Debate on Trump Signing Bible Covers: “Sacrilege”?

Debate on Trump Signing Bible Covers: “Sacrilege”? March 11, 2019

This took place with my friend, Deacon Steven D. Greydanus, on my Facebook page. His words will be in blue. Words of fellow Catholic and friend, Margie Prox Sindelar (who also disagreed with the Deacon) will be in green.

*****

[I began the Facebook thread by citing the article, “Trump signed Bibles. Heresy? Many religious leaders say no” (Jennifer McDermott, AP, 3-9-19) ]

As usual, the objections are misguided and much ado about nothing. They seem to presuppose evil intent (as so often with Trump’s perpetual trashers).

Anyone who writes about this topic without distinguishing between inscriptions or inspirational notes on a designated presentation page of a Bible or some other interior page — including, e.g., the note from FDR to soldiers in the FDR Soldier’s Bible — and scrawling your John Hancock across the cover of a Bible like a celebrity author is simply not contributing to serious discussion of this topic.

Many presidents have written inspirational notes or other inscriptions on the presentation pages or other interior pages of Bibles. So have Billy Graham and other notable Christian leaders. I don’t know of any president or notable Christian leader who has done what Trump did.

Also, “heresy” is the obstinate post-baptismal disbelief or doubt of an article of faith that is to be believed with divine and Catholic faith. So the AP headline is pretty dumb, since no one claims Trump was doing that.

Steven D. Greydanus thinks it is an essential difference, whether one signs in the inside pages or the cover.

Your willingness to accept any moral or even sacralogical equivalence in order to defend Trump and avoid any inquiry whatsoever into just how equivalent or divergent these incidents really are is consistent if nothing else.

Your willingness to make up any moral or even sacralogical equivalence in order to attack Trump and avoid any inquiry whatsoever into just how equivalent or divergent these incidents really are is consistent if nothing else.

It was a 5th grader: survivor of a horrible tragedy. What if he would have said no? Then they would have been on him for that.

That’s your fancy theory. I would say it’s trying to be fair-minded and charitable, and trying to not immediately judge people. In other words: Christian ethical kindergarten.

He is a celebrity. He is also an author.

Are we to understand, then, that your claim is that Trump is pretending to be the author of the Bible? I wouldn’t put it past you, seeing the many other silly and/or ridiculous things you’ve asserted about Trump in the past.

If that’s not it, then I take it, the big thing in your mind is signing the cover rather than some interior page. Please explain to all of us dolts what the essential difference is there. Good luck.

Or do you think Trump is implying that he is as important as the Bible: as some sort of supposedly infallible oracle, or lacks basic respect for it? I’m just speculating. Please do elaborate. I wanna know exactly why this is such an issue for you.

This is not complicated. It is very widely understood that book covers designate the entire contents of the works in question, so only the authors’ names go there. 

Actually, even authors usually autograph an interior page so as not to ruin the book cover, but if anyone presumes to autograph the cover of a book, it should be the author and no one else. 

For example, when you Google “autographing the cover of a book,” every link that comes up is about author book signings. Ask any well-known author or etiquette expert.

Autographing the cover of a random other author’s book — for example, if Philip Pullman autographed the cover of one of J.K. Rowling’s books — would be bizarre and rude. 

When that book is the Holy Bible, and you scrawl your John Hancock across it at like 200 points like it was a notepad, I think many people would agree it should be regarded as a species of sacrilege.

Trump isn’t a theologian and we didn’t vote for him as such. I think the point we are all trying to make is the hypocrisy of the news media who attacks him regardless. Now, if he had not signed the Bible of that 5th grader who had just survived a tornado, what do you think the media would have done? The only judging I see going on here is coming from you, as if you know the intent of the President.

No one has to be a theologian to understand that scribbling on the cover of a book you didn’t even author is disrespectful.

Then why are theologians debating it? Did he sin? Was it mortal? Can you read his heart? It appears you and your followers think you can read hearts and intentions, based on the shameful comments on your post about it. Shall I post some over here? Were the other Presidents disrespectful when they did it, or just Trump?

My main brief here has nothing to do with judging the president’s heart or soul. 

