The View from Mount Patriarch

Ophelia Benson

I’ve figured out who it is that President Trump really reminds me of—not Roy Cohn, not Hitler, not Bernie Madoff, though they all certainly resemble bits of him. The guy who all but shouts “Donald Trump” is the original Peak Narcissist himself, Mister God.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that’s a good thing. I don’t mean the mystic’s god or the Quaker’s god or the one who is just a neighborly word for community, ritual, good works. I mean the original Mister God, the literary character, the one whose first and strongest concern is always how fervently people are worshiping him.

You see the resemblance? It’s obvious once you do, isn’t it. The Mister God of The Book is relentlessly focused on how zealously and constantly and loyally his human subjects pledge loyalty to the all-important Him. The capital letter is as crucial as everything else—He is special, so He gets to be referred to as divine “He,” not a mere human “he” like everyone else.

We fail to notice this because we’re used to it; we think it’s just what a Mister God does—he tells us to worship him. But why does he even need to? Why does he care? He’s already at the top, he’s already infinitely everything, so why is he so bothered about whether we say nice things about him or not? Maybe it’s because he’s infinitely everything so he has infinite needs for infinite flattery? But he’s also supposed to be perfect, and that sounds more like imperfect and incomplete. It doesn’t add up. He’s infinitely above us, Mount Patriarch—yet he wants an endless stream of hymns in his praise?

It’s basically the One Big Idea of monotheism. You will have one boss guy, and I am that boss guy—now on your knees. It’s the “Lord’s Prayer” for instance. How does it start? “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” What? Why say that first thing? Why isn’t it just assumed? Because that’s the whole point of Mister God: he’s the absolute ruler, he’s above you, and don’t you forget it. The “Ten Commandments,” too; that set of company rules starts with the jealousy principle: Me First, slaves, and don’t you go looking for any other boss to swap for me. There are only ten, in the trimmed and shaped version suitable for courthouse lawns, and the first four out of that ten are about bowing down to Mister God. Forty percent of what many people take to be the key to all morality; forty percent devoted to: 1) I’m the only god you get to have; 2) don’t make any idols that would distract you from Me; 3) don’t use My name for when you drop a hammer on your foot; 4) set aside one whole day every week to think about nothing but Me. That’s a lot of morality devoted to buffing the ego of the Top Boss, and it doesn’t leave much room for anything else. There’s no room for kindness or generosity or environmental stewardship.

There’s Mister God’s triumphant taunting of Job for being such an inferior creature:

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? 

Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days; and caused the dayspring to know his place;
That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, that the wicked might be shaken out of it? 

Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?
Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all. 

And so on for two chapters. It’s a beautiful read, in the King James Version, but the content is just “I’m better than you so shut up.” It reminds me of Trump explaining why he’s the true “elite” at a rally in Minnesota in June 2018.

They always call the other side, and they do this sometime, “the elite.” The elite! Why are they elite? I have a much better apartment than they do. I’m smarter than they are. I’m richer than they are. I became president and they didn’t.

Not such a beautiful read, but the core idea is the same: I’m top dog and I get to dominate you. The godly version dresses it up in poetry, while the Trumpian one just slaps it out there in all its vulgarity.

It’s a very impoverished One Big Idea for either religion or politics, this worship of the alpha male simply because he is alpha. Contemplating the poverty makes you appreciate the virtues of committees, groups, parties—of parliaments and congresses as opposed to monarchs and presidents. Paradoxically, America prides itself on having rebelled against monarchy, yet we give vastly more power to our presidents than the British monarchy has had in centuries. Are we just too simple-minded? A government made up of many people is complicated, while one brassy guy in a blue suit puts less strain on our attention span. We like our movie stars, we like our football players, we like our one dude in the big wedding cake house and in the church. Just tell us what to do, Father, and we will obey.

Ophelia Benson

Ophelia Benson edits the Butterflies and Wheels website. She was formerly associate editor of Philosopher’s Magazine and has coauthored several books, including The Dictionary of Fashionable Nonsense (Souvenir Press, 2004), Why Truth Matters (Continuum Books, 2006), and Does God Hate Women? (Bloomsbury Academic, 2009).