Religion Or Cult?

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a column by Michael Gerson, examining the reasons for and consequences of Evangelical Christians’ embrace of Donald Trump. Gerson himself is a conservative Republican, an Evangelical Christian who served as speechwriter for George W. Bush; he has been a consistent critic of both Trump and those of his co-religionists who have enabled and supported Trump.

Gerson wrote that Trump’s “naked attempt to overturn a fair election”– despite testimony by Republican state officials rebutting charges of “rigging,” consistent rulings from Republican-appointed judges, and even the rejection of the Big Lie by Big Liar Bill Barr of the Justice Department– ” has driven some Trump evangelicals to the edge of blasphemous lunacy.”

“I’d be happy to die in this fight,” radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas assured Trump during a recent interview. “This is a fight for everything. God is with us. Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty.”

Elsewhere Metaxas predicted, “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.”

Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.

Actually, I think it’s less “seditious and sacrilegious” than bat-shit crazy, but then, I’m not religious. (Or tolerant of manifest stupidity.)

Gerson’s concern is that the embrace of what he terms “absurd political lies” gives us nonbelievers every reason to conclude that Christians are prone to swallowing equally absurd religious lies as well. As he says, if we encountered someone who sincerely believed in the existence of both the Easter Bunny and the resurrection of Christ, “it would naturally raise questions about the quality of his or her believing faculties.”

No kidding.

Gerson wrote his column about these concerns before CPAC unveiled the “Golden Calf”–a gold statue of Donald Trump. I can only imagine his reaction to that sacrilege.

I am not making this up. As Vox describes it, the biblical story trended on Twitter after someone involved in the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) wheeled out a golden statue of Trump, evidently to cheers from conference attendees.

The snarky sub-head read “Apparently CPAC attendees missed the part of the Bible about the Golden Calf.”

The Golden Calf is one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. The Israelites, newly freed from Egyptian slavery, have a crisis of faith while God is speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai. They melt down the golden jewelry to construct a physical god — a statue in the shape of a calf — to worship in place of their abstract, invisible deity. It’s a story about the allure of idolatry, how easy it is to abandon one’s commitments to principle in favor of shiny, easy falsehoods.

Gerson agonizes over the behaviors exhibited by his fellow Evangelical Christians, because he realizes that those behaviors are likely to repel reasonable people. The “Golden Trump/Calf ” proves his point; it encourages–actually, it practically demands— the mocking and dismissal of these particular believers as just another cult.

Gerson acknowledges that  a need for faith in a “higher order” doesn’t make that faith true, but he insists it doesn’t make faith false either.

So how do we decide? If Christianity were judged entirely by the quality of Christians, it would be a tough sell.”

Ya think?


  1. And sadly, these same people own schools that teach this nonsense to children….
    And they do it with STATE Money…MY Money. Very Very Sad

  2. I tried, I really tried, to watch Trump’s speech at CPAC yesterday because I believe in that old adage, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” It is vital to know what he is doing and saying because he IS the enemy of this nation. I only lasted 15 minutes or so because the only change he made was to replace the name Obama with the name Biden to blame for all wrongs committed by him and his Republicans the past four years. The audience was cheering, applauding and leaping to their feet, believing his every word. That they believed him, “Religion Or Cult?” basis aside, proved another old adage; “If you tell a lie often enough, it will become the truth.” Those attending the CPAC have heard his lies as he named the time frame himself, since he rode down that escalator in 2015 to announce his intention to run for president.

    We are still up to our ass with the same alligators in the same swamp; but without Pastor Pence preaching the message, will those evangelicals during his administration continue to follow him?

  3. Well, rational people simply cannot be involved in the jackassery of Trumpism. It blows up their minds. The Trump jackasses have lost their ability to reason and, I think, part of that is due to what patmcc says about private, Christian schools.

    The golden Trump is such a perfect metaphor to the story in Genesis. The idol worshippers are still around, of course. It’s stunning that we can claim to educate people and they will still fall into the pit of abject ignorance, an ignorance that allows them to be willfully self-destructive.

    Maybe there should be a caveat to the First Amendment that talks to the the abuse of the freedom of speech that promotes the destruction of the Constitution. Maybe that batshit crazy evangelical Metaxes (How does he justify his name?) can go visit Somalia or Iran for a while.

