica Lewinsky days. Evangelical leader James Dobson advocated Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 because he set a bad example about “respecting women.”

But Dobson supports Trump, excusing his behavior because the candidate is a “baby Christian.” Franklin Graham, though formally neutral, draws equivalence between Trump’s “crude comments” and Democrats’ “godless” agenda. …

… But where are the high-profile figures in the movement, such as Reed, Robertson and Falwell? In January, Falwell said Trump “lives a life of loving and helping others, as Jesus taught.” He likened Trump to his father.

And now, no regrets. Falwell said that years from now, “I don’t think anybody is going to be sitting around thinking about whether Donald Trump said this or that on the videotape in 2005. I think they’re going to be sitting around saying, ‘Gosh, I wish we had different Supreme Court justices.’ ”

Or maybe they’ll be wondering how differently things might have turned out if Falwell, with his ends-justify-the-means logic, hadn’t made a deal with the devil and destroyed the moral credibility of the movement his father built.

Some Liberty University students are rebelling, and they criticized Falwell for using their university as a vehicle for electing Donald Trump. Do read the letter they wrote; they understand that Trump is a moral cesspool and even quote the Gospels — Matthew chapter 7 — to express their opposition. The fallout from this election is going to be massive, and it won’t just affect the Republican Party.

18 thoughts on “The Christian Right’s Original Sin

  1. ROTFLMAO!!!

    Conservatives, and the holier-than-thou, morally superior “Christian” Evangelicals – not all of them, mind you, but the greatest buttinsky’s among them – have demonstrated what we liberals and not uber- Christians, non-Christians, Atheists, and Agnostics have been saying for decades:

    They come to be seen and preen on Sunday’s.
    And the rest of the week, they live like the selfish, superior, hypocritical assholes that ther REALLY are!

    You all claim to be “Christians,” but don’t follow or understand a word he said – again, not all of them.
    The men (for the most) part at the front of the church, read the fire-and-brimstone lessons of the Old Testament, and skip Christ’s lessons of love, foreginess, acceptance, and kindness to others.
    If you turn the other cheek towards them, they blind-side and cold-cock you!

    Good for the students at Liberty U!
    (And mind you, I’m no Christian – I’m an Agnostic.).

    The hypocrites claim to be brother and sisters in Christ.
    What they are, are brothers and sisters of hypocricy, hatred, fear, bigotry – especially, misogyny!

    As for the “Christians” who still support t-RUMP:
    Look in the mirror.
    If you see a real Christian, you know nothing about the New Testament!

    So, go fuck yourselves, and STFU about being Christians!
    There are mushrooms more Christian than you.

    So, if we can thank t-RUMP for anything, it’s showing the hypocricy of conservatives, Republicans, and a lot of “Chrisrtian” Evangelicals.

    He will probably haunt our politics with violence and armed, angry lunatic white supremacists for years, if not decades.

    But among all of his shit, he left us the pearl of making hypocrites show their true colors!

    Morally superiority?

    You conservatives are mad because he blew your decades long – and longer – grift.
    Your bullshit showed through:

    t-RUMP is using a bullhorn on every medium to shout what you festering assholes have been dog-whistling and whispering for… well, FOREVER!!!

    Both you pots, anf your KKKettle of a KLANDIDATE share the same thing:
    Hearts as black as the void…

  2. There is another moment in the bible that may have relevance in understanding what is going on here – Before his ministry begins Jesus goes into the desert to fast for 40 days and nights – during that time the devil appears and tempts him with things including power over the kingdoms of the world . Jesus refuses but one could argue that the allure of earthly political power was a temptation that the religious right could not refuse.

  3. I’ve always understood the parable of original sin as the knowledge that there is good and evil – a human construct, to be sure.
    The parable of original sin is the separation of humans from the innocent animals – the creation of the concept that volition creates the possibility that people can willfully act for or against their tribal comrades, and that these actions can be beneficial or bad for the survival of the tribe. This can be viewed in the context of the survival of a nomadic, desert (resource-poor) people surrounded by tribes that wish to also survive and flourish in a harsh and limiting environment.

    The current crop of political charlatans and opportunists masquerading as religious “leaders” totally pervert even the Old Testament to their personal gain while they totally ignore all non-apocalyptic messages in the New Testament. The rubes eat it up and send their cash by the wheelbarrow-full – in essence doing just what Martin Luther argued against (i.e., buying indulgences).

