The Christian Right & Thomas Merton on American Idolatry

In yesterday’s DM we considered the rise of billionaire media moguls with their agendas for a post-democracy America.  

“Right-wing executive’s media empire exemplifies dangerous bias he warns against.” MSNBC

Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk, David Smith (the new owner of the Baltimore Sun) and the remaining Koch brother, who is again before the Supreme Court with a proposal that would essentially wipe out all oversight of environmental regulation, qualify. 

Trumpism’s sure grip on Evangelical voters is clear from the recent Iowa primary caucuses. Rhetoric emerging from “believers” is nothing short of idolatry. One leader called Trump “both David and Goliath.” Trump is promoting a recent video called “God Made Trump” in which he is portrayed as the Second Coming. In a recent poll of Republicans, 64% consider Trump a “person of faith” and only 13% called Biden a “person of faith,” even though he is a practicing Catholic who attends church regularly. Trump does not attend church regularly, but as religion reporter Sarah Posner puts it, he “is now the leader of the Christian right.”

Many Trump supporters compare him to Jesus. “When Jesus died, he died for us, so when Trump is facing all these things, he’s doing it for us in our place.” Studies show that over “40% of self-described ‘evangelicals’ today go to church once a year or less.” 

“God Made a Dictator.” The Lincoln Project

Former evangelical Tim Albertas says evangelicalism is a “competing religion” based not on the bible but a grievance-centric faith of people angry that white supremacy and male domination are being challenged. Amanda Marcotte says, That Iowa evangelicals turned out to back Trump isn’t a betrayal of their values. It reveals the values that always fueled their movement: values of racism and sexism. Their religious identity is built through podcasts and YouTube channels that discuss politics and ‘what’s going on in the world’ from a rightwing world view.*

In a current New York Times article entitled “The Deification of Donald Trump,” we learn that Trump is called “the chosen one” and depicted as Moses parting the Red Sea in the “God Made Trump” video. ** 

The late Catholic monk Thomas Merton had words for what we are seeing today: Religion of “half religious people” constitutes “the greatest orgy of idolatry the world has ever known, and it is not generally thought by believers that idolatry is the greatest and fundamental sin.”   

Amanda Marcotte, “With Donald Trump’s Iowa landslide, evangelicals reveal who they really are,” Salon, January 16, 2024.

**Thomas B. Edsall, “The Deification of Donald Trump Poses Some Interesting Questions,New York Times, January 17, 2024.

See Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 203-224.

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 209f.

Banner image: “In God we trump.” Image by Fabio Gaglin on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you, like Merton, recognize idolatry in some of today’s politics and ideologies and billionaire-backed media and supreme court cases?  Why do you think Merton says idolatry is the greatest and fundamental sin?

Recommended Reading

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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7 thoughts on “The Christian Right & Thomas Merton on American Idolatry”

  1. Avatar

    Maybe we have a case of the faithful losing and lacking faith. Do the faithful fear the ‘fight’, feign from the victory that Christ consciousness affords and delivers? Do the faithful not need to look each other in the face, not to be swayed by power of any idol, and say to each other that it is not our ‘way of weakness and fear’, rather it is our faith in Jesus’ power of love, truth and justice that we receive our eternal and ultimate victory? Do the faithful not need to look inward to re-examine and re-claim the victory that we hold in Christ? It is when we are conscious of claiming ‘victory’, we activate and manifest the ‘David’ within us. Let us all be so bold as to build our faith despite all odds that in actuality, sit beneath our feet. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Trump represents the past (and the ongoing present) and the majority of “history” has been racist and sexist. He’s not new or special. With that said, each time an atrocious status quo screams out to us like this, we can see see a truth that perhaps we didn’t see before; there’s a reason for the rupture. The fact that Trump behaves in such an atrociously vile manner to “Democrats” and yet the same man is so beloved by “Republican deplorables” is probably showing us that American politics have polarized our eyes to the point of blindness. We can’t see that “deplorables” are people just like me who want to feel like they are good people. Trump gives them that. He affirms their life, while the future is knocking down their door at rapid pace. Trump feeds them this toxic fantasy that ‘no, nothing is wrong with you, and it’s the rest of the world that’s wrong.’ The slaveholder has disguised himself into the beacon of humanity. Why is this rupture occurring in our current collective reality? Trump reminds me of the dwarf in Pynchon’s Gravity Rainbow. The rupture of Trump in our psyche is revelatory of greater darkness integrated into American politics. “Idolatry” to me means when people keep integrating with dark/secret/hidden things and shadowing their own self…creating greater separation, blindness, and disconnection; they take this Shadowing and worship it like God.

    1. Avatar

      Very insightful. Yes, the majority of history has been racist and sexist. And yes, the ” Republican deplorables” are just people like you and me who love their families and want to feel affirmed by their churches, their communities, and their politics. How do we bridge the gap between them and those of us who want religion and civic life to affirm all people, female and male, black and white? This gap is our current challenge.

  3. Avatar

    YES!YES! It’s scary to realize that atleast 35% of Americans, most of whom are Republicans and evangelicals, support Trump, a wannabe dictator. Do these ‘Americans’ truly have more faith in a dictatator and a dictatorship than God and a more democratic way of life, which means freedom and respect for the dignity of all human beings? Unfortunately, ignorance, fear, brainwashing, racism of all kinds, greed, and personal and institutional evil are still very much alive. Do true Christians and Americans really want to follow and elect another Hitler with America becoming another destructive Nazism?
    We must maintain our Faith, Love, Hope, and Strength in God’s Spirit of LOVE~WISDOM~TRUTH~PEACE~JUSTICE~HEALING~CREATIVITY~JOY~COMPASSION… ALWAYS ALIVE and PRESENT within and among us to continue spiritually evolving personally and communally, to continue building God’s Queendom~Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven….

  4. Avatar

    The order and chaos of the universe is the invisible consciousness of matter. The evolution of matter has progressed toward the preference for order. Trump humanized the quest for chaos. In doing so we are being exposed to the global systemic injustice we all participate in. The three sides of the knowledge of the good we can get from an evil act. are sharply evidenced in Trump. Chaos includes self importance of the individual, this then gives them power over others and in doing so they accumulate wealth. We pray to be delivered from this evil. The only Way forward towards the order in the fullness of the Tree of Life is unconditional forgiveness for all and participate less and less.

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