“Is the Trump presidency a religious cult?” (by Reza Aslan on Big Think)


Spoiler alert: Everything is terrible and nothing is okay.

Religious studies scholars will explain that all religions are, or were, cults at their inception. Really, there is no difference between religions and cults. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lis a lot of quantifiably false, made up stuff that Trump’s disciples initiates marks Kool-aid drinkers followers believe… but that’s also true of Christianity, of Catholicism, of Islam, Hinduism… literally all religions. That’s the definition itself.

The choice to believe can certainly be therapeutic, soothing, dull the sharp pain of loss and make the grieving process easier. And it’s definitely your First Amendment right, (if you’re American), though grieving and coping mechanisms do not need to be linked to religion, nor does that minimize the fact that religion is delusion.

Religious congregations are communities, and can be social hubs, so these can be especially important for sad or lonely people, but so can secular community centers and recreation centers, libraries and senior centers (none of which have the funding for in-person door to door welcoming committees in lieu of proselytization street teams targeting lonely people who are at home alone).

According to vulnerability researcher Brené Brown, community, belonging, compassion, understanding, and the like are irreducible human needs, and religious congregations can fulfil all of these things. But so can social media, and we don’t call that a church. We call that an addiction, and most of us universally shame each other for those. But it’s taboo to question the religious, since it is a First Amendment right to be an insane religious zealot, after all.

When does having faith end and diagnosis begin? When do people of faith become a cult, or a cult become a church? And when can we just call all of it pathology?

That said, I do wish they’d stop making every article about American religious freedom about Muslims these days… I mean, yeah it’s more militant than exclusionary like the WASPy crazies who believed, in as purely literal sense – everything they read in the Bible – and then went off and populated White America.

But consider the life of Muhammad’s favorite wife, Khadija, was a successful and respected businesswoman in her own before she decided to marry her distant cousin, poor and two decades her junior, specifically because he was a prophet (which is to say, probably a bit more delusional than most people even back in those days when so much more was “explained” with woo). He lived on after her death, scribbling in his old man bitterness and sadness all of his manly warlord shit so of course that’s what stuck.)

Regardless, focusing on Islam as the problem in the US of all places is such low hanging Forbidden Fruit when there are so many sects of extreme religion in the US. Those first wacky Bible Thumper types have reproduced at alarming rates, and the ones of English descent had already been proliferating their insane theology for over a century before the Boston Tea Party… remember the Mayflower, anyone? Oh, and you know what came next…

But of course, women and girls are to blame for all the bad things that happen to men, and formidable women confident in their beliefs and self-efficacy are still a bit scary in 2018, especially when they’re intelligent and childless, emotionally sufficient and financially independent without men, are they not?

Women are so easy for powerful religious dudes to blame for stuff they can’t control, like for everything from the Fall [of Man], all the way on down to any legitimate opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment. (His alleged sexually predatory behavior as a teenager notwithstanding; like, everyone knows he wasn’t on trial.)

It was a job interview though, and numerous letters of opposition, (basically the antithesis of good references) from those he’d worked with in prior Clerkships and Judgeships that attested to his poor judgment, partisan nature and lack of levelheadedness on the Bench… which should have been more than enough to eliminate him from finalists for the position, long before Dr. Ford even heard he was in the running, shit, even before Justice Kennedy was forced to step down.

So, “is Trump leading a new religious cult?” is a stupid question, and quite frankly I’m rather disappointed in Reza Aslan for even asking it, when such a better, obvious question is “why are scared, gullible masses so drawn to such unstable masculine charismatic pathologies, over and over again?

And Masculine it is… even though it is #NotAllMen rather, it is damaging to all men). Also, to be clear I do not refer to The Masculine here, nor is paganism devoid of a lot of quantifiably false, made up stuff… but neither is it any kind of organized and codified religion, but hey, Catholicism/Christianity and Islam incorporated a bunch of completely made up paganism into their own completely made up traditions, so there’s that.

