Clerical Duplicity and a President Chosen by God

It’s a thriving nation; Taiwan gets a lot of visitors for whom English is often a first or second language.  As an aid to its travelers, translations are added to many public signs.  Several years ago, I came across this helpful notice: “APPROACH INTIMATELY FOR CLEANLINESS AND DISCRETION.”  It was in a Taipei subway station, posted above a row of restroom urinals.  The English instructions were pretty clear in context, but could also, I mused, be suitably displayed behind the bar of a singles bistro.  Translation happens.

I sometimes flash back to that notice when I hear testimonial to the will of God.  Unless you’re wired for direct access, Christian reference to God’s will is usually based on Biblical knowledge.  Familiarity might still call for caution.  The Bible was originally written in three languages: the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic; the New Testament in Greek.  From those origins, and down through the ages, it’s been completely translated into nearly 700 other languages.  Each time, a translator’s perception was put to test twice: discerning the meaning/intent of the original text, and then choosing appropriate word/phraseology in the target language.  The English translation has subsequently been re-translated more than fifty times — each version’s choice of wordage dependent on the translator’s cognition and purpose.  What many deem to be God’s word has passed through multiple filtration layers of human perception and judgment.  Conjecture happens; approach with discretion.

That’s not all.  Biblical inclusion (book/chapter/verse) wasn’t a direct hand-off from God or angel.  Beyond mortal choice of wordage, it was human deliberation that determined Biblical composition.  Human minds decided which ancient (or less than ancient) scrolls were worthy of inclusion in the holy book of God’s word.  What’s now accepted as The New Testament portion of the Bible was assiduously compiled and eventually canonized (deemed sacred) in the 4th century after Christ (the final book of Revelation was included amidst controversy).  Compiling the Old Testament was a greater task and the canonization process wasn’t completed until almost a thousand years later.  All told, nearly 15 centuries of human thought, debate, and deliberation were required to determine the arguable content and composition of what’s now known as the Holy Bible.  Disputation happens; approach with discretion.

There’s more.  It seems early Church authorities found God to be somewhat vague or remiss in conveying the totality of his will through Biblical verse.  The concept of Natural Law was introduced, allowing Church clerics to fill in the gaps — upper echelon Church officials could surmise God’s will when deemed necessary.  Although not an official part of God’s word as found in the Bible, Natural Law can suitably be appreciated as an evolving addendum to it, allowing Papal authorities creative license in conveying God’s expectations to mankind.  It’s been extensively cited over the last 50 years to articulate Church position in matters of sexual, marital, and reproductive morality (see Humanae Vitae).  Arrogance happens; approach with discretion.

As if all that’s not enough, those who espouse God’s word/will have wide opportunity to do so selectively.  The Biblical scrolls are expansive – contradiction of message abounds.  With biased scrutiny, one can find Biblical justification for nearly any endeavor.  In such manner, presentation of God’s will becomes spiritual guise for human ambition and a tool for manipulation.  It’s not uncommon — Biblical selectivity has served human ambition for centuries, often with violent and disastrous consequence (ex. invasion of Iraq).  Bias happens; approach with discretion.

So it’s not as portrayed.  God’s will isn’t really accessible through God’s word, because God’s word is not really accessible.  We have access only to man’s word of God — translations of translations that were filtered through the human mind.  Even if one has faith that man was spoken to by God thousands of years ago, the word handed down is no longer God’s word or even the word of the man believed spoken to.  Like that message on a subway wall, it’s a questionable translation but many times over.  What’s presented as God’s word comes to us through a labyrinth of human assertion, human translation, human assemblage, human addendum, and human selectivity.  It is what it isn’t; it isn’t God’s word.

The assertion would be funny was it not so odious: Donald Trump was chosen by God to lead our nation.  Educated people with Biblical guidance say so.  The Evangelicals were the first to announce Trump as God’s chosen vehicle: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Stephen Strang, Wayne Allyn Root, Lance Wallnau and Jeremiah Johnson have made use of the big tent to speak accordingly (ex. “And I just have to think that God, in some reason, put him there for a purpose. I don’t know what that is, but we need to get behind him and support him.” – Franklin Graham; “God sent Donald Trump to wage war against destructive spirits.” – Lance Wallnau).  Several of Trump’s political appointees have joined the choir.  Mike Pompeo, Rick Perry, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Jeff Sessions, and Mike Pence have said outright, or alluded to Trump’s presidency as an expression of God’s will.

