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Evangelical Trumpism: Self in Society Roundup 38

Trumpism, the promise of liberalism, book bans, Hamas, Exodus, Rand and the New Atheists, hair shaming, healthy foods, BAP, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
November 26, 2023; ported here January 6, 2024

Trumpism as an Evangelical Movement

Trumpism is a deeply evangelical movement, as I review in my book, Getting Over Jesus: Finding Meaning and Morals without God, and as I discuss with Craig Silverman.

As Sarah Posner reviews, Trump recently said, "[W]e will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the Communists, Marxists, and Fascists . . ." This language evokes the evangelical rhetoric of casting out demons, Posner notes.

Posner writes:

Trump's evangelical base believes God ordained America as a Christian nation, that the Christian nation is under attack by internal, satanic enemies (including the so-called communists), and that Christian patriots must wage "spiritual warfare" against these demonic forces to restore the America God intended. Many of them also believe that God anointed Trump to save America at this crucial time in its history.

While almost no one whom the Trumpists call "communists" or "socialists" really are communists or socialists (obviously there are some "democratic socialists" active within today's left)—mostly this is holdover language from the Bircher era—when the Trumpists complain about the fascists, my main advice to them is to invest in some mirrors.

See also the image by Tyler Merbler of Jesus wearing a MAGA hat.

Shull on Thanksgiving and Liberalism

Thomas Shull wrote a depressing piece summarizing the European treatment of Native Americans. The story of Thanksgiving, at least, is basically positive. Shull concludes:

It is a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless, that the classical liberal ideals and individual rights on which the United States was founded were born in a time of slavery and imperialism throughout a largely illiberal world. Liberal ideals have slowly—very slowly—purified that mixed inheritance, and for that, and for a country legally dedicated to liberal ideals and freedoms, we can be thankful.

But this gratitude, and our ideals, should also be expressed by a consciousness of the incompleteness of our liberal striving, a frank acknowledgment of times when the American polity has failed to live up to its ideals, and a greater public attention to the pressing concerns of people whose ancestors "were the original proprietors of the soil," and who lent a hand, many times at cost, to those colonists and citizens who founded and formed the country we now call home.

Book Bans and School Choice

Neal McCluskey wrote a Cato article headed, "The Problem Isn't Book 'Banners.' It's Public Schools." There's something to that, of course; if parents were fully able to choose their schools, some would choose more conservative schools, others would choose more progressive schools, and that would avoid a lot of the clashes we now see in education.

There's also something to Aaron Ross Powell's critique:

Actually, the problem is that Moms for Liberty is a hate group weaponizing the state to abuse a minority. School choice would be great, but we don't have it now, and the kind of argument this essay sets out, built on an unethical perspective of equivalence between the hateful immorality of Moms for Liberty and parents who want their kids to feel represented and accepted, makes the case for school choice much less persuasive by presenting it as a cynical cover for far-right cultural preferences.

As I wrote elsewhere, we should "stop pretending that [various] religious conservatives care at all about respecting the rights and choices of parents." On a moral level, expressing bigotry toward LGBTQ people is wrong, even if some people "choose" to do so.

Harris on Hamas

Sam Harris's recent remarks are worth a second look:

Just think about what happened at the Supernova music festival: At least 260 people were murdered in the most sadistically gruesome ways possible. . . . And from the jihadist side this wasn't an error. It's not that if they could have known what was in the hearts of those beautiful young people, they would have thought, "oh my God, we're killing the wrong people. These people aren't our enemies. These people are filled with love and compassion and want nothing more than to live in peace with us." No, the true horror is that, given what jihadists believe, those were precisely the sorts of people any good Muslim should kill and send to hell where they can be tortured in fire for eternity. From the jihadist point of view, there is no mistake here. And there is no basis for remorse. Please absorb this fact: for the jihadist, all of this sadism—the torture and murder of helpless, terrified people—is an act of worship. This is the sacrament. This isn't some nauseating departure from the path to God. This isn't stalled spiritual progress, much less sin. This is what you do for the glory of God. This is what Muhammad himself did.

Quick Takes

Exodus: In the 1960 film Exodus (based on the book by Leon Uris, whose main character I am named after), about the founding of the modern state of Israel, a British military leader explains the promises for a Jewish homeland and Arab hostility to Jewish immigration. One character asks, "How is it ever going to end?" We still ask. At the end of the film, Ari Ben Canaan says, "I swear . . . that the day will come when Arab and Jew will share in a peaceful life, this land that they have always shared in death." We still hope.

