This week I went on a strange trip, a pilgrimage to a place where common words and assumptions were flipped upside down and backward, where my vision blurred and I felt an unseen force trying to make my brain go stupid.
I read “The Faith of Donald J. Trump,” just published. Its subtitle: “A Spiritual Biography.”
What the heck, you say. But no, it’s real, and reasonably hefty, at 375 pages.
Check the flap: The authors are David Brody, a reporter with the Christian Broadcasting Network, and Scott Lamb, a Baptist minister and biographer of Mike Huckabee and the baseball slugger Albert Pujols.
Scan the blurbs, by Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich. By now your horse-crap siren is a-wailing.
Then read the foreword, by Eric Metaxas. He says “many serious Christians” embrace this president because they understand God’s grace better than others. He says moralizing naysayers are like “the elder brother in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”
But wait, you say: There is no elder brother in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Maybe he meant the Prodigal Son.
And you think, as you wade into the text, these poor hacks. This is going to be bad.
And it is. As Noah built a mighty ark, so have Brody and Lamb built their vessel, broad and beamy and loaded with what smells like 40 days’ and nights’ manure in the bilge.
“We are not primarily speaking about his ‘religious piety,’ ” they write, using ironic quote marks to distance themselves from the absurdity. Instead they want to talk about his “worldview” — that is, “his framework and philosophy for understanding the world, himself, life, and eternity.”
“Like Muzak in an elevator or a fish in water, people have a personal worldview that surrounds them even when it goes unarticulated.”
In other words, this president has a godliness that is unspoken and invisible and cannot easily be detected in — what do you call that thing? — his life.
This is Christian homeopathy. It makes possible all kinds of miraculous pronouncements and mind-bending conclusions.
Decency, honesty, charity, humility: Who cares if the president does not manifest these things in what he says or does? Never mind the Lord’s commandments, like the ones forbidding idolatry, bearing false witness and moving on thy neighbor’s wife.
The authors instead plump up the virtuous side of the ledger. Trump works hard at being rich. He doesn’t drink or smoke, and he admires Norman Vincent Peale. Now and then in interviews, he wags his Christian tail, looking for good-boy treats: “When we go in church and when I drink my little wine, which is about the only wine I drink, and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness. And I do that as often as possible, because I feel cleansed, OK? But, you know, to me, that is important, I do that.”
The authors’ diagnosis? It’s all good.
The book loads up on Trumpy vacuity, yet avoids the only essential Scripture passage for a religious book about a billionaire. It’s the one where Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter Heaven. He was pretty clear about that.
But tackling that conundrum is not what Brody and Lamb are about. They give away the whole game in their next-to-last page: “It’s no secret that white, evangelical Christians, while still dominant politically, see their culture slipping away. They’re not the majority they once were and they’ve been looking for that fierce protector. And along came Donald Trump, warts and all.”
It’s a white-culture argument, with a spiritual mask.
Evangelicals will deny that. They’ll insist that Trump is — like all of us — a sinning child of God, a “piece of clay” shaped by the Lord for his glory. Maybe so. But if they mean it, let them extend such charity to God’s other children whom their president and party have so relentlessly and viciously attacked.
Let them spare some kindness for Latino immigrants and Muslim refugees. For the women Trump demeans and defames, or that other president whom they all hate so much, the black one. Or the former senator and secretary of State who haunts the Christian right like a she-demon.
You know they won’t, not in this life.
We’ll all have to wait until the kingdom of Heaven arrives, when the arc of the universe has finally bent to justice, and all those whom Trump stepped on as losers are winners at last. Maybe then the Lord will look with mercy on those who posed and preened as Christians, but lost their way.
And for the worst of the holy hypocrites, those who abused and distorted the Gospel for the most nakedly profane reasons — worldly power and sycophancy to Donald J. Trump — perhaps the Lord in his mercy will find a way to slip them this book, so they will have something to read in Hell.
Lawrence Downes is a writer and editor in New York.