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The Anti-Jesus

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Gore Vidal, in his 1995 memoir, Palimpsest, recounts the infamous 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial, in which the forces of redneck Protestantism beat those of scientific Darwinism in a Tennessee courtroom dominated—then, as now—by Bible-thumping Christians. Looking pessimistically towards the year 2000, Vidal mused, “We should be able to do marvelously well in the second millennium.”

Acid-tongued was Gore Vidal: and accurate. Here we are in that second millennium, nearly a century removed from the Scopes trial. How well are we doing? In many respects the people of Tennessee, and of the other Bible Belt states and red counties of America, have moved, not forward but backwards in their relentless pursuit of myth and superstition. The War on Science continues in the modern Republican Party: One-third of Americans, nearly all of them Christian Republicans, do not believe in human evolution.

Why are these people so terrified of knowledge? We can perhaps glean some of their thinking by considering William Jennings Bryan, the attorney who successfully prosecuted poor John Thomas Scopes for daring to teach the theories of Charles Darwin to high school children. Bryan was no yahoo, in the way that, say, Mike Huckabee and Michael Pence are. Bryan came from Illinois stock that had been Democrats since the time of Andrew Jackson. He was the Democratic Party candidate for President three times (1896, 1900, 1908), losing each time, of course, but later serving as Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State. He earned the sobriquet “The Great Commoner” and in many ways was the forerunner of modern-day Democratic concepts, from staunch anti-imperialism to championing a progressive income tax.

Yet for all his forward thinking, Bryan was a Christian who viewed the Bible as the linchpin of Western civilization. I have been so satisfied with the Christian religion,” he said during the trial, “that I have spent no time trying to find arguments against it…I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.”

How does one reconcile rationality with Biblical literalism? It can’t be done, in an abstract sense; but humans aren’t abstractions, they’re real, complicated beings: “I am large, I contain multitudes,” sang Walt Whitman who, conceding his contradictions, replied, “Very well, then I contradict myself.” We all of us carry contradictions within ourselves: and we rationalize those contradictions in ways that leave us unperturbed.

Yet not all human self-contradiction is the same. One of Whitman’s inconsistencies was that while he preached the universal brotherhood of man he lusted after certain burly workingmen. This is hardly the most objectionable human contradiction. Whitman caused no one harm. Contrast that with Bryan’s contradiction: a college-educated lawyer, aware of the scientific Western tradition, who revered the nation’s foundation of enlightened rationalism—and yet a Bible-believer who apparently believed that the Jewish-Christian God created the universe and everything in it in six days. By the time Bryan argued Scopes, the teachings of Charles Darwin obviously were well-known; so too was the science of geology, which proved the ancientness of the earth; so too the science of paleontology, which demonstrated the extinction of species over vast periods of time. Bryan knew of these things, probably was interested in them, and yet “I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.”

And now we come to today’s Republican-evangelical ideology. Their most alarming contradiction is, clearly, their adoration of a man who is a serial adulterer, a sexual abuser of women and procurer of porn stars, a pathological liar, a swindler and con man, a smearer of reputations, and, lately, a peddler of dangerous and potentially deadly medical lies. These people—the evangelicals—profess to follow a man, Jesus, who preached the brotherhood of man, who said the rich would not enter heaven, who served “the least among us” and urged his followers to love everyone. This Jesus also said to render unto government that which is government’s and render unto man that which is man’s—the ultimate renunciation of politics.

If there is an anti-Jesus on Earth, it is Donald J. Trump. This gaping contradiction should be enough to entirely repudiate evangelicals, whose “religion” has become a political ideology of clerical-fascism. And yet some huge percentage of the American public happily self-identifies with evangelicalism. Is this simply their version of “I am large, I contain multitudes”?

No. Because whereas the contradictions of a Whitman, or modern liberals who seek to expand civil rights, harm no one, those of the evangelicals seek to take away the rights of tens of millions of Americans: people of color, immigrants, scientists, liberals, women, non-Christians. It dumbfounds me that Republicans, who detest science because it proves that their Bible is a work of fiction, would utilize science by taking medications prescribed by doctors. At least Christian Scientists, who refuse medication, are consistent; not so evangelicals and other “Biblical literalists.”

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