  4. I cringe with the comments of “Evangelical Christians” spewing hatred of all sorts and advocating the killing of one’s neighbors. Those comments are not within the Christian Testament of the Holy Bible. The teachings are to love and respect your neighbor even if he/she is ‘different’. Do No Harm goes beyond the medical profession.
    Reflecting briefly on my religious education: over 70 yrs ago an elderly Monk started our class by holding the Holy Bible over his head stating, “This is not a History book or a Science book, it is a book of Theology and Faith.” To further identify the speaker, he was born in the 1880s, things do change much do they?
    The goal is to attain human perfection, considered to be extremely difficult, but we should try. Any teachings that profess violence and harm should be considered sacrilegious.

  5. “Christians are prone to” and “if Christianity were judged entirely by the quality of Christians, it would be a hard sell.” Whoa, I thought you were more careful. Would you ever use the words Muslims and Islam that way? A blanket statement about hundreds of millions of people across the globe? I recommend you spend more time paying attention to the Christian left, look at the research, and I think you’ll find that right-wing so-called Christians are not a majority even in the US, let alone in the rest of the world. Just because the media gives almost ALL of its attention to the right, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of crucially important work happening on the religious left that is largely ignored.

  6. The big problem as I see it is that we humans always like easy answers. The Evangelicals advocate locking up everybody who disagrees with them. If they get their way on that, they will move to even easier answers, such as stone or behead those who disagree. It’s an easy slide down a slippery slope from one to the next and it’s in the Bible, so God must agree. I think of myself as Christian and I am here to tell you that nobody should live their lives based solely on the tenets of the Bible. At best it would lead to mass confusion and at worst to mass slaughter.

  7. Generalizing “All Evangelical Christians” as those who vocally and in person support Donald Trump is helping to further the polarization of “Us against Them”. What makes anyone think that All Evangelical Christians are willing to debase their religious beliefs and values to such a low level?

    Do you not suppose that many outside the mainstream of dedicated religious followers of Evangelical Christianity have “branded” their divisive and hate infused actions and retrofit with this label?

    I don’t know about you, however many of the accusations which the Republicans of far right political persuasion have leveled at people who live, love, breathe, and believe as I do do not fit “their” description. How did all of us get so caught up in such overly gross generalizations which so split us apart and lead to such negative emoting? Slowing down and engaging in some deeper creative and critical thinking might allow us to see what we, ourselves, are doing to further the rude, crude, and dangerous talk and actionsee of many in the United States.

    If we keep feeding the negative/bad wolf, that is the one which will survive.

    The story of The Golden Calf needs to be “related in its entirety”, not just as a sound bite….that would be the truth. And perhaps we can watch it play out as truth.

    Wishing all a calm and peace full week.

  8. Just because you did not support Trump does not make you a “good” Christian. Sitting by and not standing up to oppose what was happening makes you complicit. If you then whine and protest being called out don’t cry victim now. The victims were the people of Porto Rico after the hurricane, the children torn from their parent’s arms at the boarder, the thousands shot and killed because of no gun laws, the poor trying to live on a criminal minimum wage.

  9. Of course not all Christians are Evangelical, bigots, or nationalists, but where are they? When will we hear their voices of concern? If the Christian, Christians are in the majority, why do Evangelical, bigoted, nationalistic, homophobic, misogynistic, racists win elections?

  10. Evangelicalism is of course a cult, and it trains its believers to be authoritarians, which of course attracts those of that temperament. It is an artifact of evolved tribalism and a danger that should be actively discouraged, as should be any form of religious fundamentalism. Our tolerance will be our undoing.

  11. Carol Frances Johnston; as a practicing Christian who disconnected from all denominations of organized Christianity decades ago, I stand strong behind the words you took issue with. And, YES, had Muslims and Islam displayed the same total support for the Trump administration based on lies and total lack of humanity, those words would certainly apply and would be used to state the facts.

