Note: See the next post in this series called, “Donald Trump Is This Generation’s Golden Calf” here.
I’m a big fan of Donald Trump. If I was a Republican, I might even vote for him. (I think beneath the bravado he’s the most liberal one of those doofuses, and most of the obscene talk is more show-business than politics). I like him because he’s a heretic, someone unwilling to accept the implicit rules and modes of behavior in a system, and like Bernie Sanders too, he’s exposing its façades and pushing its forms to something new.
But this week, in his confrontation with the Pope, even I was disturbed. To be called out by the Pope as “un-Christian” is no small critique, and surely Mr. Trump needed to salvage his candidacy quickly, especially in the minds of Christian voters; Trump’s response would need to be crafted with great cunning – because who the hell gets in a righteous fight with the Pope?!
And his response was sly, ” … For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful …”
In the contemporary cultural landscape, this aspect of Trump’s statement is taken for the norm. I see it all the time – people don’t want to be told how to govern their spiritual lives, they want to make meaning in their own way. And maybe that’s ok.
But it would be worthwhile for us to acknowledge, that when a candidate for president of the United States, criticizes the Pope in such a blatant public manner, we must recognize that the cultural value of our religious figures and their perspectives has sunk to an all-time-low.
In fact, from the perspective of religious traditions, questioning a student’s faith, is precisely what a teacher, imam, sheikh, rabbi or pope is supposed to do. The teacher, more than anyone else, has the ability to see the spiritual progress of his or her adept, and to point them in the direction of that which will inspire his or her growth.
In the most esteemed piece of ethical literature to arise from the Judaic tradition, Sayings of the Sages (1:6) we read:
Choose a teacher, make a friend – everyone else, give the benefit of the doubt.
The point is – everyone should have someone they can look-up-to for spiritual direction. I am so grateful for my teachers! They have taught me everything – I am them mixed-up, and then some. Without them, I wouldn’t be; and where they point a way, I follow. My friends are not mentors, but they are spiritual peers. And everyone else – I don’t know them yet; they might end up a friend, or they might end up a teacher, so best not to judge.
So, Mr. Trump – get a guru! A Pope, a rabbi, an imam – who the hell cares. Your wealth and power don’t excuse you, and you’d benefit greatly from some spiritual guidance. I’d be thrilled to be your rabbi.
The question that remains though, whether Trump has a religious epiphany or a spiritual crisis, is which spiritual model we should support? The spiritual hierarchy wherein which the teacher is actually looked-to for spiritual guidance, or a more, shall we say socialistic approach, where the individuals of the community delineate their own spiritual path? I think I’ll leave that answer to you. As it said in the old book – it’s upon each of us to choose a teacher.
Rabbi Zach Fredman writes and teaches from Brooklyn, NY. He is the bandleader of The Epichorus, purveyors of new Arabic folk and prayer music. Drawing from devotions in mythology and mysticism, Zach is translating Jewish wisdom from tribal roots to human futures. Connect at — zachfredman.com