Friday, December 20, 2019

Trump, Christianity and the occult

When Christianity Today's editor, Mark Galli, called for Trump's removal from office, I was gratified -- though I knew that his sentiment would have little impact in the evangelical world. Sure enough, Franklin Graham has offered a furious response (on Facebook -- how typical!), full of invective and name-calling while avoiding the substantive issues that Galli laid out. Example:
Christianity Today said it’s time to call a spade a spade. The spade is this—Christianity Today has been used by the left for their political agenda. It’s obvious that Christianity Today has moved to the left and is representing the elitist liberal wing of evangelicalism.
This is, of course, pure argumentum ad hominem. Utterly illogical and meaningless. Franklin Graham is a man who can advocate the so-called "prosperity Gospel," which his father would have denounced as a heresy, while labeling Christianity Today an exemplar of liberal elitism. Unreal!

In the modern world, evangelical Christianity has become a rationalization machine. These people devote all of their craft and cunning to concocting justifications for the dictates of their own Ids, and they don't give even a fleck of fecal matter about your accusations of hypocrisy. Principle means nothing to them; they are devoted to Dear Leader and that is that.

In this context, it may be as well to reproduce some words originally published in 2017.

*  *  *

Trump is on record as saying that he has never asked for forgiveness because he does not believe that he has done anything requiring forgiveness. There are many versions of Christian theology, and Trump's statement is permissible in exactly none of them. Trump has, in essence, proclaimed his un-Christianity. The guy might as well have written 666 on his forehead while sacrificing a goat.

Yet he remains popular among evangelicals. Yesterday, Kurt Eichenwald addressed this bizarre situation. I would like to translate his tweets into conventional prose:
The evangelical movement is a dead group walking. Its biblically ignorant, hate-filled and hypocritical followers have destroyed any credibility it may have ever had. They have pretended for years they are about the Bible and God. They have proved they are just a group of hypocrites who use "GOP" as a substitute to "GOD." There are some whose faith is beyond question - like @EWErickson. But others are frauds. Young people see that, which is why they're peeling away.

These "faithful" had a choice between a woman who teaches Sunday school and a guy who was in two porns, could not name books of the Bible, cited as his favorite phrase in the Bible an Old Testament verse which is LITERALLY the only one specifically repudiated by Jesus in the New Testament. He attends no church, and before he started running, declared that "The Art of the Deal" was his favorite book, followed by the Bible.

If evangelists wanted to vote for him and say "his policies are what I support," fine. But they still pretend it has something to do with their religious faith. They say "He's a good Christian" - a phrase they now show has no meaning in their lexicon. The evangelicals will never recover from their demonstration of hateful hypocrisy. They have shown themselves -- politically -- for what they are.

So remember, evangelicals: Every time you say Trump is Godly, you stick another dagger in your movement by demonstrating its meaninglessness.
The Old Testament verse referenced above was the one containing the phrase "an eye for an eye." Trump:
That's not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what's happening to our country, I mean, when you see what's going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us ... we have to be firm and have to be very strong.
You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other.
I'm sure that evangelicals will offer some inane verbal formulation which -- in their minds -- can resolve this obvious contradiction between Trump's words and the Sermon on the Mount. (If pressed, I could come up such a formulation myself, purely as an exercise in creative thinking.) Fundamentalist religion always offers the brutes a rationale to justify their brutishness.

*  *  *

Trumpism and the occult. Steve Bannon oversaw the campaign that brought Trump to the White House, and Trump -- for a while -- brought Bannon into the White House. Bannon, for his part, is a big fan of Julius Evola, the fascist philosopher who has a prominent place in any history of occultism in the 20th century. From Wikipedia:
Around 1920, Evola's interests led him into spiritual, transcendental, and "supra-rational" studies. He began reading various esoteric texts and gradually delved deeper into the occult, alchemy, magic, and Oriental studies, particularly Tibetan Tantric yoga. A keen mountaineer, Evola described the experience as a source of revelatory spiritual experiences. After his return from the war, Evola experimented with hallucinogens and magic.
Evola wrote prodigiously on Eastern mysticism, Tantra, hermeticism, the myth of the Holy Grail and Western esotericism.[6][page needed] German Egyptologist and esoteric scholar Florian Ebeling has noted that Evola's The Hermetic Tradition is viewed as an "extremely important work on Hermeticism" in the eyes of esotericists.[44] Evola gave particular focus to Cesare della Riviera's text Il Mondo Magico degli Heroi, which he later republished in modern Italian. He held that Riviera's text was consonant with the goals of "high magic" – the reshaping of the earthly human into a transcendental 'god man'. According to Evola, the alleged "timeless" Traditional science was able to come to lucid expression through this text, in spite of the "coverings" added to it to prevent accusations from the church.[45] Though Evola rejected Carl Jung's interpretation of alchemy, Jung described Evola's The Hermetic Tradition as a "magisterial account of Hermetic philosophy".[45] In Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, the philosopher Glenn Alexander Magee favored Evola's interpretation over that of Jung's.[46] In 1988, a journal devoted to Hermetic thought published a section of Evola's book and described it as "Luciferian."
And so on. Can you imagine the uproar in evangelical circles if Obama's campaign had been headed by an Evola disciple?

Oddly enough, there is evidence that Trump's entire campaign constituted a kind of occult ritual. That statement may seem absurd, but Gary Lachman -- formerly a musician, now a noted historian of esoteric thought -- tracked what we might call "Alt Right occultism" in real time throughout the 2016 campaign. In areas of the internet where rational-minded folk rarely visit, Alt Rightists saw the campaign as a kind of group working, as an experiment in ceremonial magic.

Absurd? Don't judge until you've read Lachman's book. At the very least, you should listen to the interview given above. Here's a longer discussion.

