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Is the Trump presidency a religious cult? | Reza Aslan

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Published on Apr 15, 2018

Are fundamentalist Christians a dangerous religious cult? Possibly. The controversial author and religious scholar Reza Aslan posits that President Donald Trump has much of his evangelical fan-base believing that he's somehow been anointed by God to become President. Nevermind the Russian election scandal, his affairs with porn stars and unwarranted sexual acts towards women, or his inability to remember even a single Bible verse when asked. Evangelical Christians are abandoning their core moral beliefs to follow, as Reza suggests, someone who exhibits every trademark of a cult leader.

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Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the previous election. That’s a record. That’s more white evangelicals than voted for George W. Bush—and George W. Bush was a white evangelical.

This makes no sense to people, especially when you consider that Trump is not just the most irreligious president in modern history, that his entire worldview makes a mockery of core Christian values like humility and empathy and care for the poor; That this individual who couldn’t even name a single verse in the bible when asked to do so, and yet - and yet - received a record number of votes by white evangelicals.

Scholars of religion—normal, rational, people—have been trying to figure out why. Why? What happened?

And I think that there’s a couple of things to keep in mind.

Number one, it’s white evangelicals. Eighty-one percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, but 67 percent of evangelicals of color supported Hillary Clinton.

Now, these are people who believed the exact same thing, whose only real difference is that.. is the color of their skin.

So let’s not ignore the fact that there is a racial element to this support.

Jim Wallace, the head of the Sojourners, a liberal evangelical group, said it best when he said that these white evangelicals “acted more white than they did evangelical.” And I think he’s right.
The second reason I think has to do with the pernicious influence of something called the prosperity gospel, which has gripped the imaginations of white evangelicals.
This is that version of Christianity preached by these charlatans like Joel Olstein and T.D. Jakes, the essential gist of which is that God wants you to drive a Bentley, that what Jesus really wants for you is material prosperity—and indeed that’s how you know God has blessed you, is by your material prosperity.

Many white evangelicals looked at Donald Trump, and what they saw was a wealthy man. And that wealth, as far as they were concerned, was just a sign of God’s blessings.
And so that freed Trump from having to do what every other candidate, certainly every other Republican candidate for president has had to do, and that is: actually prove his spiritual bonafides. Trump never had to do that. All he had to do was just keep talking about how rich he was. And for a large swathe of white evangelicals that was enough.

Thirdly, Donald Trump did something that no other president, not even any Republican president courting the evangelical vote ever did. He expressly promised secular power to these white evangelical groups.

In his speeches to them and in the conferences that he had, both private and public, he very clearly and very explicitly said that if they voted for him that he would give them “their power back,” even if he didn’t agree with their pet causes that he would just allow them to have those causes.

And you can see as president he’s talking now about removing, for instance, the Johnson Amendment, which is an amendment that prohibits preachers and churches from actually engaging directly in politics and preaching politics from the pulpit. It’s why they get to keep their tax break. No one has ever thought about removing this requirement until Donald Trump.
And now he is very seriously moving towards allowing churches to take part directly in political activism as churches.
But none of this, none of this explains the most important phenomenon about white evangelicals in America, and that is this: In the span of a single election cycle, white evangelicals have gone from being the group in America that is most likely to say that a politician’s morality matters to the group that is now least likely to say that.
Atheists in America think that a politician’s morality matters more than white evangelicals in America do—White evangelicals who continue to refer to themselves as value voters.

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