It is simply that the president is a lout, a vulgarian, a cretin, or, more precisely, that his behavior here as so often is loutish — and, to the extent that the deep tribal need to defend the president at all costs and in all circumstances forces people to blind themselves to (hitherto!) generally recognized standards of loutish and non-loutish behavior, that’s a bad thing. 

My parents taught me when I was a child not to scribble on book covers because it ruins them. Even celebrity authors, when they sign their own books, generally sign interior pages so as not to ruin or deface the cover. 

If an author wants to ruin his own cover with an autograph, that’s his prerogative — but the fact that most authors choose not to do so reflects the (hitherto) generally recognized consensus that scribbling on a book cover is a form of defacement, signifying disregard for the book itself and all its contents, which the cover represents. 

You don’t have to be a theologian to understand this, and, while I have as yet seen no evidence that theologians are debating this, if they were it would make no difference because the reality is what it is. 

Whether or not theologians understand this, the presidents and evangelists and others whose prominent inscriptions and signatures of Bibles we have seen bandied about in the wake of this kerfuffle appear to have grasped it, because without exception every one of those signatures has been on interior pages. 

You know why? Because those notables were brought up well enough to understand that scribbling on the cover of any book, let alone the Good Book, defaces the cover, and they weren’t louts. 

Especially in the case of the Bible it has generally been understood in both Catholic and Protestant circles that the book itself should be treated with greater respect than other books. The president doesn’t see why he shouldn’t treat the cover of the Good Book like a notepad, in a way most authors wouldn’t treat the cover of their own books. One doesn’t have to judge his heart to regard that as the act of a lout. 

Now, having said that, as regards judging the president’s heart, I think over the many decades we have very ample evidence that the president is a massive egoist. I think his egoism as obvious a fact about him as his fourth-grade vocabulary and his contempt for women. 

But if tribal loyalties prevent us from agreeing on the loutishness of scribbling on a Bible cover, it’s pointless to discuss matters of the heart.

Thanks for your eloquent reply.

I may have missed it, but did you ever answer these two questions of mine?:

“Are we to understand, then, that your claim is that Trump is pretending to be the author of the Bible?”

“Or do you think Trump is implying that he is as important as the Bible: as some sort of supposedly infallible oracle, or lacks basic respect for it?”

Your reference to “sacrilege” would pretty much imply the latter clause, but I just wanna be sure . . .

If so, I would much rather have a so-called “lout” who puts his autograph on a Bible cover, but tries to protect the lives of babies in the womb (and shortly out of it) than folks like Nancy Pelosi, who profess to be Catholics and get ashes on Ash Wednesday and proceed to defend the merciless, heartless slaughter of babies inside and outside the womb.

If that is my choice, you know what I choose. And of course, Hillary Clinton was no better: she was voted Planned Parenthood’s “Champion of the Century” and proudly supported partial-birth infanticide on live TV in one of the presidential debates with Trump (while he roundly condemned it: both there and in the famous dinner in New York).

Yet according to Pseudo-Jeremiah II Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher, we not only were supposed to vote for Hillary (so as not to come under the judgment of God, and to be good little Catholics), but do so with the “knowledge” that she would have been more “pro-life” than Trump (who has, in fact, done more for pro-life than any President since Roe).

In my mind, if there is any blasphemy or sacrilege here, it is in that damnable opinion (which I understand, you do not share), not in the signing of a Bible cover. Incidentally, I wouldn’t autograph a Bible cover (or any book cover), myself, either, but I would say that that is an argument from aesthetics or etiquette, rather than (in this instance) intended sacrilege or blasphemy, because I don’t judge hearts, as you do: including Trump’s: the person you have candidly admitted to hating, at least at times.

You may say I’m getting off-topic, etc. I’m not, in the sense that I am once again defending a principled, conservative and Catholic or other Christian vote for Trump, who — despite any and all of his *real* faults — is infinitely better than the only live alternative in 2016 (and also in 2020): childkilling butchers, one and all.

Political votes are not for canonization. They are for the best candidate for a job, in light of Catholic social and moral teaching.

