Saturday, July 9, 2016

Christianity is for losers

Matthew Schmitz on "Donald Trump, Man of Faith":
.... Peale, always generous in his assessments of human nature, said that Trump had a “profound streak of honest humility.” Trump, not exactly showing that humble streak, said that Peale “thought I was his greatest student of all time.” In a certain sense, Trump was right. Peale has had no more perfect disciple. ....

Peale promised his readers “constant energy” if they thought positively. Optimistic thoughts opened one up to a vital force coming directly from God. Negative thoughts, especially a tendency to dwell on one’s faults, could interfere with the divine charge. He warned those with active consciences that “the quantity of vital force required to give the personality relief from either guilt or fear” was so great that it left “only a fraction of energy” for going about one’s tasks. Productivity and cheeriness became for him the signs of eternal election. (In attacking Jeb Bush for being “low-energy,” Trump effectively accused him of having forfeited the Holy Ghost.)

For Peale, “attitudes are more important than facts.” The man who displays “a confident and optimistic thought pattern can modify or overcome the fact altogether.” The first fact that Peale’s positive thinking had to overcome was the fact of human frailty. Peale knew about the difficulties some encounter in alcohol, in troubled marriages, and in economic hardship, but he never could accept the inevitability of misfortune or that all must pay the wages of sin. Like one of Job’s comforters, he told the suffering that they simply needed to look on the bright side. Where the Bible urges man to search his heart and know his faults, Peale encourages him to “make a true estimate of your own ability, then raise it ten percent.” For Jeremiah the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, but for Peale its dark recesses are bathed in California sunshine. ....

At a campaign event in Iowa, Trump shocked the audience by saying that he had never asked God for forgiveness. All his other disturbing statements—his attacks on every vulnerable group—are made intelligible by this one. The self-sufficient faith Trump absorbed from Peale has no place for human weakness. Human frailty, dependency, and sinfulness cannot be acknowledged; they must be overcome. This opens up the possibility of great cruelty toward those who cannot wish themselves into being winners. A man who need not ask forgiveness need never forgive others. He does not realize his own weakness, and so he mocks and reviles every sign of weakness in his ­fellow men. ....

Christianity is a religion of losers. To the weak and humble, it offers a stripped and humiliated Lord. To those without reason for optimism, it holds up the cross as a sign of hope. To anyone who does not win at life, it promises that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake shall find it. At its center stands a truth that we are prone to forget. There are people who cannot be made into winners, no matter how positive their thinking. They need something more paradoxical and cruciform. .... [more]