On how your childhood interpretation of the Bible can affect you well into middle age


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I’m a critic.

Well, I’m an opinion journalist. Which means my job is to give opinions. And that job can often mean telling people what’s wrong — and who is wrong — with the world. Donald Trump has been an unending inspiration for criticism for me, which probably won’t surprise you. This week, though, I narrowed my critique of him to a single facet of his personality — but one I think is particularly salient.

The man is an utter fool.

Here is what I wrote:

Forget impeachment. Forget the 25th Amendment. Is there no way the United States can rid itself of Donald Trump simply because he’s so unrelentingly foolish?

Trump’s puerile behavior over Greenland is particularly worth highlighting, if only because it throws into sharp relief the whole “emperor has no clothes” extremes of his presidency. The president’s actions, his fit of personal pique, do nothing to advance the interests of the United States. They do not make Americans safer or more prosperous. There is no rationale for them, beyond the president’s own thin skin. America’s foreign policy — and thus our security, and thus the security of the world itself —is being held hostage by a short-sighted, incurious narcissist.

This is not reasonable.

It was actually a big step for me to write “foolish.” I originally wrote that he’s simply a fool, but hesitated. Why? Scripture.

In the King James Version of the Bible, Matthew 5:22 reads:

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his
brother without a cause shall be in danger of the
judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca,
shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall
say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

I took that very literally as a child. I was as capable of insulting another kid as any other kid. But I never used the word “fool.” I feared going to hell.

This week, I realized I’d spent a lifetime operating under that idea. Of course, the verse doesn’t condemn anger, really, but anger without a cause. It is warning us not to let anger control us. In that context, the warning against calling somebody a “fool” takes on a different meaning.

With Donald Trump, I have cause.

The funny thing is, even though I’ve rectified my understanding, it’s probably still the case that I’ll avoid using the “f” word too easily. It’s like finding out that the lyrics to Purple Haze are not “Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” You can find out the real lyrics, but you’ll never unhear what you spent a lifetime hearing.

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