Totally agree. [I], have never liked this kind of pettiness in politics on either side; it takes away from real issues, like infanticide. 
***
You said the act was disrespectful, so are you judging his intent to disrespect the Bible? Yes or no?
*
My final comment is this. It would have been worse had he said no to a 5th grader who survived a horrific tragedy, and I would hold that opinion for any sitting President. This is the kind of legalism that Jesus was never fond of. He committed no sin and I believe he did it out of kindness. The CCC teaches [that] we are to think the best of a person, not the worst, when we can’t read their hearts.
*
Absolutely dead-on. This is “can’t see the forest for the trees” pharisaical legalism, when the situation was one of sympathy and compassion for the ones who had suffered loss.
*

Dave: I have no quarrel, and have never had a quarrel, with anyone who voted for Trump on the grounds that, whatever his faults, he was better than the alternative.

It is not my argument, and never has been, that anyone should have voted for Hillary. 

My quarrel is solely with those whose support of Trump is so absolute that they respond to any and all criticism of him with extreme jaundice, overlooking and denying his obvious and real faults.

If someone says “Okay maybe Trump is a lout but I would rather have this lout than a pro-abortion extremist like Hillary,” I have no quarrel with that stance.

It’s when someone’s pro-Trump stance causes them to defend him against any and all charges that I have a problem.

To explicitly answer your question, I do not say that Trump is “pretending to be the author of scripture” or even “implying that he is as important as the Bible.”

I think his actions show a cretinous disregard for ordinary respect for books in general and for the special respect to which the Bible is due — hence, objective sacrilege. Hope that clarifies.

Margie: If Trump had signed an interior page of the Bible, or, heck, even the back cover, I would not have objected and we would not be having this discussion right now.

Trump’s actions were objectively disrespectful, like a person using an American flag to wipe their feet. What’s in his heart is another question.

[I linked to this article, and cited it] “Trump’s Trashy “77-Word” Vocabulary Exemplifies Sly Intelligence” (Sarah Sloat, Inverse.com, 2-7-17):

Roth equates Trump’s small vocabulary with ignorance, which is in line with with the old-school view of verbal fluency — once considered the “hallmark of intellectual acumen.” But it’s become increasingly apparent to researchers that a non-expansive vocabulary isn’t necessarily the sign of a failing mind; rather, it might be the hallmark of a person sly enough to hook his listeners and persuade them using only a few words. . . .

Our instincts may say that this means Trump is less intelligent, but rhetorical strategy experts say what he does is smart. . . .

Repetition is considered a rhetorical strategy proven to produce emphasis, clarity, amplification, and emotional effect. Audiences judge spoken content differently than words they read on a page. By repeating phrases, which may look less intelligent later transcribed on paper, the speaker guarantees that their audience walks away with their most important points in mind.

***

The reason Trump supporters come to his defense so much is that there has never been a level of corruption, misrepresentation, and outright false reporting from the mainstream media to the point of being treasonous, against a President ever!

Yeah; speaking for myself, I wouldn’t write 10% of what I have written in defense of Trump, if it weren’t for the constant stream of fanatical, extreme, irrational, oftentimes downright ridiculous criticisms.

At least SDG has some semblance of a point this time (signing a Bible cover is odd and weird). I can pretty much agree with that. But it goes beyond that, to judgments of his motives and character. And those are what I object to. SDG doesn’t stop at “odd and weird” (my description). He has to go to implied “egoism” and “sacrilege” (his terms).

If it’s a criticism of decorum and etiquette, we can at least agree to some extent (and I think many Trump supporters would). But “sacrilege” and so forth, no. I completely disagree. It’s the latter that makes it extreme and uncharitable, and so I spend my time (away from apologetics) responding to it.

This stuff has got to stop at some point, for the sake of public discourse and civic unity (even Catholic unity). But of course, in all likelihood, it will become even worse, after Trump mops up in 2020.

***

I think your biggest mis-step in your argument was to move from aesthetics and impropriety to claims of sacrilege. The latter is quite a bit more difficult to establish.  This is what happens when one is too emotional and too fixated on contempt towards people. One starts making much less compelling arguments.

When you treat something sacred in a way that would be disrespectful even for a secular object of the same kind … that my friend is sacrilege.

[directed to someone else] When it comes to the realm of the sacred, anyone who wishes to avoid seeing the point can do so indefinitely, and there is no way for anyone else to make them do otherwise. Stay in the realm of the secular. It’s okay to write your name and address inside your books. Most authors and book collectors feel it’s not okay to scrawl on book covers. If this seems mysterious and arbitrary to you, there’s no point trying to delve into the more difficult realm of the sacred.