    Lest we forget, the Tea Party (sic) started out as an AstroTurf campaign by the Republican Party to solidify their grip on the old white racists who were starting to believe the dreck Party officials were selling to buy their votes. These True Believers figured out that the words spoken (which always destroy the economy when enacted, BTW) were not actually being implemented (e.g., of the 10 plans under the Contract on America that Gingrich used to finally gain power for the Party, only one was ever actually brought up for consideration in Congress).

    Unfortunately for this country, Gingrich was a Very Clever Man who figured out that 41 Senators was all that was needed to control the entire country, and that control of small states was the inroad to control of the Senate. In essence, a 20% minority, with clever political maneuvering, could control the largest economy on the planet!

  4. About fighting the idiocracy… Even something as entertainy-trivial as the NFL has a combine, an objective testing for rookies. I know we have debates, but imagine pro football rookies trying to prove their skills via debates. Shouldn’t there be something more? A POTUS license test, Wonderlic, PCL-R, lie detectors, Dogma Derangement Detector…

    Wait a minute. The idiocracy prefers one of their own. They’d vote for the worst score. Never mind.

  5. Anyone who has basic reading comprehension would know that there is very little about the GOP, mainstream, tea party, far right or Trumpists, that squares with much of the Bible, and hardly anything at all in the New Testament. The philosophy of Jesus is antithetical to the “Christianity” that the right wears on its collective sleeve.

  6. Barbara, this really resonates with me. My father was a student of Niebuhr’s at Union Theological Seminary in the 30s and they became lifelong friends and correspondents. My Dad died not long after Neibuhr and I remember clearly my father being incredibly furious at Billy Graham for his debasement of his Christianity and for politicizing himself. He also disagreed with MLK early in the 60s because, as per Niebuhr, mixing religion with politics was anathema to him. It wasn’t until Selma that his eyes were opened and he became a fervent supporter of what MLK was doing (which almost cost him his job at the time). While I didn’t inherit my father’s religious beliefs I most certainly inherited the perspective that he gained from his association with Niebuhr.

    Really spot-on commentary Barbara, well said.

  7. James, James, James….”tainted the rest of us who call themselves Christians” well stated.  To those of us that were trained to a different Christianity than the current “American Christianity” your idea is welcome.  I try to be tolerant.  But as you say it is so tainted.  So bastardized.  So far away from that which those  noble humans who trained and taught me. That you can still identify yourself as Christian is noble.  I am placing my faith in what I hope is a more enlightened power. But as to your point, why do they get to define what is just one perspective as “True Christianity”?  Who speaks for us?  Why are we alienated?

  8. Falwell…likened Trump to his father.

    He got that right — a nasty, bigoted egomaniacal asshole.

  9. Brilliant Post, Maha. I found myself trying to understand how I can admire the political involvement of, for example, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a prime mover in the Moral Mondays and president of the NAACP in NC. He’s rallied thousands in opposition to the ‘christian’ right in the South. Is my contempt for Falwell mere politics? Do I ‘like’ theologians who share my politics and loathe those pastors simply for their political standing? That would be shallow and crass.

    IMO, there are pastors (and clergy) who believe in power and those who believe in service. And very little in between. Those who practice a theology of power want the precepts of their faith to be enforced by law. Those who believe in a Gospel of service see a duty to feed the hungry and heal the sick. This duty of Christian service was for ALL – not just the Jews (Christ healed Romans, who were despised as the oppressors of Israel). The masters of religious power want strings attached to food and medical help, so only the righteous or entitled receive benefit. Nowhere is this attitude validated in the New Testament by any of Christ’s teachings.

    I welcome the involvement of people of faith to the political process, but those IN politics should reject the advice of the clergy when it runs contrary to compassion and justice – as un-Christian, and they should be unapologetic about confronting and exposing the innate hypocrisy of Christians seeking power through the force of law over those who don’t share their values.

  10. Like Bob said about fifty years ago – you don’t have to look too far to see that not much is really sacred.

  11. Swami,
    Which begs the question, “What do they tell the girls/boys/women/men?”

    “Here’s Jesus: Pet him and kiss him, and he’ll rise.
    LOOK! IT’S A MIRACLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Now, let’s bury him in a hole somewhere, so he can rise again!
    I know you’ve got a few!!!”


  12. Jesus refuses but one could argue that the allure of earthly political power was a temptation that the religious right could not refuse.

    It far predates Weyrich…Christianity has a long, long tradition of succumbing to the allure of earthly political power, pretty much dating back to the day Christianity became the official religion of Rome…

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