Religions have become Trumpified. Actually, Trumpification has been happening throughout society for my whole life. I first noticed it in Red Cross Lifesaving classes at the Boy’s Club in the late 1960s. A large part of the class was spent learning about the legal repercussions from any attempt to save a life. Along with actually learning the techniques for saving a life we were learning how to make deep philosophical choices about whether to bother trying at all given the legal consequences! Through this, the moral choice that had always seemed blatantly obvious – wasn’t.
Knowing how to save a drowning person does not obligate you to attempt the rescue. Morality obligates you and common decency obligates you, training guides you, but if the person you save breaks a rib as you salvage their ability to breath air again, you can be sued. (Good Samaritan laws since that time have made it better, but not removed the threat.) The most basic moral choice – to save a life – is so full of legal ramifications that morality is squeezed out of the choice. This very same thing is happening in religion.
I’ve written in the past about the inverted pyramid of structure that ignores the wholesome reasons for its genesis. The church begins with good intention, but as it decides new moral concerns, its laws expand. The more rigid the rules, the more a specialist is needed to manage it. Theologians have to become lawyers just to do their job. The structure is so vast and complicated that the specialists transform themselves from deep thinking scholars contemplating lofty thoughts, into code translators – lawyers of the codified dogma. A massive set of rules with subsections and related scholarship, clauses, codicils and analysis must fit into cells in the spread sheet to be managed. Or, at least computerized data starts out as the tool that is used by the manager of the vast religion’s leadership. Eventually, the computerized data-set earns enough trust to proclaim the “truth” of the organization on its own, not the humans. The humanity of compassion and morality and intuition can’t be factored into the equation as before, so even religion, a supposedly human-based entity, becomes machine-like. I have used the Pope’s recent Exhortation on Love as a prime example of heartless databased legality dressed up in pretty words; the rules for ‘exclusion,’ if you will.
Success in this world comes to those most willing to pay the lawyers to fight and prolong the battles. Trump does what he wants then says: “see you in court.” The church says: “see you in court, meanwhile, we’ll pray for your child’s torn rectum and mental well-being.” The drowning girl’s father sues you for cracking her rib after you risk your own life to save her’s. The precision of definition that either allows or prevents human variance is immensely detailed.
The lawyer’s job is to clarify the rules by removing emotion and precisely defining the edges of the rules. This makes sense when creating a will, but lawyering emotion out of religion is contraindicated. Religions rely on emotion for rituals and hymns, its architecture and art. Ceremonies, holidays, societal events all use the emotional appeals to deities. Rationality is not the prayer’s function.
This universal reliance on codes, not humanity is altering the nature of morality itself. The interface between humans is lined with implied contracts and legal obligations, with varieties of social, racial and religious rules. Back in the days of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin (old TV shows from the 50s) even the dogs could tell right from wrong. Now, some rich guy with enough lawyers and no moral conscience can run the world. There’s no legal way to stop him except for the slow laborious process of bureaucracy. One of the wealthiest religions in the world, the Catholic Church, hides behind a wall of lawyers. Just like Trump, their “monied morality” – the judgment of the secular database, will be decided in court; one long-delayed case after another. The trained lifesaver who takes no action as the little girl drowns faces no legal challenge, but the pain of moral responsibility should be unbearable.
Or should it? Our churches hide behind lawyers because of their own behaviors and in spite of their own rhetoric. They know their sin. They did it again and again. Yet they slowly clutter up the courts with legal gamesmanship. The president doesn’t represent moral standards of any sort, yet he is not punished. Why shouldn’t the trained saver-of-lives believe it’s morally correct simply to walk away? His moral choice has become: whether he can afford enough lawyers to face the legal ramifications of saving her. The sanctity of her life has little bearing. The moral question of saving the little girl, is no different from the church’s choice to hide abusive pedophiles rather than turning them in to the police, or deceitful business practices protected by a wall of lawyers.
My Humanism expects that the honorable trained life-saver will do his human duty in spite of the consequence of our Trumpified lives. Let’s follow that example not Trump or the Church.