One common thread, the men who first edited the Bible, the Bishops at the First and Second Nicaea Councils, and this asshole in between the two, must have really wanted to keep women in their place. A big meeting of Catholic bishops in the 7th Century would hardy have been complete with a bunch of sex workers being trafficked into the place for the big event, just like today’s Olympics, World Cup Finals, Super Bowls, etc. But back then… I mean, eventually the Church itself was plagued by its own hubris: Schism after Schism, Reformation after Anabaptist Anarchist Revolution and finally, all those crazies moving to America to escape persecution….

Little known fact, the Amish are one of the most multilingual populations in the US:  In addition to English, their Ordnung (Laws) are still written in Palatine German, and they speak a dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch (denn wenn man erwartet, dass Amerikaner “Deutsch” richtig sagen, würde das unsere Fähigkeiten überschätzen…) Also their blueberry pies are fucking phenomenal! So there’s that, but shit, the United States was literally built to defend and uphold this and similar religious delusions.

Which ironically but not unexpectedly has been our undoing: defending the rights of anyone to believe whatever they want has set up the US, as nation borne of the lofty ideas of academics and mad scientists (e.g. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin) to fall as a nation of fools. I mean, think about it: we are taught about how the Puritans were the first permanent settlers of families in what became the American Colonies.

The Puritans were brave and good, so kind! It was a freezing cold winter, and they shared their blankets with these savages, (and smallpox! And they had the nerve to call their welcoming hosts, who taught them how to hunt and prepare turkeys, and how to grow staple grain corn, savages!)

Then they shared that feast of Thanksgiving with the natives who had taught them how to survive after they had to leave England because of how they were persecuted in the countries they left for their beliefs… all those bad, horrible people trying to stamp out the insanity! (Shame on them, for trying to tamp that down! Then they went on to tax TEA of all things? The NERVE of those LobsterDads -Backs…)

So the first American religious crazies were the Puritans and the Amish (who are still stuck in the 18th Century, for fuck’s sake) and their Mennonite and Hutterite brethren, who are all direct descendants of those Prophets of Doom people who full on delusional and unhinged upon having the Bible translated into their German vernacular in the wake of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. Religious nut jobs flee to America. And now they’ve congregated around the TrumpDumpster.

Even though religious nuts have always come to America, hopefully this won’t always be so? After all, the Muslims coming to the US aren’t radicals. Radical types are staying much closer to their Mecca. This is, however, the same thing that happened with all 8 of my own Catholic great grandparents (about a century ago from Southern Italy and Poland) too… and yes, I have cousins who have congregated around the new Idol of TrumpDumpsterism, uncles and cousins who have gone into the US military to spill the blood of innocents in Vietnam and the current wars America is waging to line the pockets of our wealthiest citizens. I had a great aunt who was a cloistered nun, and I have a second cousin who is a Catholic Priest, whom I think is asexual but if not, I hope and pray he will leave the collar and pulpit if he one day wants to come out rather than touching the youth of his parish, unlike the father of the cousin I’ve never met because my uncle (a former Catholic Youth Minister) impregnated one of his teenage flock around 18 years ago. A creepy man who hugs too long and has asked me if I have my genitals pierced, whose son was made in his image and wants to go into politics (which is fine since he’s a total lech who has molested my breasts when we were teenagers, despite our dads being brothers, yuck!) and he’s done blow off a public bathroom sink at family weddings, so I’m sure he’ll fit right in at any hallowed house of legislature in the entire country; besides, that is really no secret anyway, so if he is given that opportunity I’ve sure as fuck learned from the public censure of both Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s experiences to just keep my damn mouth shut and just let the predatory man govern us all.

And Catholic priests STILL like to get down and dirty, regardless of a lack of consent from their parishioners partners victims (who are children and adults coming to them for “spiritual guidance,” which is better or more accurately referred to therapy from a mental health professional, but instead is coming from someone completely delusional, albeit they are socially allowed to be so in their position in their culture.) And people are upset that the Catholic Church is under attack, because lawsuits are “bad press!”