    Barbara George; I did not see the term “ALL Evangelical Christians” used here to describe Trump supporters. Neither have I see true Evangelical Christians step up to deny their connection to the claims by Trump and his congregation. And how many Republicans have come forward to deny any claims by Trump and his Republican party members? We have their Congressional voting records from the past more than four years of hearings, including the current members in the President Biden Congress in both House and Senate.

    What little I watched of the CPAC meeting yesterday was blatantly an “old time religion tent meeting” with leaping and cheering and probably speaking “in tongues” using Trump’s terminology. One man was actually running and leaping back and forth through the crowd waving his arms and yelling. I have actually seen “holy roller” church services which the CPAC audience performed yesterday; it was frightening to me as a child across the street from my home and it was frightening yesterday as an 83 year old woman who has watched Trump’s congregation grow watching this “devouring wolf in sheep’s clothing” calling them to be saved. He is still our enemy and he is still the head of the Republican party.

  12. This just gets scarier and scarier. I was beginning to think, “I haven’t heard a word about tRUMP in a while”, and then his supporters come back harder than ever.

  13. I agree with you Sheila (and Gerson). As a Christian, I can say it is a ‘tough sell’.

  14. Perhaps all Christians are not “Christian,” depending upon who and by what criteria such a judgment is made. Perhaps the lure of corporate dividends and capital gains and accession to power has overwhelmed the “Love thy neighbor” advice of the gentle Palestinian.

    Christians do not have a monopoly on some of the ideas proposed by this son of a carpenter, many of which were nothing new. I know many atheists and agnostics who unwittingly practice Christian ethics as a matter of course in civic understanding, and I’m sure there were many “good” people who practiced such ethics long before the gentle Nazarene came into being and that many of his observations were mere restatements of existing philosophy rather than novel notions.

    I would prefer interacting with such people over “Christians” who “join the church” just as they would the Rotary Club, i. e., “good for business.” However, like any sweeping generalization, I reject the idea that “all” Christians or even “all” evangelicals are bad people. As usual when doing the count of such a massive number, there are many exceptions. Our day to day task is in my opinion to identify the wheat from the chaff and react accordingly.

  15. Trumpism is a cult, not a religion.

    Religion has ideas, principles that undergird it. Trumpism does not stand for any principles or ideas.

    A cult is about blind worship toward a living human being who is seen as God-like. What is right or wrong depends not on a set of written principles, but whatever Dear Leader deems to be right or wrong. That’s the essence of Trumpism. If Donald Trump came out for a $25 minimum wage , that by definition would be the right policy in the Trump world because Dear Leader decreed it to be so.

    It irks me when people suggest Trumpism is about extreme conservativism. No, Trumpism is absent ideas, values, principles. Some of the most liberal Republicans are diehard Trumpers while some of the most conservative Republicans are very anti-Trump. Trumpism crosses the political spectrum because it’s not about political philosophy. Trump;ism is a personality cult. Of the 50 or so characteristics of a cult that I reviewed, it meets about 45 easily.

  16. The country narrowly avoided the fate to befall the Republican Party which is to join the growing list of Trump-branded failures that have followed him around for his and my whole life. Watching CPAC revealed this week that they are a full-blown fascist cult. The thing that made me mad was they have appropriated and desecrated many symbols of the republic that they are committed to destroying.

    We are on the right track. We need to pay attention to the business going on in DC and not the Florida circus. We need to deprive them of what Trump exists on which is attention and relevance.

  17. As a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, I suggest checking out Faithful America – real Christians doing good work representing liberal religion. group

  18. Joanne, you have a stronger stomach than I do. I understand the value of the advice you quote, but can not stand(or stomach) seeing/hearing that absurdity-in-the-flesh.
    Sheila, IMHO cult is the right answer. There has been much written about cults of late, for obvious reasons, and the worship of the “Empty Orange One”is nought but cult worship.
    He replaced Obama with Biden, and I’ll bet the listeners never blinked an eye, just sucked it all in, feeling blessed to be in his presence.

    Over It, you raise an excellent point:
    The question of how to tolerate the intolerant was put beautifully by a philosopher named Karl Popper in 1945-
    “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance,” he wrote. “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
    So, basically, if you tolerate the intolerant, the intolerant will eventually wipe out tolerance.

