A Reader Struggles with MAGA-Brainwashed Parents
He writes (back in November):
I have been an avid reader of your blog for some years now, since entering the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil in 2011, and have always found you insightful, thought-provoking, and often times very funny as well. I also cannot emphasis enough how much in agreement I am with you about the terrifying, and profoundly sad current state of our nation, and the complete tatters that the Christian witness is in thanks to the corrupt, autocratic dictator-in-waiting clown currently befouling the Oval Office and his Trumpist movement that have been so passionately embraced by so many “good, decent and upstanding Christian” people.
First off, let me apologize for the extreme slowness of my reply. I’ve been writing a book since last fall (The Church’s Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching, due out from New City Press this September October) and have discovered the truth of Churchill’s remark that a book begins as a hobby, becomes a mistress, then a wife, then a tyrant. That, plus, two other books in the works, pandemic, and economic catastrophe have been keeping me on my toes and out of my mailbox. Please forgive me!
Thank you for your kind words. Please know that you are, of course, not alone in the anguish you feel. Millions struggle with it. It is our cross to bear in this hour of history.
As this week of impeachment hearings ends – a week that in any sane world would have been the immediate end of this Administration – I am writing you to ask for your advice as a fellow Catholic and brother in Christ. For Trump has destroyed the witness of the American Christian voice (perhaps only significantly damaging our Catholic Church’s witness, but effectively annihilating any shred of moral standing left for the Protestant Evangelical camp), he is rapidly destroying the foundations of democracy itself, but more intimately for me, Trump has mortally wounded my family relationship with my parents.
Yes. The catastrophic effect Trump has had on American Christianity (at least in its conservative form) cannot be overstated. And he does indeed constitute the gravest threat to the US since the Civil War. And since you wrote me, the Pandemic, the economic catastrophe—and now his treasonous betrayal of our troops with regard to Russian bounties on their heads—have all demonstrated that he is the worst President in US history. He should be jailed for treason for the rest of his life, pour encourager les autres. And then we need to begin investigating the GOP Crime Syndicate that defended him and jail them as their crimes are revealed.
But you know all that. At present, what you are anguished about is not him, but those you love.
Mark, I don’t know what to do, or how to process the irrational, angry, aggrieved, authoritarian cultists that my parents have become. I cannot reconcile who they are now with the people who raised me, who first taught me the Gospel message of God’s supreme, self-sacrificial love for all of humanity…I no longer recognize them.
I hear you. Conservative Christians, Protestant and Catholic, have been brainwashed by Right Wing Media for 20 years. Indeed, it’s a process that goes back to the Reagan years when prolife Christians were taught to reject the Seamless Garment (which is simply Catholic teaching) and instead pit the unborn against rather than relate them to all those forms of human life the GOP wants to rob, harm, and kill. After that, they were brainwashed more deeply by FOX. And with the brainwashing went the promotion of the Southern Strategy. This was the deliberate courtship of the racist subculture that entered the GOP in droves after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. White conservative Christian have deeply embraced this and Trump is the apotheosis of this weird, sick alliance of “prolife” culture with naked racism. In the absence of the Church’s consistent life ethic, the “prolife” movement has become a racist fertility cult of Mammon, Mars, and Moloch that has passed from caring about human life to saying, “Let Granny die. It’s nature’s way” when they aren’t defending handing American troops over to die on the Russian dime or telling the weak to offer themselves as human sacrifices for the sake of the economy. It’s like Trump is some kind of enzyme that has activated a bunch of sleeper agents in the Church.
One thing that helps is information. There is a little film that helps understand how we got here in terms of the brainwashing done by FOX. It’s called THE BRAINWASHING OF MY DAD. It’s worth watching if only to help understand how the Right Wing Lie Machine works. Your folks are what Screwtape calls “patients”. They have had things done to their hearts, minds, and souls by a long, patiently-played con game and are, to a certain degree—perhaps a very large degree—not fully culpable (though they remain in need of salvation).