Rand vs. New Atheists: Onkar Ghate and Robert Mayhew review the major differences between Ayn Rand and the New Atheists, both in terms of ethics and epistemology, in this 2015 talk. At one point Mayhew points out that Sam Harris tries to square "altruism" with benefiting the self. I think this points to the sides talking past each other. Clearly we are a deeply social species and in myriad ways we do benefit ourselves by helping others. This is especially clear in family life, but we can also see this with charity. Rand herself was deeply charitable. When Objectivists talk about "altruism," they mean self-sacrificial, self-harming aid to (or supplication of) others. But then they end up making a lot of room for non-"altruistic" benefiting of others as part of an "egoistic" life.

Damned Long-Hairs: Hemant Mehta: John Wilkerson, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and chancellor of Hyles-Anderson College, recently had to write a letter of apology. Not only did he invite a Methodist to speak at a Creationist seminar, but the Methodist had long hair! The horror! What's the problem? Wilkerson explains: "A self-proclaimed Methodist obviously is doctrinally wrong on baptism, the local church, and likely on salvation. It doesn't matter if these men are 'good' men, they are doctrinally wrong and have no right to speak in a Baptist pulpit." And: "A long haired hippie teaching in the pulpit is in direct contradiction to Scripture. . . . [T]o have long hair is a shame. . . . [T]hat he blatantly disobeys God's Word should have alerted anyone to his spiritual discernment and that he is to be disqualified to teach people." I Corinthians 11:14 seems to forbid long hair on men, although some Christians think that advice is limited to specific cultures. To me, the real lesson is that people who believe faith-based nonsense in one area are likely to believe nonsense in other areas. The larger problem here is the religious rejection of modern science.

Christian Bigotry: Hemant Mehta also has a piece out about how many Christians regard the "LGBT+ lifestyle" as contrary to Christian dogma, which leads some such Christian parents to treat the gay or transgender children horribly.

Reen on Protestant Intellectuals: In my post, "Cowen on Hirsi Ali's Religious Conversion," I mention the little detail that Cowen thinks Protestants are the least-noticeable intellectuals among religious people. Aaron Renn, a Protestant, plausibly claims "Protestant intellectuals tend not to center their Protestant identity in the way Catholics do," and "Catholics have institutions and networks designed to publicly support and promote their intellectuals."

Healthy Food: Apparently they had to run a study to figure out that eating healthy foods makes people healthier. The article makes much of the problem of "food deserts," which I think is overblown and, insofar as it is a real problem, mostly a demand problem. See also the news article, "Life expectancy can increase by up to 10 years following sustained shifts towards healthier diets in the United Kingdom." Takeaway: "The largest gains are obtained from consuming more whole grains, nuts and fruits and less sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats."

Large Language Models: Andrej Karpathy has a high-level introduction (via Tyler Cowen). Stay to the end for ways that people can "jailbreak" these systems for nefarious ends.

Alamariu: Tyler Cowen periodically links to articles about the "Bronze Age Pervert." I did appreciate one such article, in which Oliver Traldi summarizes aspects of Plato: "While Thrasymachus claimed that the strong make the laws to their advantage, Callicles claimed that, in a democracy, the weak make the laws to their advantage, to prevent the truly strong from taking what is or could be theirs." We can recognize that both of those things in fact sometimes happen, even as we work toward genuine rule of just law that protects the rights both of the "strong" and the "weak" (as well as of the average). As for Alamariu, he strikes me as a rather dull fascist and a warmed-over Nietzschean, but not less dangerous for his dullness.

Energy: Energy scarcity threatens the collapse of large-scale cooperation and an increase in violence.

Sex Trafficking: Nada Hassanein's horrifying article explains the gaps in state monitoring. Keeping kids safe from sexual abuse is among government's most important responsibilities—and it is not doing a good enough job. (I'll point out that one big advantage of legalized prostitution among consenting adults is that sex workers are carefully screened.)

Irish Sex: Nancy Sheper-Hughes via Tyler Cowen: "Marriage in rural Ireland is, I suggest, inhibited by . . . an excessive preoccupation with sexual purity and pollution, fostered by an ascetic Catholic tradition." (How widespread is this? Have things changed?)

Bat Sex: New York Times: "Serotine bats sport abnormally long penises with wide, heart-shaped heads. When erect, the members are around seven times longer than the female's vagina, and their bulbous heads are seven times wider than the female's vaginal opening." Instead of usual mammalian sex they go for "cloacal kissing."

Aliens: Michael Huemer offers some good reasons to be skeptical of claims the government has found alien spacecrafts.

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