Science, philosophy, politics, and religion are frequent topics for writer and public speaker Catherine Giordano.
The Constitution Forbids Religious Tests
The Constitution states that there “shall be no religious test for office” (Article 6, section 2). Nonetheless, some political candidates and officeholders bring up their religious beliefs often and loudly, and when they do, it can be useful to listen to what they say. We should especially consider the beliefs of Donald Trump because he was previously the president of the United States.
Is Trump a Christian, an Atheist, the Anti-Christ, or What?
I posted about Donald Trump’s religion on Facebook, and the comments generated by this post were startling. While a few said Trump was a Christian as he claims to be, most had other definitions and descriptions of his religious views. Here is a summary of those comments.
A large majority denied that he was a Christian, or else they said he was not a “true Christian.” I think what they meant was that he was not a “good Christian,” as they defined the term. The comments suggested that they meant that a good Christian was someone who did one or more of these things (preferably all three):
- attends church regularly,
- lives according to godly morality, and
- does “good works.”
Many referenced his well-known narcissism. They said he worshiped himself and/or considered himself to be God. They said he wants others to worship him. They described his religion as:
- He is a me-ist.
- He is a Trumpist: He is the center of his creation.
- He’s a devout narcissist.
Some said he worshiped money. Mammon was his God. They said:
- His religion is the almighty dollar.
- His God and the God of his entire family is money.
- He’s a money-ist.
He was often called the anti-Christ. In Christianity, the Anti-Christ is a figure of evil who will falsely claim to be the Christ (Messiah) and who will appear shortly before the Second Coming. I don’t think they meant that Trump was literally the Anti-Christ. I think they meant that Trump’s behavior and thinking were antithetical to “Christian values.” Or perhaps they meant something similar to what others meant when they called Trump the devil and Satan or sometimes a devil-worshipper.
And finally, there were many who said he was an atheist. They made it clear that they said this because they thought Trump was “evil.” Obviously, this group used the term atheism as an insult. This indicated a total misunderstanding of atheism which simply means lacking a belief in God. It infers nothing about a person’s character. Atheists are no less moral than anyone else; they may even be more moral because when they act ethically and when they refrain from “evil” acts, they do so without the expectation of reward or punishment from God or in the afterlife.
[Note: My post was usually posted on the pages of anti-Trump groups. The response might have been different if I had posted to pro-Trump sites.]
What Is Trump’s Religious Background?
For the record, Trump claims to be a Christian, a Presbyterian. It is the religion he was brought up in as a child. He was baptized and confirmed at the age of 13 at the First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica, Queens, in New York City. This church practiced an evangelical form of Protestantism.
In his late twenties, Trump began attending Marble Collegiate (Dutch Reform) Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The church was then headed by Norman Vincent Peale, a pastor best known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking. Trump quickly adopted the philosophy of Peale. Trump, with his usual flair for superlatives, said that Peale thought “I was his greatest student of all time.”
Peale preached individualism, optimism, and self-sufficiency. He taught that “winners” in life are people who have overcome human weaknesses and discarded the idea of sinfulness. Trump remained friends with Rev. Peale into his adult years. He was strongly influenced by the prosperity gospel message he received at this church.
Trump’s philosophy takes Peale’s teaching to an extreme. Peale was a decent man of faith who wanted to uplift people and free them from the fear of hellfire. Trump has transformed this message into one that provides a license for cruelty to life’s “losers.”
Trump’s Actions and What They Reveal
Trump believes that he does not need to ask for forgiveness. At a campaign event in Iowa, he was asked if he had ever asked God for forgiveness. His response, after several attempts to evade the question, was that he had not—a statement that must have shocked most Christians: “I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” (See the video above.)
He mocks and reviles every sign of weakness in others. Even a physical disability does not escape his disdain. Early in the presidential campaign, he mocked a disabled reporter.
Trump married his first wife, Ivana In the Marble Collegiate Church (Norman Vincent Peale officiated); he married his second wife Marla in the ballroom of the Plaza Hotel (a minister from the Marble Collegiate Church officiated); he married his third wife in the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump's Religion During the 2016 Campaign
Religion was a major issue for Trump during the 2016 election campaign. From the beginning, Trump campaigned hard among evangelicals, and it paid off for him—he won 81% of the white evangelical vote. (Pew Research Survey: How the Faithful Voted)
At campaign stops, he would bring two props: a copy of his own book, The Art of the Deal, and a Bible. He claimed the Bible was his favorite book. “I love the Bible,” he would proclaim to the crowds as his rallies. (He called his own book, The Art of the Deal, the second-greatest book of all time.)
There was one problem with this. He apparently did not know the first thing about the Bible. He called communion wafers “those little crackers.” He referred to “Second Corinthians, a book in the Bible, as “Two Corinthians.” When he was asked to name a favorite Bible verse, he couldn’t come up with one. He covered up his ignorance by saying the “whole Bible is incredible.”
