Editor’s Note:Alert! This post was written in August of 2015. This was before the Hitler salutes at Trump rallies, before Trump’s multiple insults to multiple women, before his appearance at Liberty University and endorsement by Jerry Falwell, Jr., and before Trump had won one primary. Much has changed. But this essay is still surprisingly insightful and on the money. And don’t worry – this is not an attempt to sway your vote.
By Jim Mulholland
Several years ago, my wife started a master’s degree program. In her first course, one of her peers wrote a paper with an impressive number of citations, but only one source. Her bibliography listed “The Bible, by God, King James Version.”
Her citations were all Bible verses. My wife shares this amusing anecdote often, but I’m fairly certain some people miss the humor. For many people, God is the ultimate source of authority.
Consider the present Republican presidential candidates. Nearly all of the candidates have claimed some calling from God. They each seem convinced God has ordained them for the presidency. While such a claim may be a Republican necessity, it creates a theological quandary. If they sincerely think they’ve been called, they must also believe their opponents deceived or liars. After all, an omniscient God would hardly need to hedge the bet by calling more than one of them.
Only Donald Trump has been unwilling to claim God’s endorsement, though I suspect this is because he thinks he is God and not evidence of humility.
While I’m amused by these divine endorsements, I’m also embarrassed. I once claimed a calling, suggesting God had selected me to lead others. Though my claim was only that of a pastor, it shared the same egotism and hubris of the presidential candidates. It wasn’t enough to suggest my personality, skill set and interests made leadership attractive to me. Without claiming a calling, my desire was suspect in the eyes of many.
One of my realizations since leaving religion is how often God is used to endorse human decisions and justify human behavior. Though religious folk often argue there can be no morality without God, this is obviously false. I am no less moral now than when I was Christian. What has changed is not my behavior, but my justifications and explanations. I no longer claim my choices and actions are divinely endorsed. I take responsibility for my opinions, understanding the morality of a society is determined gradually as competing values are articulated and weighed. Morality is ultimately determined by the majority opinion and not by divine declaration.
My opinion has value, but only as that of one individual in this complex process. Therefore, moral reflection is strengthened when more people are allowed to freely express and defend their opinions about what is good without fear of retribution. That these opinions are influenced by personality, upbringing, religion and culture does not diminish their value. It is in finding consensus that morality is properly developed. While religious views should be welcome at the table, claiming God’s endorsement should not.
Such claims weaken one’s credibility.
There are only three reasons to claim God’s endorsement for your opinion.
- Either you realize the weakness of your argument and hope to strengthen it by associating it with God.
- Or you suspect you are losing the debate and hope to stop the conversation.
- Or you genuinely believe your opinions and those of God are synonymous.
None of these motivations are admirable and all are counterproductive. If an omniscient, omnipotent God is on your side, name dropping is unnecessary. If not, claiming God’s approval is – by religious definition – blasphemy.
This dynamic may explain some of Donald Trump’s surprising popularity. Many of us are tired of hypocrisy and posturing. While we may vehemently disagree with some of Trump’s positions, we have a certain respect for his forthrightness. His admission that “I say what I say” is preferable to those who poll potential voters and then claim divine approval for their carefully packaged positions. I would much prefer a president who accepts personal responsibility for his decisions and actions than one who claims to be acting on God’s behalf. I find the claim of divine endorsement manipulative.
Morality is not something handed down to humanity on stone tablets. Morality is something chiseled into our societies and even our genes by countless generations of experience and debate. This evolution of morality is more often hindered than encouraged by the inclusion of divine dictates and religious absolutes. Indeed, though I once believed in such, I now find these claims dubious.
Think about it. Like the Republican candidates, all religions can’t be right if they claim different moral codes. Are cows sacred? Should women clothe themselves from head to foot? Should people avoid eating pork and shellfish? If any of these mores of other religious traditions are true, Christians are immoral. And, if Christianity is the only divinely endorsed religion, all the other religions are scams.
Of course, many Christians think all other religions false. Yet, if even if they argue Christianity is the foundation of morality, they face a dilemma. On issues of life and death like war, abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia, you can find sincere Christians arguing for divine approval of divergent opinions. Again, like the Republican candidates, if God is whispering the truth into some ears, the others are either deceived or liars. Why should we completely trust any of them?
In looking for the best presidential candidate or the finest moral opinion, it would seem that depending on divine endorsement is generally worthless. Whether we are looking back on genocide, slavery, the rights of women, civil rights or same sex marriage, religion has consistently been on the wrong side of the moral argument. Those who claim God’s endorsement have repeatedly violated one of their own codes – they’ve taken God’s name in vain.
That’s what I find intriguing about Donald Trump. While I find most of his positions distasteful, I think his unwillingness to claim divine endorsement refreshing. Those who choose not to vote for him are rejecting his ideas and not those of God. I’m tired of those who dress up the ugliest of ideas as divinely inspired. I’m also done with those who claim God’s support for opinions I find attractive. When it comes to politics and morality, I think it’s time to leave God out of it.
Jim Mulholland spent twenty-five years as a pastor. He wrote several best selling Christian books and spoke nationally. In 2008, he resigned when his faith faltered. After several years of transition, Jim published the book Leaving Your Religion and began writing a blog on becoming post-religious. You can read more of Jim’s story and reflections at LeavingYourReligion.com.
>>>Photo Credits: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Gutenberg_Bible.jpg
“Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg
Trump By Michael Vadon – https://www.flickr.com/photos/80038275@N00/20724666936/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42609338