Nov 27th 2019

Iran and the US Come Closer: Ayatollah Rick Perry’s Evangelical Theology of Trump as God’s Chosen is just like Khamenei

by Juan Cole

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Commentwebsite.

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Jay Willis at GQ reports that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said on Fox and Friends that Trump is God’s Chosen One. He said he told Trump, “If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.”

Perry also said that he had written a memo for Trump about how God uses imperfect people, comparing Trump to biblical figures such as Solomon, Saul and David, who were also flawed.

This evangelical discourse that a providential God controls political power goes back to old West Semitic Religion. In the Ugaritic tablets the chief of the gods, El, is mainly concerned with royal patronage. In fact, there don’t appear ever to have been any temples to El, possibly because commoners didn’t have much to do with him– he was involved in putting kings on their throne. There were four levels of gods in the West Semitic pantheon. Beneath El were the dynamic young warrior and nature deities such as Baal. Beneath them were artisan gods like Kothar. The fourth level was the angels.

At least 3 of the levels show up in the Hebrew Bible, which is a henotheistic reworking of West Semitic religion insisting on monolatry toward the equivalent of El, i.e. God. Resheph, the god of war and pestilence, makes an appearance in Habakkuk 3:3-5 as a herald of El. And there are angels.

The idea of a providential God who bothers himself with appointing the guy who arranges for taxes to be collected and garbage to be disposed of is common in the world religions.

The Iranian government, for instance, also holds that God put the ayatollahs in power and that they rule with his divine approval.

Most evangelicals would not agree with this theory, even if they are sweet on Trump, but it is hard to see why not. If God decides who rules America, why would his power stop at the Red Sea? Wouldn’t all the governments be ordained by him? Wouldn’t he have put Binyamin Netanyahu in charge of Israel (though as far as can be told, God seems to be having second thoughts about that one).

Protestants don’t believe that Christ had a successor. Catholics believe that Peter was the vicar of Christ and that the popes are his successor. They at one point held territory, but have become spiritual leaders. In 1870, King Victor Emmanuel invaded the Papal Estates and ended the temporal power of the popes, as part of the rise of modern Italy. You would have thought that God would back the vicar of Christ rather than a minor royal ruling Sardinia-Piedmont. But the advantage of a belief in divine selection is that whatever happened was God’s will.

Shi’ite Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad (c. 567-632 A.D.) should have been succeeded as prophet-ruler by a blood relative, in a sort of dynastic principle. I talk about his life and teachings in my recent book:

 

The groups that became the Sunnis believed that any notable Muslim could become the commander of the faithful and should be chosen by the pious and notable Muslims.

The Twelver Shiites, who predominate in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, believe that Muhammad was succeeded by his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, who was married to the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. They had eleven descendants who Shiites hold should have come to power both temporally and spiritually. They mostly didn’t. The Twelfth such leader or Imam is held to have disappeared supernaturally as a small child and will one day return to restore the world to justice. (This is sort of like the Christian belief that Jesus ascended into heaven from which he will one day return).

The irony is that the Shiites were the ones who insisted hardest on a dynastic, hereditary principle of successorship to the Prophet, but they were left high and dry when the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, was the last of his line in the physical world.

What to do until he returns? Some Shiites became quietists, wanting nothing to do with government, since they saw all states as illegitimate in the absence of the Imam. Others said that you just had to put up with kings until the Imam returned, and you might as well work for them.

In the 20th century, two new theories grew up. During the 1906-1911 Constitutional Revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Mohammad Hossain Na’ini put forward the theory that in the absence of the Imam, the closest the Shiite community could get to God’s will was through parliamentary democracy. This theory seems to me to more or less underpin the thinking of today’s Iraqi ayatollahs.

Then in the late 1960s the Iranian cleric Ruhollah Khomeini put forth a theory that until the Imam comes back the seminary-trained Shiite clergy should be in power. That theory came to underpin the Iranian state after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the deposing of the last king, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.

So the official ideology of Iran’s ayatollahs is exactly the same as that of Rick Perry. God’s will puts leaders into office.

So I guess Ayatollah Trump and Ayatollah Khamenei are the current choices of the Man Upstairs according to these two Dominionist forms of theology.

One big difference is that Trump will be impeached and such a fate is unlikely for Khamenei. So maybe God likes him best?

The US is one of the last highly religious societies in the modern world, and Iran (whatever the people think) has one of the few theocratic forms of government. Religion has collapsed in the last 60 years in much of the world– the United Kingdom, for instance, or Montreal. Some 63% of the French report themselves non-religious, and 29% say they are outright atheists. I was talking to a person from France one time, and she sneezed. I said, “God bless you.” She shouted red-faced at me, “There is no God!” I thought, geez, it is a figure of speech.

But the theory that God wants us to have Trump and Khamenei as leaders seems to me certain to put the Americans and Iranians on a fast train to French-style secularism.