Trump's hardcore followers have evinced an attitude toward religion which may, at first, seem unfathomable and contradictory. Until recently, many on the Alt Right held to a philosophy of libertarian atheism, familiar to us from the writings of Ayn Ran. Being young, haughty, ill-read and pretentious, these libertarians embraced all of the sillier trends in pop impiety, such the "mythicist" view of Jesus' historicity. Well, anyone who has read Flannery O'Connor could have guessed what would happen next: Their atheism eventually seeped out of them like milk trickling out of a punctured container. Turns out there's only so much you can do with atheism; it gets boring after a while.

As their libertarianism morphed into fascism, some turned to Evola-style esoterica, while others turned to a very orthodox and unforgiving form of Christianity, which often manifested as capital-O Orthodox Christianity. (Here we see the Russian influence at work.) They argued against the wall separating Church and state, and rationalized their new embrace of that old time religion with vague mutterings about "Western Tradition." (The moment you see the T-word capitalized, you know you're dealing with a fascist-in-disguise.) Some Alt Right thinkers have embraced both Evola-style hermeticism and a pre-Enlightenment Christian theocracy. Traditional faith is considered necessary for the masses, who, without religion, might rebel against their masters. Esotericism is for the elite, for the Bannons of this world.

In other words, leading Alt Rightist thinkers are both elitists and occultists -- characteristics which right-wing conspiracy theorists traditionally ascribe to the left (without citing any evidence). Projection is the best protection.

On a later date, I might compose a longer essay about all of this, offering links and citations and all of the scholarly niceties. Someone should write a book about this material. Actually, I should write that book -- but I always have about three or four books going simultaneously, and I never finish them.
Three thoughts:
First, as I'm sure you know, but perhaps your readers don't, the "eye for eye" quote did not originate with the Bible, it came from the Code of Hammurab about 1800 BCE. Depending on your religious beliefs, that would be some 500 years before when Moses was supposed to have dictated the Bible or over 1300 years before Ezra edited the Bible. In any event, the oral Jewish tradition, which probably began during the exile and was definitely around by the time of the Maccabees, was quite clear that "eye for eye" related to monetary damage. The term was understood to simply mean that damages equal to the harm were to be paid. In other words, for Hammurabi morality was justice, in the Jewish tradition, morality meant justice tempered with mercy. In the Christian tradition , morality if more aligned with mercy, hence the instruction to turn the other cheek.
2. Judaism and Islam are tribal religions, Christianity was devised as a universal religion, hence the Universal Catholic Church. It hasn't worked out that way, Christianity has also broken down into tribes. There is nothing wrong with tribalism in and of itself. It can be help create a sense of community thereby helping individuals grasp the concept of other. The danger is to view inclusion in the tribe as some granting the members some sense of superiority. The Koran says that, "I have made you tribes so that you can know each other." The idea is to have tribes that are able to learn from each other. As long as tribes are merely for purposes of identification, things can be fine. Once tribes are used for purposes of inherent superiority, either because God loves the tribe more or the tribe confers a better gene that grants inherently greater intelligence or power, disaster and wars follow.
3. People who believe in the occult are like those who believe in genies, angels or a God that will grant wishes. It is silly but comforting to the believer. He knows something that rational people do not. The notion of a magical genie really is not that much different from the belief in a magical Trump that can cure your ills.
This was a thought provoking post. I have ordered a copy of Magee’s book on Hegel. Never liked reading Hegel, was like bad hootch, intoxicating in a bad way.

@joseph— The problem with the occult practitioners is that “the goals of "high magic" – the reshaping of the earthly human into a transcendental 'god man'” probably results in a sociopath.

@Joseph— Another post or two on this topic would be, uh, enlightening.

Here's Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor, Yale University School of Medicine and president of the World Mental Health Organization, speaking about the danger of being around a deeply mentally ill person:

"Without arming yourself with the right interpretation, you end up playing into the hands of pathology and helping it — even if you do not fully believe it. This is because of a common phenomenon that happens when you are continually exposed to a severely compromised person without appropriate intervention. You start taking on the person’s symptoms in a phenomenon called "shared psychosis."

The reason for this is that the narcissist has no sense of ego boundaries. All their 'adult' behaviour is fake; their language is fake. People sense something is wrong but can't put their finger on it. While this is happening a more primitive part of the brain -- the amygdala -- is automatically and unconsciously pulling out a person's acquired social relations wiring, re-calibrating it to best communicate with the overtly sincere nut job in front of them. The result for them is a deeply reduced capacity to emotionally engage with others. People become distant to them; they lose empathy and judgement. A pathological person irredeemably damages anyone dealing with them. Any engagement with them is damaging. The only safe course is to get away from them.

Put JFK or Lyndon Johnson in a conversation with Trump. They would never have bothered trying to "understand" him, but would have rejected him in a heart beat. This is the mistake of our society -- that we continue to engage with Trump. He must be removed from office.
What did the woman whose hand the Pope slapped (after she'd yanked him) say to him? There's got to be some symbolic significance to this. "Beware the Ides of March"? Something to do with the prophecies of St Malachy or Fatima? What language was she speaking? Her final word seemed like "Concentrate!" She's got to have been giving a warning.
There's a lot of truth in what you're saying, @Fred, as many of us know from our personal experience. It applies when the nutjob "merely" has a severe personality disorder too, even if they are not full-on psychotic. Some people are so nuts that one cannot live with them day in, day out, and expect to stay mentally healthy.

In Britain, meanwhile, there's "Brexit".

Here is a fine example of what a psychotic, rabid political debate-space looks like: a collection of articles in the Israeli press about the Ayia Napa gang-rape case.
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