Even if considered pure and unadulterated; even if considered the original and untranslated word of God, there’s still no basis for citing the Bible in proclaiming Trump to be God’s chosen delivery man.  He’s not cited therein at all — not anywhere, not even in the book of Revelation.  Although one can find the word “trumpet” here and there in the Bible, there’s no mention of a man called “Trump” (at least in current versions).  So some Biblical selectivity and imagination is required to recognize his godly appointment — and maybe an assist from Natural Law.  Trump’s “chosen” status was noticed by Evangelicals primarily for his campaign declared willingness to criminalize abortion.  Oddly, or perhaps fittingly, the word “abortion” appears in the Bible exactly as often as the name “Trump” (never).  It’s not missing because of a simple translation error — even as concept, Biblical reference to abortion is lacking.  Its closest approach to the procedure is in a verse concerning miscarriage:

If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, as according the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.  And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.  (Exodus 21: 22-23)

That’s it, and while the verse concerns miscarriage rather than abortion, its conspicuous implication is that while both have value, a mother’s life is more precious than that of an unborn child (a contention more reflective of Pro-Choice rather than Pro-Life argument).  It takes human ideation to make more of it — to turn a Biblical verse concerning male initiated violence resulting in miscarriage into a divine proscription against abortion.  There are other verses that urge human procreation (Genesis 1:28), that declare children a blessing (Psalms 127: 3-5), that humans (at least prophets) are known by God before conception, but there’s no word from God that actually broaches the matter of abortion.

So how do clerics contend knowing and proclaiming God’s will concerning the issue?  With abortion, God’s directive can’t be derived solely through biased verse selection — there’s none clearly present from which to even choose.  Human invention is required and is accomplished in two ways: through creative interpretation of Biblical verse, and through suppositional addendum to Biblical text (Natural Law).  Resorting to either presents an arrogant assumption of speaking for God or willful misrepresentation.

It took a long time for Catholic clerics to solidify recognition of God’s will concerning abortion.  Its perceived severity revolved around the idea of ensoulment — the moment when soul and body unite in the womb.  Until the 17th century it was thought to occur long after conception.  Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) adhered to Aristotle’s strange calculation: 40th day for males, 90th day for females.  Abortion was considered sinful, but not murderous if it occurred before then (the moment of ensoulment).  It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that the weight of Church opinion shifted and ensoulment was surmised to occur at conception.  It took centuries of human thought and debate to settle upon that position as God’s intended will.  In 1968, Pope Paul VI pushed the envelope of God’s will even further with the issuance of Humanae Vitae.  The encyclical utilized Natural Law to formulate an imagined view of God’s will that reached far beyond the issue of abortion, extending into all manner of procreative/sexual morality.  Despite lofty titles, the Pope’s encyclical and the concept of Natural Law are repositories of human opinion.

Protestant/Evangelical thought eventually followed the Vatican lead, but with greater dependence on creative Biblical interpretation rather than Natural Law to derive God’s will.  In the 1980’s, Jerry Falwell blossomed on the national Televangelist scene with this repeated message: “The Bible clearly states that life begins at conception.”  It was off to the races; Evangelicals were second to the starting line in divining God’s intent regarding procreative/abortive issues, but have since taken the lead and now proclaim it with fervent gusto.

If it’s not really addressed in the Bible, why do Christian clerics push the abortion issue as if compelled by God?  What’s the impetus for reformulating and supplementing the message of a god deemed to be omnipotent and omniscient?  Editing the manuscript of a perfect God shouldn’t be necessary.  The implications of doing so should be disturbing: (1) God is deemed perfect, but his message is flawed or incomplete, or (2) God is deemed imperfect, therefore his message is flawed or incomplete, or (3) Clerics are imperfect and manipulate God’s message for personal or institutional gain.

At least one of the above is present when holy men revise or append Biblical text.  Accepting either of the first two undercuts the base of Christian belief.  Accepting the third implication allows for belief, but requires acknowledgement of clerical duplicity — that Vatican and Evangelical leaders have manipulated the import of God’s will.  With political resemblance, Pope Paul VI and Jerry Falwell created an issue around which to divide, rally, and rule.  In their respective camps, the power and prestige of each was enhanced as their support base solidified around what each deceptively proclaimed to be God’s will.  The divide continues: Vatican and Evangelical leaders continue to misappropriate God’s will and are thus complicit in creating the most divisive and polarizing issue in America today: abortion.  It lies beyond reconciliation because tagging God’s will to argument demands implacability.

So here we are today; a nation divided, locked in place with a vile president deemed chosen by a perfect God.  The divide began when Christian clerics forged God’s will to human opinion.  The president’s deification began when he adroitly assented to their duplicity.  It set up the completion of a deceitful double play: God’s will was long ago misappropriated to clerical opinion, and now is tagged to the tenure of a president.  The hypocrisy works for both.  An unscrupulous president receives deification and unwavering political support; clerics receive a political ally — with an added bonus.  In declaring the president to be a man chosen by God, they absolve themselves of responsibility — the president’s malevolent behavior is all put in God’s court.  They joined hands in the 2016 election; the faithful are now in the arms of a ruthless and vengeful politician.  The shepherds have led the flock into the lair of the wolf.

Elections happen; vote with discretion.

Vern Loomis lives in the Detroit area and occasionally likes to comment on news and events that interest him in whatever capacity available. Some of his other musings can be found at Transcend Media Service, ZNetwork, CounterPunch, The Humanist, and The Apathetic Agnostic. Read other articles by Vern.