They are in so many ways, it pains me to say, the exact people you now so often write about. They live in a small, rural place in a southern, solidly white and solidly Republican state. They are in their early 70s, of a fundamentalist, Baptist Christian belief set, they are vocal, ardent “Pro-Lifers” who have been involved in the specifically anti-abortion movement for many, many years. (As you write so eloquently about, “pro-life” for many in the movement really just means being against abortion, and little, if any, thought is given to how the belief in the sanctity of all life should fit into a consistent overall life ethic, that seamless garment that addresses all other life issues.) They hated Donald Trump, until he won the Republican nomination…I sat at my kitchen table in the Spring of 2016 while they were visiting and said that I hoped they’d feel the same if he won the nomination, as I, for one, was quite worried that he would from the moment he entered the race. I flatly told them “If you vote for Donald Trump, he will take your souls, he will rob you of your integrity, and he will give you absolutely nothing in return.” These words were prophetic, as they indeed voted for him, and have over the three years since become completely enthralled by him. No evidence in the Impeachment Hearings this week can sway them, no cruelty or ugliness can penetrate, tearing apart refugee families and caging innocent children could not pierce their hearts…as the line about the racist juror goes in “12 Angry Men”, they can’t hear you, and they never will.
We now don’t speak at all anymore, and I don’t even know how to approach things, as I believe deep down they are angry or difficult when we speak not because of me, but because I simply remind them by existing how ugly, degraded and warped their thinking has become, there is cognitive dissonance and emotional pain, I am sure, in needing to believe one is a good Christian while slavishly supporting someone who is so utterly and wholly Anti-Christ. I am heart-broken to see who they have become…and I must be honest: I have lost significant respect for them for my part. How does one love a parent that one can no longer respect? What kind of relationship can there be? I have prayed about this (obviously), but so far, God is silent.
Any advice you might have would be so very much appreciated. Thank you.
The main thing I would advise is patience. This won’t be over till it’s over and there is both frustration and relief in understanding that there is nothing you can to do “convert” them or any other living soul on planet Earth. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. That means you can let go the burden of thinking there is some magic thing you are supposed to do to change them or make them see that you are somehow guilty of not doing. On the other hand, it remains painful and frustrating to be so helpless while this goes on.
One way to approach all this is simply to make it the focus of your prayers. Take all the anguish to God, including all the fury and everything you really think and feel about them and the rest of the MAGA cult. Don’t mince words. Don’t hold back. Let it out. Let God hear it at full volume. He’s a big God. He can take it. If you swear and cuss as you talked about this with your friend or wife, then swear and cuss in God’s presence. He already knows what you are thinking so it won’t surprise him. If you discover something truly sinful in what you say, then make a note of it and bring it to Confession and ask for mercy. Try to hand your folks over to God for him to hold and guide. They have not arrived anywhere yet. They are as much on a journey as you are and this is hurting them too. They are trying to fix it by extremely stupid means at present. But they can hear and learn from the Holy Spirit too. Perhaps try placing them before the Blessed Sacrament at Adoration. That Host is literally and truly Jesus. Go to him like the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. Say, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief”. Remember Jesus’ counsel about casting out spirits by prayer and fasting and maybe try a weekly offering of that for them.
Above all, put Jesus, not your parents or the rest of the MAGA Cult, in the center of your prayer life. None of this is happening out of his Providence. Everything he has permitted, he has permitted for his glory and your good (which are ultimately one and the same). Jesus, crucified and risen, his blood shed for you and given in complete self-forgetting love for you and your parents and every last deluded MAGA true believer, is purely and perfectly devoted to doing us all good out of pure love. He has not forsaken you or any of those you love. Take each anxiety and consciously hand it over to him. Use, if it helps, a physical gesture to do it.
Your parents are just flesh and blood, like you. Take the disrespect you feel and give that to God too. Were it not for grace, any of us would fail just as hard. Ask God to give you mercy for them anyway. We are all of us on trial in this hour and our task is, as much as possible, to love as Christ loves, without cause or limit. You can’t do that without him. But with him, you can do a little better today than you did tomorrow. And you can hope for the day when you have your parents back after they have gone this journey through darkness and back to grace. He is not through them with yet. Don’t give up on them either.
I hope this helps!