This is also Old News, but maybe the Churches and Mosques and Synagogues should all have returned to the dust from whence they came centuries ago, like the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, lost to antiquity forever. But I mean, they are beautiful, so even if we just lost all the dogma and got rid of all the stories and turned the buildings into schools and community centers at least this disaster would be salvageable. At the very least we can hope that the abuses and crimes done by these men will condemn them to public shame and ridicule in their communities and parishes, like their bad behavior does to the people brave enough to stand up to them.

And we women need to stop drinking that Blood of Christ too: the 53% of white women who voted for Trump largely did so because of their own misguided Catholicism. Yes, that is what I said, and that is what I mean: it is 100% misguided for women to continue to choose to be Catholic in 2018, and downright amoral/wrong of them to project those beliefs on other women.

The frustration of generation after generation collectively choosing religious delusion and social conservatism over progress and proof beyond measure of a doubt, given the option to do so is maddening. There is so much entitlement, and so much bullshit, and so much interest in Keeping Voters Stupid!

It is so counterintuitive to listen to the most entitled man of all in order to validate your own wounded masculine identity and belief in your own disenfranchisement, but drinking the brown, sludgy koolaid isn’t healthy for anyone… but hey, it’s less addictive than that Blood of Christ wine, and I guess some people are into that 2Girls1Cup deal anyway, or it wouldn’t be out there on the Internet.

Besides, we know who has the most intoxicating bullshit of all, for those of the bullshit drinking persuasion:

Pro tip: watching Trump gifs while listening to the greatest hits of Linkin Park, Simple Plan, and Sum 41 will remind you what all the boys were like in 7th grade, probably because the ones who stayed there mentally and emotionally voted for this whackanutsack and cheered the loudest when he said this!


My own tangled jargon on The Tangled Language of Jargon by Chi Luu

As this blog exists in part to unpack and simplify how being able to communicate well impacts our ability to understand each other and find belonging in an increasingly lonely and complex world, I’m occasionally going to use it as a space to delve more deeply into my initial thoughts and reactions to some brief, accessible and/or non-academic articles about language and linguistics from time to time.  One place where I reliably find excellent, wholesome-yet-bite-sized writing to this effect is Chi Luu’s Lingua Obscura Column on JSTOR Daily.  A self-described “peripatetic linguist who speaks Australian English and studies dead languages,” her column explains complex linguistic ideas and trends for anyone with a general interest in the quirks of contemporary communication.

My interests insofar as linguistics and its applications focus more on modern “living” languages, so Luu’s latest in the series, The Tangled Language of Jargon, really hit home for me, as someone privileged enough to have obtained an advanced education, with a natural ease for language acquisition, to the extent that of my ability to communicate effectively in writing with friends/on social media is often obfuscated convoluted complicated hindered weakened by the language I learned to use in grad school…  and honestly, in most things I’m more stoic than peripatetic, but at least we can all agree that no one has time for any of that platonic nonsense.

I could use some convoluted metaphor here about puzzles and language and miscommunication and puzzles but this is (probably) just a meme.

I am a native academic English speaker…  worse, I am a “jargonist” with more higher education using a primarily etymologically Latinate lexicon (in English) than that of say, business English, which originally used the simpler Germanic forms and grammar to make communication more accessible for non-native speakers (but has now given way to so much of it’s own disgustingly ugly vocabulary, as Luu explains): “Jargon has now become the devil’s corporate middle management’s language, making information harder to share and receive. It has seeped into almost every facet of a complex modern life, giving us new buzzwords not even a mother could love, with terms like self-actualization, monetize, incentivize, imagineering, onboarding, synergize, and the like.”

