In order to be elected every President of the United States must be a Christian†. Yet the present incumbent matches his predecessor in the ambiguities around his faith. According to The Holloverse, President Trump is reported to have been: 'a Catholic, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, a Presbyterian and he married his third wife in an Episcopalian church.'
He is quoted as saying: "I’ve had a good relationship with the church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion..."
And whatever it is, it's the greatest.
Not like those Muslims: "There‘s a lot of hatred there that’s someplace. Now I don‘t know if that’s from the Koran. I don‘t know if that’s from someplace else but there‘s tremendous hatred out there that I’ve never seen anything like it."
And, as we've been told repeatedly during the recent campaign, both of President Obama's fathers were, at least nominally, Muslim. Is he a real Christian? He's done a bit of church hopping himself.
In 2009 one time United States President Jimmy Carter went out on a limb in an article titled: 'Losing my religion for equality' explaining why he had severed his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades, incensed by fundamentalist Christian teaching on the role of women in society
I had not seen this article at the time but it recently reappeared on Facebook and a friend sent me this link: Losing my religion for equality...
His opening remarks make it clear that Jimmy may have shed some religious shackles but he hasn't abandoned Christianity entirely.
It's interesting that most people still want to hang on to at least the remnants of the religion they grew up with, even when they realise, like Jimmy, that significant parts of its teachings are obnoxious. To get around this most either choose to ignore those nasty bits or to reinterpret them so that now the words don't actually mean what they seem to. As Jimmy says: 'Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.'
Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Bible is the actual word of God. It's an unchanging moral shibboleth. As a Church of England lay preacher told us repeatedly in scripture class in High School (for example when someone had the temerity to suggest the world may be more than 4000 years old): 'Read the Bible and see what it says!' He pronounced it: 'saiz'. We called him 'The Missing Link'.
I realise that this nickname may not be self-evident to a younger generation. In the 1950's and 60's Louis and Mary Leakey and their children were making headline grabbing discoveries of early hominids in the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa and the debate was on as to the origins of humanity. Could we have all originated in Africa? As well educated schoolboys (we wished), we found these discoveries exciting. But creationists and some journalists mocked these endeavours as attempts to find 'The Missing Link' between humans and apes. Newspaper headlines like: 'Missing Link Found' were commonplace in those years.
It didn't help him that The Missing Link was a large man who foamed at the mouth as he preached, emulating no doubt Billy Graham, a Baptist demagogue who visited Australia in 1959 and stirred-up, already endemic, Roman Catholic - Protestant enmity. The Link seemed to us to be the epitome of ignorance and we had a visit from our very scary Headmaster to tell us to behave like gentlemen - he didn't quite tell us to 'suffer fools gladly' - although a reference to St Paul (2 Corinthians 11:19) may have been apposite.
You might be thinking that this was the man responsible for my scepticism. But I still wrote 'C of E' against the 'Religion:' question and The Missing Link was just bizarre and embarrassing.
The following year his place was taken by a high churchman, Cannon Hobart, who persuaded us that religious 'truths' don't need to be 'true' in the worldly sense. The garden of Eden, the flood, virgin birth, and so on, are simply helpful myths and parables intended to allow the less sophisticated minds to approach the unknowable or at least ineffable mysteries of true divinity. As with the religious orders who find God in the washing of clothes or their hands or preparing food, these 'stories' are attempts at expressing the ineffable. Here was a 'get out of jail' card! I could remain a Christian.
Under Cannon Hobart's influence I took confirmation classes, helped along, in a more worldly way, by accelerating puberty and falling secretly in love with Caroline Peachy at the Church of England Youth Group (more of that elsewhere on this website). Rationalism would have to wait.
Obviously if read literally, a great deal of the Bible turns out, in the light of incontrovertible scientific discovery, to be patent nonsense. So I can't see how any educated Christian or Jew can do other than take the Cannon Hobart position.
On the other hand if, like Jimmy Carter, you do as The Missing Link told us and believe what the Bible actually 'saiz', the fundamentalists are right and he is wrong. The Bible is a profoundly misogynistic document.
The modern dilemma for all moral absolutists is that morality is actually fluid and contingent on its context. Laws and mores change over time to make society work in the present context. So there are no absolute moral principles but rather mores that have evolved with society as it evolved to make it work better; and hopefully, in the terms of the United States Declaration of Independence: to allow every one of society's members to 'pursue happiness'; or whatever else it is that gives meaning to our lives.
If you doubt this, ask yourself how one could be immoral, or for that matter moral, if you were the only human left alive with no prospect of ever being joined by someone else. You can obviously do whatever you like, including harming yourself or simply ending it all. The question of morality only arises when there are two or more of you. Then it becomes a practical matter of evolving workable rules of coexistence and making sure that any new society members, like children, adhere to its mutual laws and mores. Then, perhaps, it's time to hire some lawyers and policemen - or invent a religion - to keep everyone in line.
Today we hold that enslaving another person is wrong. Some modern moral philosophers would therefore condemn slavery throughout time. If it's wrong now it must always have been wrong.
Yet in Biblical times, and for thousands of years, slavery was simply taken for granted, like the hegemony of hereditary rulers and dynasties. How else would you run a country?
It was a practical matter of technology. Before we had machines we needed slaves; or serfs; or at least poorly paid servants; to get rural and construction work done. And strong kings were needed to conscript armies to defend their realms against 'the envy of less happier lands'. Inherited rule turned out to be an effective alternative to frequent destructive overthrow by the strongest. In this context men were men and protecting weak women and children and disciplining the recalcitrant among them was fundamental to the evolved social hierarchy.
In addition to ingrained misogyny, the Bible is full of what seem to a modern person shockingly immoral acts: from genocide; to murder; to premeditated child sacrifice; in addition to unprovoked invasions and theft, all justified on the grounds that God allegedly told the perpetrator to do it, or had simply failed to tell them not to.
Nowhere does the Bible explicitly say that child abuse or exploitation is immoral. Yet today this is our most abhorrent immorality.
On the other hand it clearly says that a man must not lie with a man 'as with a woman', or they must surely be put to death (Leviticus 18: 22 and Leviticus 20: 13) and the New Testament repeats this condemnation, describing both male and female homosexuality as 'vile affections' (eg: Romans 1:26-27).
Deuteronomy 22:5 says that women must not dress as men nor men as women. Again the New Testament endorses this and tells us that a women who dresses appropriately and 'learns in silence with all subjection' shall be saved in childbearing (1 Timothy 2:9,15). So girls, if you want to survive childbirth; throw away those jeans and that t-shirt; and don't talk back to your man.
It's obvious that society has moved on but the Bible has not. After all, much of it was written two and a half thousand years ago. Read More...
Anyway I quite enjoyed Jimmy taking a risk and speaking his mind. It will be interesting to see if Barack Obama decides to do the same - he finally found the balls to say something about the settler shenanigans in Israel, albeit impotently, in his last weeks in office. For more on Israel - Read Here...
†There is no constitutional requirement for a candidate for US President to be a Christian but in practical terms it is an acknowledged essential, in order to have any chance of election.
I didn't know much about Jimmy, beyond the above, written the year before, until we visited his Presidential Library/Museum in Atlanta Georgia in September 2017. Unlike our later visit to a similar institution dedicated to George W Bush we came away full of admiration for the man. Read More...
Illustration from the linked article: Losing my religion for equality, attributed to: Dyson.