Finally, reporters pinned him down in an interview. He told them his favorite Bible verse was “Proverbs, the chapter ‘never bend to envy’… I’ve had that thing all of my life where people are bending to envy.” Only one problem—that phrase is not in the Bible. Well, two problems, since he also made it all about him saying people envy him. Okay, maybe three problems—if he was referring to Proverbs 24:1-2 where it says, “Be not thou envious of evil men…” he was casting himself as an evil man.
His ignorance of the Bible and religious traditions left him unfazed. He continued to campaign, citing his love for the Bible.
How Did Trump Behave at Ceremonial Religious Occasions After His Election?
Trump continued to demonstrate his ignorance of, and lack of respect for, religion after his election.
The United States has no royal family, so the First Family is often called upon to perform ceremonial duties, and these ceremonies often involve religion. On these occasions, Trump usually behaves inappropriately.
Two occasions stand out. One occasion was the Inaugural Prayer Service which took place on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, at the National Washington Cathedral (an Episcopal Church). The other was the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2017.
National Prayer Service
Towards the beginning of the service, the “Entrance Rite,” or “Entrance Processional,” a sacred ritual of the Catholic and Episcopal mass, took place. The deacon, acolytes, and the priest, clad in sacred vestments, solemnly walked down the center aisle of the church towards the altar. Trump seemed to be under the impression that they were marching down the aisle to greet and honor him. There was no audio, but it was not hard to lip-read the words. He was saying, “Thank you.”
Most of the members of the processional ignored him and looked straight ahead as the ceremony required. One or two turned towards Trump and perhaps uttered a word or two to him. How uncomfortable these celebrants must have felt—their choice was to either ignore the president or ignore their solemn duty to God.
National Day of Prayer: Prayer Breakfast
When Trump was called upon to make a few remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, as all U.S. presidents do every year, Trump decided to roast and boast.
He talked about how The Apprentice had much better ratings when he hosted the reality television show compared to the ratings with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the host. Then he asked the attendees to pray for Schwarzenegger to get better ratings. He also insulted the show’s producer, Mark Burnett—and not for the first time. His comments were just a rehash of things he had been saying since the new season of the Apprentice began. His comments were disgraceful and utterly inappropriate. He just had to make the prayer breakfast all about him.
Trump eventually uttered a few platitudes about the role of religion in the life of America, as presidents are supposed to do on this occasion. But he couldn’t resist throwing in some politics. Then, making things worse, he used the phrase “the hell with it,” a phrase which many of the religious leaders in the room find offensive.
Does Donald Trump Attend Church?
Donald Trump appears to be one of those Christians who only attends church on Easter and Christmas and maybe for the occasional wedding.
Although he may attend church on the holiest days of the Christian calendar, he appears to have no idea of the religious significance of the holidays. Read what he said about Easter on Easter Sunday in 2015 on ABC’s This Week in the picture above and judge for yourself how deep his feelings go.
So, Is Donald Trump Religious or an Atheist?
Donald Trump seems to have no religious feelings or understanding. The Bible is nothing more than a prop to him; he doesn’t attend church, he knows nothing about the religion he professes to love, and he is disrespectful to religion. So, is it correct to say he is an atheist?
This question was put to Bill Maher, a comedian and outspoken atheist. Maher was quite firm in his answer—Trump is not an atheist. Maher said: “Donald Trump is his own God…. You can’t really be a person of faith if you think you are the most important person in the universe. I don’t think he gives it any thought.”
Almost all the atheists that I know and those who commented on my post agreed—atheism must be chosen. And no one should confuse atheism with ignorance and disregard. Most atheists know a lot about religion, and after a lot of study and thought, they are ready to declare that they do not believe in God. They renounce their religious beliefs if they were brought up in a religious household, as Donald Trump was.
Donald Trump was raised as a Christian and has repeatedly affirmed his belief in the religion his family brought him up in. At the National Prayer Breakfast, when he finally got around to talking about religion, he affirmed his Christianity:
I was blessed to be raised in a churched home. My mother and father taught me that to whom much is given much is expected. I was sworn in on the very bible from which my mother would teach us as young children. And that faith lives on in my heart every single day.
I cannot know what is in Trump’s heart, so I will take him at his word. He is a Christian.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why is there evangelical support for Donald Trump?
Answer: This is an easy one. For evangelicals, the most important issue is making abortion illegal, no exceptions. Donald Trump promised to pick Supreme Court Justices who would make abortion illegal. Consequently, all of his other failings and shortcomings can be overlooked.
Two divorces and unfaithfulness in his marriages, no problem. Never attends church and does not currently belong to a church, no problem. Uses profanity, no problem. Constantly demonstrates behavior that in any other person would be referred to as "un-Christian," no problem.
Evangelicals, in my opinion, have "sold their soul to the devil" to make abortion illegal in the U.S. again, and probably birth control too. Also, there is the added benefit of making discrimination legal and same-sex love illegal.
Evangelicals, in my opinion, are hypocrites.
© 2017 Catherine Giordano