Nominalism, Christianity, and Donald Trump
With the election of Donald Trump, there’s a lot of discussion on who has been living in a bubble. The surprise of so many Democrats has resulted in so many thinkpieces contending that coastal, city-dwelling Democrats are just elites that are out of touch with the real America. (Interestingly, I have also seen posts to argue that it’s just the opposite — predominantly white midwestern rural communities are out of touch, which could fuel their otherization of minority concerns.)
There have been thinkpieces discussing the role of social media in this. Isn’t it well known that Facebook tends to show you what it thinks you’ll engage with (with your attention, likes, and shares)? And, even if Facebook didn’t do this (but protip: it definitely does), it’s easier to block someone or unfriend someone if they keep posting stuff you don’t like than it is to customize one’s offline relationships.
I do not unfriend or block people on Facebook. Yet, I know because of my chosen circles (such as fringe Mormon and disaffected Mormon communities), I self-select to more liberal crowds. But…I also grew up in Oklahoma. I went to school to Texas A&M. I still try to read blogs of conservative Mormons, evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and so on. These are not bastions of liberalism.
So, I thought that when I read the thoughtful lamentations of conservative, evangelical friends about the state of politics that I was getting something “real” from “the other side”. These were people who couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton or the Democrats — but who also couldn’t abide Trump, because to them, he did not match their Christian or even conservative values.
I gained a greater respect for these Christians — Evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholic, even Mormon — for whom their religion did not allow them to walk in lock-step with Trump even though he was the Republican nominee.
This was very different than what a lot of the stereotypes of the religious right have been. These people are principled — and I don’t agree with them on a great many issues — but they aren’t cruel. They may not support gay marriage, but I recognize (even if many liberals think it impossible) this isn’t the gross meanness of homophobia. (That being said, I understand how loaded my use of terms like “thoughtful” or “principled” are.)
I began to think that maybe the stereotypes of conservative Christianity were overblown. I mean…there was even talk that Mormons in Utah would be so opposed to Trump that it might swing to the 3rd party candidate Evan McMullin!
But then I saw that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.
I suppose that even my bubble with thoughtful conservative evangelicals, Mormons, white Catholics, and so on, is still a bubble.
However, ultimately, this gets to something that bugs me about Christianity in general — Christians just doesn’t seem to produce political views I would want to promote.
I’m not saying that Christians have to be liberal Democrats — and while I think that a theological legitimate Christianity probably shouldn’t conform to either of the modern American political parties, I am in fact increasingly starting to suspect that theologically, Christianity cannot abide same-sex relationships (even though I would prefer it, I just feel that liberal denominations are making theologically illegitimate steps there). But I do see a difference between a theologically rigorous approach and a…not-so-rigorous approach. And even more importantly, I think that such theology should also condemn so much of Donald Trump’s approach (as it does for many of my thoughtful conservative Christian friends.)
…but here’s the thing: 80% still voted for Trump.
Now, there’s always the possibility that all, most, or some were just holding their noses — that for them, Trump was the lesser of two evils, as it were.
But I suspect something worse — that for many of these Christians, there’s nothing problematic about Trump from their theology and worldview. That for many of these Christians, there’s nothing inconsistent with the gospel there. Their religion doesn’t inculcate the sense that there is something very amiss going on there, and in fact, their religion may in fact give them the sense that there is truth and value there.
I saw an exchange on Twitter (click for full size). And I feel this really captures this. I have no idea what Phil Christman’s politics are or what his denomination’s politics are — he could be mainline or liberal or whatever…but he could also be like one of the thoughtful, compassionate conservative Christians I know.
But you also have Barry Love who sincerely thinks that there is nothing inconsistent with his view and Christianity.
Nominalism, or, “But they aren’t real Christians!”
I hadn’t thought a lot about the term “nominalism” until I found a post and comment section from Edward Feser criticising the liberal tolerance of Islam. I’m not sure if I agree with this post (because, surprise, I also know thoughtful Muslims…although perhaps it is the case that I don’t know enough about Islam to suspect, as I do for liberal Christianity and as Feser does for Islam, that progressive Muslims are making theologically illegitimate moves), but the main idea I got was that liberals mistakenly (per Feser) view religions nominally — thinking that religions don’t have essential natures, but are simply what their adherents want them to be. From there, Feser argues that liberals mistakenly argue that religions (like Islam and Christianity) can and should just adopt liberal principles to participate in a pluralistic world (or that Islamic thought is fungible with Christian thought, the latter of which is more easily harmonized [or distorted] to liberal thought.)
Feser thinks this approach is doomed because religions actually do have natures. And while one can certainly reject that ISIS represents the fundamental nature of Islam, Feser would say that liberals are wrong to think that any theologically legitimate Islam is fundamentally liberal.
Reading this article and the comments section made me realize that, to an extent, I do see a lot of nominalism in discussing religion. The progressive Mormon project is based on the idea that Mormon teachings can be reshaped and molded to support liberal progressive causes.
The rejection of nominalism looks like the establishment of close boundaries or a small tent: same-sex marriage is apostasy, progressive Mormons must grapple on the 2nd anniversary of the November 5th exclusion policy.
Or, in the case of Trump, one could say in rejection of nominalism that many items of Trump’s agenda just aren’t compatible with Christianity, no matter how many Christians voted for him. (There are a lot of thoughts in both Mormon and Christian context that many who say they are believers really aren’t. Even the very elect could be deceived by a false prophet.)
To me, this isn’t comforting. The “No true Christian” approach doesn’t resonate. I still feel nominalist — I still feel that Christianity is as it does, and there’s something to be said that 80% supported Trump. That I can reliably find people who will say that there is no need to take a nightstick for Muslims, because those followers of that “satanic ideology” are not our neighbors.
My thoughtful Christian friends want to say that is inconsistent with their religion, but I have nothing to really say that their religion is more Christian than anything else. In fact, what I increasingly suspect…what I increasingly fear…is that the popularity of that style is indicative that that really is more Christian than other alternatives.