Some of my friends on social media will say things like “I can’t speak Spanish but I am fluent in gif” or “I am fluent in memes,” (referring to “image macros”).  I barely understand what any of that means.  It’s communication between friends, they must understand each other, and it incorporates a flashy visual component in ways that are completely new for human interaction in general.  I also have at least one friend from grad school who is studying something like “memeology/the dialectics of memes, from a cross-disciplinary media studies perspective,” but I don’t know if that will help any of us communicate with each other over the internet better.

On this blog, though, I am mostly concerned with my own communication skills, and this is important for me to learn because from where I am, living abroad in the third country since emigrating (on a six hour time difference at minimum) it is weird to see such abstract, completely visual (and therefore inherently unclear and subjective) modes of communication freely tossed about on social media among otherwise monolingual native speakers of American English.  I am alone in that my communications with close friends and family from my hometown who do speak the same native language is as I do occurs on various social media platforms, and is almost exclusively in writing.  It’s an odd space for me to navigate… it looks and feels like a sort of language attrition, but it’s not just happening to me, communication breakdowns are occurring on such a mass societal scale, brought on by social media.  Sidenote: American English truly is the language of the Internet (technically, you can’t even code in British English, since once you get to defining the “colour” of your text you’ve broken the code!)… as is trolling.

I am aware that my place of privilege is also unique in that I’m one of the few functionally monolingual people I encounter in my daily life.  My partner has two mother tongues, Finnish and Swedish, and has native fluency in English, and is functionally proficient in basic German (about B2, though is a “typically modest” Finn). Most of my acquaintances and burgeoning friends I encounter in person speak English fluently/natively… but second to Maltese (and in some cases; Italian, a very popular third language here).  Suffice to say it’s not usually the same English I speak. (Maltese English is a separate topic that I may cover later, but either way, after two centuries of English occupation, it’s much closer to British English than my original, nasally Western New York twang.) Other friends I see in person are also living abroad from other countries and speak French or Spanish or German (etc.) as their mother tongues, with varying levels and abilities of English.

So this is a struggle since I’ve learned to write almost exclusively in more formal, academic English than is appropriate for social media, but it took me a long time to realize this, and longer still to hack the regular code-switching, if you will… even to recognize this as code-switching!  It’s much more common in verbal, face-to-face conversations. And there are so so so many synonyms in English, probably more than any other language.  To someone like me, to a writer like me , so accustomed to writing with that woefully inaccessible academic precision, it is rarely apparent obvious clear just how many words there are for saying the same thing…  which is a bit ironic, but not as coincidental as irony is sometimes chalked up to be.

Despite advanced or academic English being so rarely the most concise or accessible way to communicate, to the point that I am sometimes literally unable to convey my points simply, it nonetheless remains the language of my internal monologue, how my brain describes the thoughts that meander along, wondering and pondering and contemplating and thinking.  I wonder, do we native English speakers really all speak the same language, when English has such a broad range of vocabulary, and there are clear uses of the more simple words of Germanic origin, and the longer, more complex lexicon of Latinate words?  It is easy to find completely different definitions of jargon itself, depending on if you prefer your definitions to be brief and jarring or a paragon of specificity. 

Luu points out that “together with conventional Latin and Greek scientific usage, Latinate forms by now make up a majority of English vocabulary [among native speakers]…  and that number might be increasing, thanks to jargon…”  but she doesn’t explicitly mention how the pushback of jingoism is almost exclusively the entire vocabulary of populist politicians and movements…  especially in the English-speaking world… and not just the American part of it.  Here in Malta, this is happening; Maltese nationalist politicians advocating for hardline immigration and anti-EU policies…  despite the population of Maltese people globally, the Maltese diaspora, being at least as large as the entire population of the Maltese archipelago!  Brexit came about almost exclusively by this same type of anti-immigration fearmongering by politicians making it their mission to bastardize and decontextulize immigration trends, using short sentences to whip up base fears among rural and poorly educated Brits.  And of course, in the United States, the government’s own website on plain language looks like the source of the first fifteen seconds of every single one of Donald Trump’s hours-long soapbox rants, regardless of whether or not he is sending coded messages to Neo-Nazis in simple, plain English.