By Chris Todd
God gave us President Donald Trump. Or, more accurately, the idea of God gave us Donald Trump. The key to his election was his lopsided share of the white, evangelical vote — 81 percent. Trump drew their votes without living any of the virtues evangelical Christians aspire to. In fact, it was quite the opposite; he is an adulterer and a serial liar, he defaults on his debts, gives little or nothing to charity and openly boasts of sexual assault. He has also stated that he has never asked God for forgiveness — an act that is at the core of evangelical belief. All of this is well known and well documented. Why, then, did evangelicals vote for him?
The answer is that, long before they are capable of reason, evangelicals and other fundamentalists are conditioned from childhood to believe. Voters brought up to believe incredible stories — including Jonah emerging from the same end of the whale he entered, that God sent bears to eat 42 children and that a lightning strike transformed Saul into Paul in a flash — were well-prepared in the magical thinking necessary to believe that Trump, despite his glaring immorality, could suddenly transform into a wise president. “I alone can fix it,” was essentially a religious statement, made to an audience groomed to believe in biblical miracles. With those words, Trump attached himself to a perfectly conditioned host, the believer, just as naturally as a lamprey attaches itself to a lake trout.
It is too late to avoid some consequences of our current situation, but we must do what we can to avoid the election of unbalanced leaders in the future. To that end, our best hope is to discourage magical thinking in our children — the belief in miracles, and the expectation that prayer can alter anything outside their own minds. At best, such thinking is relatively harmless — for instance, the irrational notion that we can influence the course of a football game by shouting at our TVs. At worst, it is disastrous; “If I blow up the World Trade Center, I will be immediately transported to sexual paradise.” Trump’s claim that he is the only man who can save our country is no less irrational than the suicide bomber’s belief in a heavenly, virgins-only brothel — and it may well prove more damaging.
For many Trump voters, the foundation of magical thinking began with childhood religious indoctrination — and indoctrination it surely is. Five-year-olds do not choose to commit to a set of religious beliefs any more than they choose what language to speak. Children in Riyadh grow up to be Muslim believers; children in Atlanta grow up to be Christian believers. And once children have accepted religious magic, it is only a small step to convince them, later in life, that political magic is also possible — that a life-long narcissist could transform into a president who would put the public good above his own.
In a perfect world, children would not be exposed to religion until their minds are mature enough to decide among competing ideas, but that is not realistic. What we can do is resist religious incursion into traditionally secular areas. Public education, for instance, is currently under attack by the Religious Right, which much prefers charter and private schools where children are immersed in whatever set of myths motivate the schools’ founders. It is crucial that we keep public schools alive and well-funded.
We must also become vocal public situations. Many of us have felt reluctant to openly criticize statements or actions based on religious belief — we’ve been conditioned to think it rude and intolerant. But to the contrary, it is our responsibility to help others, especially children, see that satisfying, productive lives are much more likely without religion.
The happiest four countries in the world are Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It is not a coincidence that those four are also among the least religious and the most literate. “I alone can fix it” does not sell in such environments. We can only hope that America belatedly joins Scandinavia and Europe in rejecting religion, and in resisting those who use religion to exercise political control. In the meantime, we must continue to speak out against magical interpretations of our world.
FFRF Member Chris Todd lives in Minnesota.