The classic tale of Doctor Faustus has been told and retold in many forms. It is one of those universal cautionary tropes which, when you think about it, appears all over the place in literature, movies and song (such as The Police’s 1983 hit Wrapped Around Your Finger). The Faustus tale centers on an ambitious man who is dissatisfied with his place in life. He believes he deserves more: more respect, more power, more influence. Spotting that the man is vulnerable to temptation, a demon appears and offers him a deal: he will be given all he desires in exchange for his soul. Faustus makes the deal and gets what he wants, though it never quite works out the way he anticipated. Eventually he realizes the foolishness of his pact with the devil, but alas it is too late.
We see this tale writ large in current events here in the United States. Christianity has been on the decline. It has been losing not only adherents but also influence in the public sphere. The response of conservative evangelicals to this sociological trend has, sadly, often been to circle their wagons, curse the perceived darkness, and lash out (against gay couples ordering wedding cakes, against Muslims and the specter of “Sharia Law”, against Starbucks, against immigrants, against those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”…). Like Doctor Faustus, they rage against their marginalization.
The demon’s deal came this election season when–in exchange for a promised change in fortunes (such as a conservative Supreme Court justice who might help restrict abortion and provide legal protection to practice bigotry under the guise of “religious freedom”)–81% of white conservative evangelical Christians voted to elect as U.S. President a crass congenital liar who not only lacked the experience, qualifications and temperament for the job, but who had a long track record as a serial adulterer, a sexual predator, a business fraud, a thin-skinned revenge-driven narcissist prone to casting petty insults (often very publicly via Twitter); and a promoter of greed, racism, torture, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, religious discrimination, mob violence and general crudeness.
81% of white evangelical Christians chose a man who said it would be acceptable to take away people’s medical coverage, to punish women who have abortions, to cast out immigrants on a massive scale, to ban people entry into the U.S. based upon their religion, to force members of certain religions to register with the government, to take his critics to court, etc.81% percent of white conservative evangelical Christians decided to bind themselves to a man who’s words and deeds are not simply un-Christian, but are anti-Christian; antithetical to the teachings and values of Jesus.
81% of white evangelical Christians are irrevocably linked to the most unpopular president in U.S. history, a man whose presidency will likely end prematurely and ignominiously.
For now, Trump is trying to deliver on some his promises to conservatives. Evangelicals feel they are getting some action. Time will tell to what degree their agenda goals will be satisfied. But the price has been paid nonetheless; the white conservative evangelical soul was sold, and in a very public transaction. They are winning some battles now, but in so doing have already lost their war. Any conservative Christian claims to moral high ground can now be dismissed in a single word: Trump.
There is a growing defensiveness among white conservative evangelical Christians, as the true and inescapable cost of their deal with the demon begins to become apparent. They ask us to “get over it” and to stop with the 24×7 news coverage and social media postings about the Trump administration’s continuous stream of blunders, kerfuffles, indiscretions, embarrassments and outright lies. They rail as a chorus against the “mainstream media” and the “deep state” and the leakers. They mock or try to ignore the unprecedented protests and civic actions and lawsuits and investigations and internal leaks against Trump. They defend the indefensible claims of Trump and Pence and Conway and Spicer and Huckabee about crowd sizes and illegal Hillary voters and climate change and the precarious state of million’s of people’s medical coverage and the meaningfulness of “covfefe” and a bevy of other “alternative facts.” And, of course, they cast themselves as the victims (“it’s such an easy part, and you know how to play it so well” sang the Eagles).
The decline of Christianity in the U.S. will continue to accelerate, as those outside the church–particularly young people–watch and take note of the shenanigans. Conservative evangelical Christianity has, like a lump of leaven, tainted the whole. It has been tried and found wanting; the living waters poisoned by lust for temporal power. Its time has come to an end. Its public persona has become indistinguishable from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. White conservative evangelical Christians got a Supreme Court seat and a few executive orders, but in the process they have trashed their credibility for generations to come–perhaps permanently. The deal was struck. The die is cast. The devil will have his due.