I already agreed in three ways:

1. I wouldn’t do it myself.

2. It seems “odd and weird” to me.

3. I accept the complaint based on aesthetics and propriety and etiquette. That far, we agree.

I do not agree that it therefore becomes “sacrilege” or that it is proof of some horrible egoism on Trump’s part. That is a whole ‘nother universe of complaint. Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. (my mentor), defined “sacrilege” in his Modern Catholic Dictionary:

The deliberate violation of sacred things. Sacred things are persons, places, and objects set aside publicly and by the Church’s authority for the worship of God. The violation implies that a sacred thing is desecrated precisely in its sacred character. It is a sin against the virtue of religion. . . .

Sacred objects are desecrated by sacrilege whenever something sacred is used for an unworthy purpose. This includes the Mass and the sacraments, along with sacramentals; sacred vessels and church furnishings; and ecclesiastical property. Desecration in each of these areas includes the deliberate invalid reception of the sacraments, simulation of Mass, grave irreverence to the Eucharist; gravely profane use of sacred vessels or vestments; and the unlawful seizure of sacred things or ecclesiastical property.

I don’t see how any of these descriptions remotely apply to what President Trump did. He wasn’t denigrating the Bible in the least: which is what sacrilege would be: something like trampling it in the mud, ripping it to shreds, or when the early Protestants (usually Calvinists or radical Anabaptists) stole Catholic churches and turned them into horse stalls and smashed statues of Mary and even Jesus, etc. But signing a Bible cover? No . . .

If that makes me a dummy or blind, so be it. I just don’t see it. The purpose was comfort and solace to those who were grieving. You scarcely even mention that (if at all). All you care about, it seems, is whether Trump signed on the cover (“sacrilege”!) or an inside page (perfectly fine).

There are many articles out there recounting how various clergy disagree on this. Reasonable, good people disagree. But you’re ultra-certain: it must be sacrilege. And anyone who doesn’t get it is just a blind dummy. Even in your disagreements you have to put down those who have a different opinion, which goes along with your contemptuous disdain for the President (whom the Bible expressly commands you to honor).

This is most unbecoming (especially for a Deacon: with all due respect, and I do highly respect you), and I urge you once again to reconsider.

You’ve got my position close but not quite right.

If someone doesn’t think that autographing a Bible is sacrilege, I don’t think they’re a blind dummy. 

If someone doesn’t recognize that writing on the cover of any book that you didn’t write defaces the book and shows disregard for it, I think they lack the proper respect for books. Someone who wantonly scrawls their name on the cover of any book, at least any book they didn’t write, I have called, not exactly a blind dummy, but a lout and a philistine and a cretin (or words to that effect). 

The next step, that someone who acts loutishly and cretinously, not just toward any book, but toward the Good Book, commits what I carefully called “a species of sacrilege,” I don’t put in that same category of obviousness to any well-brought-up person. I believe I did say something to the effect that it ought to be obvious to anyone with real Christian spirit, or with real religious sensibility, that the respect that is called for in relation to any book goes double for the Good Book. That this is “a species of sacrilege” is not so obvious, though. 

I have been careful to say I think Trump’s actions are objectively sacrilege, so Fr. Hardon’s definition, which describes actions that are both formally and materially sacrilege, does not apply. 

If a visitor to a rectory ignorantly and thoughtlessly uses a consecrated chalice to swig beer while his host has stepped out, subjectively he may be innocent of any wrongdoing, but objectively his actions are a species of sacrilege, using for common purpose what is set apart for divine use. 

If someone uses a Bible to prop up the short leg of a table, whether or not they meant any disrespect, that is a species of sacrilege. The Holy Bible is holy; it should not be used as a shim for our furniture. 

Good debate. You can have the last word.

***

Photo credit: [MaxPixel.net / CC0 Public Domain]

***
"Yeah. I can't think of a single Trinitarian who believes it's three gods, but that ..."

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical ..."
"Lewis said "if you are going to teach someone mathematics, you wouldn't start with Calculus"(sic)The ..."

Superstition About the “Preserved” High Altar ..."
"Nope- Just one God...ONE God...… in a three dimensional way of course...… and mysterious just ..."

Jesus is God: Hundreds of Biblical ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment