When the president talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he’s not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the president talks to God?
– “When The President Talks To God”, Bright Eyes
“When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’”. Ever since Jesus began his ministry, religious fervor has been mistaken for mental illness. Physicians in the 19th Century ascribed many cases of mental illness to religious “excitement”. Nowadays, psychiatrists simply prescribe pills. Even so, psychologists struggle to find the dividing line. The Scientific American suggests even mental health professionals must frequently rely on conclusions based on observable behaviors.
In the Miracle of the Swine narrative mentioned in all three Synoptics, Jesus calls forth a “legion” of demons from a Gerasene man living among the tombs. Psychiatrists would diagnose the man’s pattern of self-mutilation as suggesting schizophrenia spectrum. Christians, on the hand solidly place this as demon possession, with the “legion” of demons crying out, saying, “What business do you have with us, Son of God?”
“You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.” So goes the old saying. But not if you’re religious. Or at least a charismatic Christian, following a tele-preacher who acts as a conduit for the “Spirit of God”. Especially those COVID-19 denying faith-healers whose Anointed Word from God has killed many of their own flocks, by claiming the people of God “have dominion and authority over COVID-19”. Including self-proclaimed “prophetess” Kat (Jesus-loves-dessert-in Heaven) Kerr who broke Satan’s lie that Biden had become president, by laughing it off in the Spirit. She’s the same nut job, among other wacky prophecies, dispatched “1000 Special Ops Angels” to ensure Trump would get reelected. It’s just a smidgen of her spiritual looneyness that JoeMyGod takes a deep dive into.. And evangelicals – for which faith detached from reason plays well – keep nodding their heads in approval.
Søren Kierkegaard was spot on when he observed that “in paganism the theater was worship – in Christendom the churches have generally become the theater.” The best televangelists are accomplished thespians, knowing they are the lead performers acting in a religious theater. It doesn’t matter what pours forth from the performer’s mouth – however toxic – so long as it keeps God’s people entertained. Is it performance art, or mental illness?
Ever since the Moral Majority days, an evangelicalism founded on racism has spilled over its self-righteous banks to put a voodoo curse on Others they don’t like. In a recent pro-Trump rally, the crowd cheered as a “prophet” declared that the “Angel of Death” is coming for named Democrat politicians by the end of the year. Kill the Gays! Kill the Abortionists! Now the dam is bursting into society at large: Kill the Librarians! Kill the School Board! Kill Election Officials. Kill the FBI! Kill the George Floyds! Kill George Soros globalists! Or whatever Demon-Du-Jour St. Tucker of Carlson anathematized the evening before. These are the divine commands they are receiving loud and clear now. Of course, it’s rarely been translated into criminal action – excepting Jan. 6th – but the imprecatory rhetoric is rampant throughout an evangelicalism bent on smiting its perceived enemies.
It gets deadly serious when the National Leader hears divine voices. People by and large adjust to presidents who formulate policy by personal gut feeling, or just plain lie about their inner motivations in executing it as they see fit. What about a foreign leader with claims to righteousness and to revenge, and who hears the audible voice of God? Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Ayatollah, Putin? Surely they were demon-possessed – or at least delusional. What about an American president?
George W. Bush, for example. “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did.” Bush was not elected; he was ordained to carry out God’s commands, taking the leap from seeking to obey God’s will to embodying it as earthly redeemer. Bush claimed his anointed position obviated accountability to any mere mortal. “I’m the Commander – see, I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the President”. Those close to Bush were spooked by his “sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do”. As Gary Wills noted, “the conviction that we might benefit by removing Saddam is not the same as believing that God wills it – except in George Bush’s mind.” Cal Thomas ascribed Bush’s dangerous arrogance to individuated religious feelings, which “supplant objective truth and make the individual a high priest unto himself.” Meanwhile, estimates of total fatalities in his contrived Shock and Awe against Iraq vary between 800,000 and 1.3 million.
I could go on and on about Presidents who were utterly unqualified, or otherwise psychologically and spiritually impaired. But cut to the short and say Donald Trump wins the prize. “Against his staff’s warnings about dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted their personal “love letters” assured international peace. Despite that North Korea continued unabated at delivering a nuclear missile to “hit and wipe out” the American mainland. “Only I know”. Donald Trump didn’t ask Americans to place their trust in each other or in God, but rather in himself alone. I Alone Can Fix It. According to Trump’s psychologist niece, the former President is mentally ill with an attention-seeking Messiah complex. Theologian Diana Butler Bass agrees. “The King of Israel? The second coming of God? He thinks he’s Jesus. That’s where we are.” His dangerous attempts to hold on to power after he lost the 2020 election almost convinced his cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. It had the opposite effect on millions of his “Let’s Go Brandon” followers, with many expressing their willingness to die for him. It becomes a shared psychosis, arousing a “similar pathology in the population that creates a ‘lock and key’ relationship”.
Oh, I can’t tell if he is a crook or a religious fanatic,” declares one of Sinclair Lewis’ characters in his political novel, It Can’t Happen Here. The man is listening to the nomination of presidential candidate Buzz Windrip. Supported by both fundamentalist Christians and large corporate interests, the cunning Windrip ultimately wins the election, and proceeds to transform America into a dictatorship. Is Trump an attention-seeking, Bible-fumbling performance artist, or is he certifiably insane? Either way, it appears our country is life imitating art at the whims of another wrong hero. One, like the deranged “precious bodily fluids” character in Dr. Strangelove, who has his finger on the nuclear button. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Ps. 118:9). Sadly, Trump will keep his crowds entertained until the final curtain falls – directly on top of all of us.