King Belshazzar, the king of Babylon in the 6th century B.C, saw a writing on the wall one morning and eventually called the Hebrew prophet Daniel to interpret. He must have been stung to hear Daniel announce his interpretation, “Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting.” This scripture is often used sermon material in evangelical circles to remind us that we have “been weighed” and found wanting. And I think this is a useful thing to remember, for all of us from time to time feel the sting from reality which brings us face to face with our inconsistencies and duplicities, giving us the opportunity to humbly acknowledge that we were “posing” a little more than we thought. And, speaking from experience, those who have a spiritual focus in their lives often need to endure this sting of, “The Spirit of God” and thus find the opportunity to acknowledge a dimension of what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh” in our spiritual practice. In modern parlance, we would call this the ego. Of course, we also have at our disposal a contrivance I’ve used often, “Oh no. I am right” and remain stuck in our self-serving view of the world; for, “How could it be wrong? I’m a Christian.” John Paul Sartre called this “bad faith.”
The Christian faith, especially those in the evangelical fold, are now staring face to face an opportunity to experience this “sting” as Donald Trump represents the phenomena of them being “weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Never has a political leader embodied more fully the very antitheses of the teachings of Jesus than does Donald J. Trump, yet evangelical Christians have pledged their troth to him and one of their leaders, Jerry Falwell Jr, even likened him unto “King David.” This support of Trump is an egregious illustration of the specious and hypocritical dimension that is often present in faith.
But a caveat is in order. There is nothing that should be surprising to learn from time to time that our faith is “specious and hypocritical.” For, “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels” as we are all very human regardless of how sincere we are in our spiritual commitment and therefore from time to time we must feel this “sting” and see how we have been deceived. It is so easy to piously announce “The Lord has raised Trump up” or “the Lord is leading me to vote for him” but I have found personally that so many times when I’ve felt strongly that “the Lord is leading me” I would have to shortly thereafter realize—“Oh, that was only my ego leading me, not God.” But it is really hard to admit “I am wrong” in our faith for our ego often is much more present than we care to admit. This duplicity that I have been, and am given to does not make me a “bad” human being but it does reveal just how human I am, just how much “the flesh” is present in my spirituality. But it is so much easier to just brazenly continue on one’s path, refusing to admit having made a mistake, basking smugly in the delusion that “the Lord is leading.” And it is no accident that the evangelicals have opted to cast their vote for a man who is characterologically incapable of admitting he made a mistake.
But the Christian tradition that I have lived in most of my life facilitated a simple “Christian persona” and when one’s identity is hidden beneath an ego-ridden persona, there is tremendous resistance to acknowledging this. This persona is largely a fictional creation we have subscribed to about ourselves and about the world itself, a fictional creation comprised of conceptual formulations and ideas. When one is only a persona, even if a “Christian” persona, he/she is an ideologue and is easy prey for a demonic figure like Trump who is keenly in touch with the dark side of the American psyche. When one is an ideological Christian, he/she will be a slave to the “letter of the law” and not open to the nuances of life and scripture. This facilitates succumbing to the clarion call of “Let’s Make American Great Again” which is merely code for, “Let’s turn back the clock to a time when ‘everything is done decently and in order.’” In other words, to turn the clock back to a time when everything is static and nuance is verboten. And if you want to see where this phenomenon will lead to in the extreme, just Google the term, “Isis.”
This ideological faith brings to my mind a sonnet by John Masefield describing how the “tiger mind” so desperately contrives to create a world that is consistent with its world-view, an endeavor which in the area of faith leads ultimately to the discovery that the God one is worshipping is only a projection of his/her own ego. Now let me confess. When this dawns on you, it will rattle your cage; and even worse, it will make you aware that you will be subject to “cage rattling” for the rest of your life!
How many ways, how many different times
The tiger mind has clutched at what it sought,
Only to prove supposed virtues crimes,
The imagined godhead but a form of thought.
How many restless brains have wrought and schemed,
Padding their cage, or built, or brought to law,
Made in outlasting brass the something dreamed,
Only to prove themselves the things held in awe.