——–

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS 17: “Rick Perry: Trump imperfect but the ‘chosen one’”

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Feb 3rd 2023
EXTRACT: "The built environment we inhabit is just the residue of a much greater imaginative world that never saw the light of day, evoking what might have been or still could be..."
Jan 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "In 2018, former US president Bill Clinton coauthored a novel with James Patterson, the world’s bestselling author. The President is Missing is a typical “Patterson”: a page-turner of a thriller, easy to read, with short chapters and large font. Patterson is accustomed to collaborative writing ..... He is as much a producer as he is a writer, using a string of junior collaborators to run his factory of novels. Patterson outlines the plot, the coauthors write the story, Patterson offers feedback. While he doesn’t seem to do much writing himself, it is a system that has made Patterson a rich man."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "With hindsight, 2022 will be seen as the year when artificial intelligence gained street credibility. The release of ChatGPT by the San Francisco-based research laboratory OpenAI garnered great attention and raised even greater questions.  In just its first week, ChatGPT attracted more than a million users and was used to write computer programs, compose music, play games, and take the bar exam. Students discovered that it could write serviceable essays worthy of a B grade – as did teachers, albeit more slowly and to their considerable dismay."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "The thought of her, as always, gave me a jolt of hope, and a burst of energy. And a stab of sorrow."
Jan 14th 2023
EXTRACT: ".....if academic discourse and campus debate are shut down every time a person feels offended, how can universities possibly examine controversial topics? Without intellectual freedom – one of the great achievements of American civilization – they can’t."
Jan 5th 2023
EXTRACTS: "London's Tate Britain and Paris' Petit Palais have collaborated to produce a wonderful retrospective exhibition of the art of Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  The show is both beautiful and fascinating. ----- Virginia Woolf loved Sickert's art, and it is not difficult to see why, because his painting, like her writing, was always about intimate views of incidents, or casual portraits in which individual sitters momentarily revealed their personalities.  ------ Sickert's art never gained the status of that of Whistler or Degas, perhaps because it was too derivative of those masters.  But he was an important link between those great experimental painters and the art of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, ...."
Dec 5th 2022
EXTRACT: "One of the great paradoxes of human endeavour is why so much time and effort is spent on creating things and indulging in behaviour with no obvious survival value – behaviour otherwise known as art. Attempting to shed light on this issue is problematic because first we must define precisely what art is. We can start by looking at how art, or the arts, were practised by early humans during the Upper Palaeolithic period, 40,000 to 12,000 years ago, and immediately thereafter."
Dec 3rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "As a portrait artist, I am an amateur at this compared to the technology gurus and psychologists who study facial recognition seriously. Their aplications range from law enforcement to immigration control to ethnic groupings to the search through a crowd to find someone we know. ---- In my amateur artistic way, I prefer to count on intuition to find facial clues to a subject’s personality before sitting down at the drawing board. I never use the latest software to grapple with this dizzying variety.
Dec 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "In the exhibition catalog Lisane Basquiat writes: 'What is important for everyone to understand… is that he was a son, and a brother, and a grandson, and a nephew, and a cousin, and a friend. He was all of that in addition to being a groundbreaking artist.' "
Nov 24th 2022
"The art of kintsugi is inextricably linked to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi: a worldview centred on the acceptance of transience, imperfection and the beauty found in simplicity.....nothing stays the same forever." --- "The philosophy of kintsugi, as an approach to life, can help encourage us when we face failure. We can try to pick up the pieces, and if we manage to do that we can put them back together. The result might not seem beautiful straight away but as wabi-sabi teaches, as time passes, we may be able to appreciate the beauty of those imperfections."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, was quick to congratulate Sunak, referring to him as “the ‘living bridge’ of UK Indians”. In the difficult waters of British and indeed international politics, all eyes will be watching to see how well the bridge stands."
Oct 5th 2022
EXTRACTS: "In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw eulogized Jean-Luc Godard as 'a genius who tore up the rule book without troubling to read it.' This is a fundamental misunderstanding." ----- " As had been true for Picasso - and Eliot, Joyce, Dylan, and Lennon - it was Godard's mastery of the rules of his discipline that made his violation of those rules so exciting to young artists, and his work so influential.  But perhaps these innovators' mastery of the rules can only be seen by those who themselves understand the rules."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities." ----- "Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events." ----- " ....participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change." --- "....you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you."
Sep 21st 2022
EXTRACTS: "It might seem like an obscure footnote among the history-making events of 2022, but the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s death coincides with the 300th anniversary of Adam Smith’s birth." ----- "As a committed Stoic, Smith had little patience for greed. The whole point of Roman Stoic philosophy was to use personal moral discipline to support the rule of law and constitutions, and to make society a better place." ----- "When we read Smith, we are better served to think of the example of Elizabeth II than of those driven by personal greed. It might sound archaic, but, as Britons’ response to her death suggests, these values still appeal to a great many people today."
Sep 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "On the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the former Prince of Wales was proclaimed King Charles III. Although it’s been known for decades that Charles would succeed his mother, there were rumours that he might, once king, choose the name George due to the contentious legacies of Kings Charles I and Charles II."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "An over-emphasis on looking for the chemical equation of depression may have distracted us from its social causes and solutions. We suggest that looking for depression in the brain may be similar to opening up the back of our computer when a piece of software crashes: we are making a category error and mistaking problems of the mind for problems in the brain. It would be wise to observe caution with drugs whose effectiveness is not certain, whose mode of action is unknown, and which have many side-effects, especially for use in the long term."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."