The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Prominent evangelicals are directing Trump’s sinking ship. That feeds doubts about religion.

Eric Metaxas in Washington in 2012. (Susan Walsh/AP)

President Trump’s naked attempt to overturn a fair election — with key elements of Joe Biden’s victory vouchsafed by Republican state officials, Republican-appointed judges and even the Justice Department — has driven some Trump evangelicals to the edge of blasphemous lunacy.

“I’d be happy to die in this fight,” radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas assured Trump during a recent interview. “This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”

Elsewhere Metaxas predicted, “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.”

Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.

Post Senior Producer Kate Woodsome talks to Americans who voted for Trump, or simply don't feel like denouncing him, about why they feel wrongly scorned. (Video: The Washington Post)

There is something pathetic about Metaxas’s panting desire to be cruise director on Trump’s sinking ship. But I don’t think his attitude is merely the result of ambition or hero worship. Metaxas seems to be a man in the grip of a powerful delusion. And this ends up feeding doubts about religion itself.

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When prominent Christians affirm absurd political lies with religious fervor, nonbelievers have every reason to think: “Maybe Christians are prone to swallowing absurd religious lies as well. Maybe they are simply credulous about everything.” If we should encounter someone who believes — honestly and adamantly believes — in both the existence of the Easter Bunny and in the resurrection of Christ, it would naturally raise questions about the quality of his or her believing faculties. It would call into question the standard of evidence being applied and muddy the meaning of faith itself.

Dedicating your life to Trump is in the same category. If a Christian leader believes — honestly and adamantly believes — that Trump is a fount of truth, a defender of the faithful, a Lincolnian guardian of liberty and a victim of a nationwide electoral conspiracy, he or she is likely to fall for anything. People like this — people like Metaxas — make the critical intelligence of Christians seem limited. And what these leaders say about religion loses in credibility.

It is easy to laugh at a figure such as Metaxas. But this plays down the true stakes of faith and doubt, which could hardly be higher. For me, doubt is like staring into an abyss. The triumph of doubt involves a downward spiral of consequences. Without a transcendent moral order, ideas such as good and evil, noble and ignoble, are pegged in mid-air. Yes, it is possible to live honorably in revolt against a meaningless universe. But it is also possible to live dishonorably with the same justification. If raw matter is all that is, ideals such as justice are ultimately rootless. Consciousness would be a brief gap between oblivions. And death would always win in the end.

Needing faith in some higher order does not make that faith true. But needing it does not make it false either. So how do we decide? If Christianity were judged entirely by the quality of Christians, it would be a tough sell — and I include myself in the judgment. Most of us are a jumble of resentments and fears. Most of us can be proud, cruel, foolish and self-deluding.

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The best response is found in Advent. The most reassuring message of the season is that the existence of hope does not depend on us. It does not rely on our virtue or wisdom. It is a delivery from elsewhere. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer — who knew something of the subject — compared Advent to a prison cell “in which one waits and hopes and does various unessential things . . . but is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside.”

The Advent narratives are filled with waiting people: Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna. They lived in patient expectation and were receptive to the Good News when it arrived. Their hope did not come as the result of a battle. It came like a seed planted in the ground. Like the sun rising in defiance of night. Like a child growing within his mother.

We are not the heroes of the story. Our contribution is to be watchful and open. But hope arrives in awesome humility. God is with us. Jesus is with us. This is everything.

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