  19. I was interested in learning why some Christians are vehemently opposed to abortion but are for capital punishment so I found a paper written in 2000 by Kimberly J. Cook called Abortion, Capital Punishment, and the Politic’s of “God’s” Will, in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal. It’s very good and very informative! And frightening! A culprit in this is a man named Rushdoony and if any are interested it’s easy to find this paper.
    I have many errands to run…

  20. I would agree that Trumpism is a Cult. Religions have some sort of core values, that supersede the human leaders. Although, the human leaders can and do select what pieces are relevant to them and ignore the contradictions.

    The Cult is all about following the Leader. The Trumpet found various pieces he could and did assemble: Reactionary Republicans, bible thumper’s, and Rambo wannabes. The Cult followers look to the Male-Macho-Authoritarian figure for guidance. The GOP Platform for 2020 was a blank piece of paper, since the Platform was whatever The Trumpet said it was.

    One other thing the Leaders of Personality Cults demonstrate is a willingness to “purge” those who the Leader decides are no longer loyal. So you could have Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives, Stalin’s purges and Mao’s purges to periodically cleanse.

    Pastor Pence was purged by The Trumpet, in terms of today’s GOP -Pastor Pence is a non-entity at best and a traitor at worst.

  21. ML,

    The delicious irony attached to your comments is that Trump is an abject coward who is terrified of germs and even more scared of going to jail. Guess what’s about to happen. SDNY to the rescue.

    Meanwhile, certain aspects of religiosity keep coming to the rescue of sanity.

  22. Mitch D’s comments about whether tolerance should tolerate intolerance (ala K. Popper) remind me of the notion that one opinion is as good as another. No, they’re not. Opinions rise out of values, and I somehow think that bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia are not good values. I think we all have little pockets of intolerance, and a good value would insist that we try to recognize those pockets and get rid of them. Thanks, Mitch, for bringing up Popper’s thoughts about tolerance/intolerance. We need to stand up and be counted.

  23. Jimmy Carter is Evangelical, a good man undermined and made ineffectual by Republicans. (I’m not his apologist. I am atheist.) The problem started when the Fundamentalist Evangelical leaders, those who were in power of/over those churches and their followers when Carter was in office, didn’t like that he was a left/central liberal, so they got Reagan to do their bidding. It was a trick with mirrors, because he didn’t look like the cult leader that they were. He was just willing to do or say anything to get elected, kind of like Trump. Reagan, of course, being Mr. Nice Guy, not very bright, and drunk with power, worked their agenda for them. The involvement of the “Fundamentalist Evangelicals” (aka authoritarians) in politics started then and there and has grown ever since to the point that they are now in control of the party. They are control of Trump. They are so good at it that they have him believing that he, Trump, is in control, but he is really just a stooge, doing their bidding.

    Read John Dean’s two or three most recent books about how the Fundamentalist Evangelicals have coopted the party. (Yes, that John Dean!) Start with Dean’s latest book with co-author and authoritarian expert Bob Altemeyer – “Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers,”: and then check out the book “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet or the Netflix documentary based on the book – “The Family.”

    Let’s be careful. Not all Christians are Evangelicals, not all Evangelicals or Christians are Fundamentalists, and not all those who fit any or all of those categories are authoritarians.

    However, if Dean and Altemeyer are to be believed, and they are well documented in Dean’s books, most Evangelical Christian Fundamentalists are Authoritarian and the profiles of Authoritarians and Fascists are nearly identical, as demonstrated by accepted sociological tests. Therein lies the problem. Unfortunately, there are lots them, enough to form a rather large voting block. The only good news is that now, with Trumpty Dumpty on the forefront, (and Dean and Altemeyer exposing them) we know who they are. They are no longer hiding.

  24. Two comments today – There are good an bad of every sect – There are good people and Earth Food (as in the biblical, they’d be swallowed up) or Fire Fuel (as in they will burn) – I won’t label a sect, but being embarrassed by bad coreligionists is a cultural trait of mine –

    Paul – when you are right, you are right – your comments today – you are right!

  25. The Trump cult has no desire for freedom. As mongers who strive for license instead of freedom, they will further lock their hearts to every thing, thereby having no chance of caring for this country. We witnessed how they would run the country on Jan. 6.

Comments are closed.