Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our First Atheist President

He certainly likes to show off executive orders.

Congratulations, Bill Maher. Your lifelong dream has come true: the United States of America has an atheist President.

Of course, Maher, being a principled atheist, will insist that Trump's lack of knowledge of or interest in religion does not make him an atheist. The President is not actively anti-Christian; much to the contrary, he insists his faith credentials are as legitimate as anyone who's occupied the Oval Office. He has to: evangelical Christians are a large part of his base. During the election, he actively courted their votes, reaching out to readers of the Christian Right who, after endorsing him, sought to downplay his obvious discomfort with fundamental Christian values like charity, mercy, and tolerance, not to mention his long record of marital infidelity and sexual assault. He'll get us the Supreme Court, they said, and that means overturning Roe V. Wade, protecting religious homophobia, reviving school vouchers, and everything else on the evangelical laundry list.

And so he has. In his sole accomplishment thus far, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a conservative, to fill the year-long vacancy left by Antonin Scalia, rewarding the flagrantly partisan delay tactics of the Republican Senate. Gorsuch's vote has already permitted Arkansas to engage in a death row killing spree, and may soon begin whittling away at the establishment clause of the Bill of Rights.

But Trump himself has shown no interest, since taking office, in attending any church in Washington, D.C. when he's in town on a Sunday morning--just as he stays home when he's at Mar-a-Lago, as he frequently is on weekends. He's often claimed to be a lifelong Presbyterian, and in 2015, addressing a gathering of conservative evangelicals, he said, "I'm Protestant, I'm Presbyterian, and I go to church, and I love God, and I love my church."

Of course--and this is, apparently, always going to be a big "of course" with this President--one needs to take anything he says with passion as the words of a swindler: the more ardently he makes his case, the more likely he is lying. And even if he, for the moment, believes what he's proclaiming, chances are he will dispense with it the moment it seems advantageous. To the extent that Trump has a higher power to which he pays homage, it is his own bloated self-image. Everything he says and does is for the sake of becoming wealthier, more powerful, and gaining the respect accorded to authoritarian autocrats. I have a very hard time imagining any sincere Christian seeing Trump as a role model. In fact, the one verse in the Bible that, to me, best describes the President is this warning from the Apostle Paul:
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven... (Philippians 3:17-20a)
Trump may not be a card-carrying member of the American Atheists organization, but if ever there was a President who fit the description of an enemy of the cross of Christ, it is this man. Since taking office, he has been on an executive rampage, appointing a Bizarro Cabinet of anti-secretaries, signing a slew of executive orders aimed at repealing every earth-friendly, people-friendly regulation put in place of his predecessor, making life miserable for immigrants and refugees, launching ill-advised in ineffective military attacks on the Middle East, threatening war with North Korea, accusing judges, the media, and his predecessor of being enemies of democracy, which he has redefined as whatever promotes the interests of Donald Trump. It goes on: his tax reform plan redistributes wealth from the poor to the rich. The health care reform he has promoted would result in 25 million people losing their medical coverage. His tirades and tweets have damaged relations between the United States and its closest allies. His office constantly peddles falsehoods. His policies endanger the health and wealth of the very lower class voters who put him in office.

That list could go on for pages, and will as long as this President is in office. The point here is this: Donald Trump is the most anti-Christian President in the history of this country.

Bill Maher will insist that it takes more than being simply indifferent to religion to make one an atheist, that one has to be actively opposed to religion. I submit that President Trump takes that opposition to an extreme. As Paul, or any other Biblical writer would tell us, the proof is not in the words that issue from his mouth. Any swindler can speak sincere pious words to your face while emptying your savings. It's how he acts, what he does with this power that has been so dangerously handed to him by our clumsy electoral system. This is not the way Jesus would govern. And while the realities of politics force even the most Christian President (I'm looking at you, Jimmy Carter) to make occasionally amoral, or even immoral, choices, never before have we had a President whose motto so clearly seems to be "What Would Jesus NOT Do?"

Or, as Bill Maher put it in an excellent commentary a couple of weeks ago: "What would a dick do?"

Face it, Bill: more than anyone who has ever occupied, or possibly ever will occupy, the Oval Office, Donald Trump is putting the "a" in "atheism."

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