Results tagged “Trump” from Reformation21 Blog


As strange as it may sound, one of the more insightful discussions of Trump's political success is offered by "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams. Trump is a "master persuader," he argues, who knows and uses human psychology to far greater effect than anyone else in the field, either party. Trump will be America's next president, he predicts, since "psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president."

Adams's blogging about persuasion, (ir)rationality, and identity is quite interesting. Like me, he's not concerned about Trump as a candidate so much as he is about him as a cultural phenomenon. Michael Cavna, Comic Riffs author at the Washington Post, helpfully summarizes Adams's explanation of the Trump phenomenon in six points:

1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
3. By running on emotion, facts don't matter.
4. If facts don't matter, you can't really be "wrong."
5. With fewer facts in play, it's easier to bend reality.
6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics--and identity is the strongest persuader.

Madison Avenue types and sharp political advisers long ago figured out the priority of identity over reason, wisdom, judgment, and whatever else one might think pertinent to being President. (Similar statements can be made about the products we buy or services we hire or society we keep--everything is branding and branding is about identity.) Sadly, this is the way things work in our post-Freudian world. Still, it's difficult for us to believe that identity actually does trump all else, which may be why even our most cynical politicians seldom play this card as brazenly as Trump does.

We are living through a time when reason is being reimagined in terms of psychological identity. Things that were thought to be mad not long ago are now viewed as necessary consequences of our fundamental principles not because those principles have changed on the page but because they are now being read through this lens. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in the Obergeffel v. Hodges case is a rather clear instance of this in law.

In the arguably more pragmatic domains of American business, politics, education, and religion, what counts as reasonable or a rational course of action will be whatever works. If identity politics, business, education or religion works (not just as a complement to sobriety, decency, gravitas, judgment, competency, and so on--as Clinton seems to be betting--but even in fairly open defiance of most of these qualities) then it will become quite rational to be as irrational a candidate as Trump.

But can this be? Postmoderns insist reason itself is culturally construed and evolves along with everything else. Adams, however, continues to diagnose the Trump phenomenon more as an escape from reason rather than as a redefining of reason. Still, his analysis suggests that irrationality is the new reason. Either way, here is Cavna's annotation on the first point: 

"If you see voters as rational you'll be a terrible politician," Adams writes on his blog. "People are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keep us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence."

That's a basic point of contemporary evolutionary psychology (often used to criticize religious belief). If this critique is true of anything, however, then we have no good reason to believe that any of the things we believe are true (including this critique), "except maybe sometimes by coincidence"--and this is no minor point. This popular strand of evolutionary psychology may free Trump and all the rest of us from a sense of obligation to truth but it does so at the expense of the very possibility of knowing anything or at least of being able to know that we know anything. It's ultimately self-defeating.

Fortunately for knowers and speakers of truth everywhere, reality is a very stubborn thing. We can believe what we like about what is reasonable and right and true and we may be dead wrong in what we believe and do about it too. Madness is possible and our madness, however widely shared, does not bend reality or define reason or redefine truth--only our psychological state. There are limits to our revolt against reality including the truth about our personal identities. Reality always wins in the end; the only question, as Carl Trueman recently pointed out, is how much damage we will do to ourselves in the meantime?

Spoiled for Riches

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I'm off to South Africa to give a series of lectures in Cape Town at a new seminary that has been started in Hout Bay. This "township" (Imizamo Yethu) is literally next door to our new campus, which is an exciting prospect for a number of reasons.

imizamo-yethu-township.jpg

After reading this piece, which I am in agreement with (but would add that recent hires of Dr. Morales and Dr. McGraw have been excellent additions), I realized how spoiled America is for theological education. There are so many seminaries where one can get a solidly Reformed education. Even RTS on its own would place the U.S. "first" in terms of countries offering a Reformed theological education for aspiring ministers. 

There are, however, many seminaries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Africa that are in desperate need of lecturers and resources in their native tongue. If given the choice, I'd rather visit one of these continents than go down South to the U.S. 

Naturally, the travel is easier to the U.S, and the pay is generally very good. But the need is far greater in other parts of the world, even if you're not sure about your general safety as well as whether you'll end up in the wrong city in a country where no one speaks English. (I once landed in Xiamen, China, when I was supposed to be in Wenzhou. Not cool.). I wish more Profs from North America were willing to go to other parts of the world to teach or that churches would fund their pastors to do overseas teaching at no expense to small seminaries. 

In my opinion, Africa doesn't need missionaries from other continents in the same way they may have in past generations. Africa needs Africans, whatever colour, to be trained to minister to their own people. 

At the seminary where I lecture, we do not charge tuition to our students. We want to train as many men as we can, most of whom are already in the ministry, but have not had formal theological training, to preach Christ. And we don't want them to be handicapped by fees they cannot pay. Some even have trouble affording getting to class!

We want Nigerian Anglicans who are against homosexual unions to know the doctrine of justification by faith alone - the latter not always a given, though the former usually is.

My only worry is that in the process of going down to teach others our good theology, we don't also end up impressing upon or revealing to them our somewhat anemic spirituality that may consist, for example, in spending more time on Facebook debating the merits of Donald Trump as the next president than reading the Bible. 

A friend of mine was recently in China, lecturing at a Seminary I visited last year, where I profited much from the obvious vibrant spirituality of the students, and he wrote to me:

Awakened at 4:45 AM today by the church here meeting for Monday AM prayer (in the room next door) ... they met for worship sang and prayed for the better part of the day. Hmmm, maybe this helps to explain why the Western church is so anemic? I thought I should get up and have my "devotional" time.

So, yes, the U.S. is spoiled for theological education. The best theological education is still in the States. But with all of the good theology there can be a sort of spiritual laziness that creeps in which isn't so obvious in other countries where their theology isn't perhaps as precise as ours, but their zeal and devotion to Christ (in the context of real persecution) makes me feel deeply ashamed about the time I waste on matters of relative unimportance. 

There's a huge difference I've noted in the students in China compared to students in the U.S. I've lectured at several seminaries in North America, but the students in China (and Africa) seem to have a greater desire to learn. You can usually gage interest based on the types and numbers of questions that are asked. 

Perhaps having access to such good theology, in a context where persecution equals having to endure a mean comment on social media, means that other parts of the world may have more to teach us about a robust Christian spirituality, notwithstanding their dearth of theological resources, than we'd like to admit.