What's Tony Thinking

Election Or Exorcism?


Last week I posted a blog in which I confessed my deep quandary about how people can possibly support Donald Trump when the guy ridicules those who serve in the U.S. military, even or especially those have been wounded or killed. He calls them “suckers” and “losers.” Same guy who refused, as President, to be seen with injured vets or to visit military cemeteries because he thought it wouldn’t reflect well on him to be seen in such company.

“I don’t get it,” I wrote. That blog got some responses via this site and quite a few more when it was run at Post Alley. A number of veterans wrote in to say they detested the guy. But no one really explained to me how such a person could have so much support that he may be re-elected as President.

I’ve continued to ponder this and think I have an answer. My blog was pretty much framed in political and moral terms. Not spiritual ones. I think we have to move into that latter arena for an answer and to understand where we are.

What we are dealing with here is the demonic. A power Scripture calls “the ruler of this world,” i.e. Satan. Am I saying Trump is Satan? No. I am, however, saying that Satan or a trans-personal force of evil, if you prefer, is operative here and has taken us captive.

By and large, mainline and liberal Christians stopped crediting the devil or the demonic a couple generations ago. For that crowd — my crowd — there were only two actors on the cosmic stage: God and the human being. There was God in heaven and human beings doing good and doing ill. That was it.

But in Scripture, and you can’t really make sense of it without this, there is a third agency, “An Enemy who is,” Fleming Rutledge writes, “variously called Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, ‘the ruler of this world,’ and ‘the prince of the power of the air,’ among other biblical designations.”

As I say, mainline and liberal Christians, shaped by the Enlightenment and rationalism, have been embarrassed by this and read this third agency out of the story altogether. I began to take it more seriously as a I encountered the power of addiction, and the limits of free will, in human life. There is an element to addiction of a larger power of evil that involves one in a spiritual battle, and possibly by grace, deliverance.

Not saying the demonic is operative only in addiction. It is at work in every aspect of life, including the political. But I do think it is the only way to explain Trump’s grip on people. It is a demonic power that plays, as the devil does in the Bible, on human fear and vulnerability, leading us to give our allegiance to false gods or idols.

Sin is the self curved in upon itself, what theologians call incurvates in se, being selfishly curved inward upon yourself. That seems to me to accurately describe Donald Trump. But not only Trump. All of us have this capacity, to fall under the sway of this demonic power. Its opposite is love, or the self curved outward toward others. 

So the answer to my “I don’t get it” question drives beyond the realm of politics and morality, to the spiritual. It is a demonic power that we’re up against here. That said, one of the ironies of this situation is that the self–identified Christians who support Trump are the ones who speak freely about “spiritual warfare.” Which leads people in my liberal, mainline world to avoid such terms like the plague. I think that’s a mistake. There is a spiritual battle going on in America today.

Having said this, there are some important qualifiers to keep in mind. First, there is no crystal-clear line between the good guys and the bad guys. Some wonderful people have been beguiled by Trump. And those on the other side can be every bit as cruel and vicious, if perhaps not in so crude and obvious ways.

As Christians we learn to understand ourselves as capable of evil and indeed as evil-doers. The only way we keep from turning into monsters ourselves is by facing and repenting our own evil and sin, trusting in God’s mercy.

In his book on evil, People of the Lie, the psychologist Scott Peck argued that the people in the grip of evil, “the people of the lie,” exhibited no ability whatsoever to see their own capacity for evil. That was all projected outward, onto others.

To put this another way, there is a Trump within each of us, a monster who is capable of being entirely curved in upon the self. The only way we get a handle on this capacity within ourselves is by acknowledging it, not projecting it all onto others.

Second, and here I quote another psychologist (who is a Christian) Richard Beck, “For followers of Jesus, spiritual warfare isn’t just about the struggle for justice. It’s also the struggle to love.” 

If our spiritual warfare is only about justice, it’s easy to think that vanquishing the other side will solve things. To be sure, justice is part of it. But bottom line, it’s the struggle to love, and more specifically, to “love our enemies.”

We won’t prevail in this spiritual warfare by hating Trump or his most mendacious enablers. We prevail by resisting evil and by love. Think Martin Luther King Jr. It was about racial justice, yes, but ultimately about love and the triumph of love over hate.

To sum up my main points:

Trump’s grip on people and our national life cannot be understood or engaged solely on the human, political or moral level alone. There is a trans-human and spiritual dimension. We don’t need only an election, but an exorcism. As St. Paul puts it in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but . . . against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

That exorcism comes by daily turning to a power greater than ourselves for help, by recognizing that each of us is prey, at least potentially, to this evil and its power, and by knowing that bottom line here is not vanquishing the enemy but the struggle to love.





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