by Rev. Irene Monroe
A pall hangs over many Americans since Trump has taken office. One sign of this dark cloud has been an uptick in dystopian novels. Classics like George Orwell’s “1984”, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” and my favorite, Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale,” a drama web television hit on “Hulu” are now all horrifyingly prescient. Our devouring of these tomes is a search for answers to potentially a frightening new normal.
For example, Kellyanne Conway’s use of the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts” to corroborate with then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s fallacious claims about Trump’s crowd size at his inauguration signaled to Americans that facts and the truth are inconsequential in this administration.
Just as there has been an uptick in these dystopian classics, there has also been a steady stream of queries about the afterlife. The afterlife refers to an individual’s soul or spirit living beyond the life of their physical body. Also, there is the belief that in the afterlife one’s moral choices and actions in life can result in their soul residing -based on divine judgment – in a place of reward or punishment, known as Heaven or Hell, respectively. Many- religious and non-religious- folks feel if there is indeed a Hell Trump will unquestionably be going there directly. However, thoughts about the afterlife can be a search for answers to potentially a frightening new normal, too.
With Trump appearing to be both unstoppable and invincible- in his erosion of fundamental freedoms and protections to various disenfranchised, vulnerable, and historically marginalized populations in the country and immigrants, his nativist spirit of patriotism and isolationist rhetoric to “Make America Great Again,” and now his SCOTUS nominee that can potentially shape future generations – questions about the afterlife not only speak about social anxiety but, sadly, they also speak about hopelessness. As a minister in this Trump era, I’ve been receiving lots of queries about the afterlife.
“I want to ask you, what do you believe will happen in the afterlife? Are we as the human race going to be okay? Should I worry about what’s going to happen to me after death? My girlfriend who believes in God but struggles with what to believe in exactly, is she going to be okay? I’m terrified right now, and as one of the very few looking past religious dogma, I need your help, or at least some insight into what I should be doing, praying for, anything.”
Many religions create theologies with elaborative and fictive narratives of reward and punishment systems as a form of social control, like the Christian concept of Heaven and Hell. I don’t think after death one is likely to go to Heaven or Hell in an afterlife. Sadly, Trump gets off the hook of going to Hell.
I do, however, believe that crushing setbacks, grinding poverty, racial, gender, sexual orientation and religious profiling, to name a few, that many Americans, like myself, confront and navigate through daily, is unquestionably a living Hell.
The belief in an afterlife, in my opinion, can create complacency and indifference to present social justice issues and crimes against humanity like the Holocaust, American slavery, lynching, and the immigration crisis presently at the U.S. – Mexico border.
For example, in the case of enslaved Africans, the belief in an afterlife was passed on to my ancestors as an intentionally Christian theological concept as a form of social control to maintain the status quo of perpetual servitude. The indoctrination of an overjoyed and jubilant afterlife wasn’t to make them better Christians but instead obedient, subservient and God-fearing slaves.
For African American slaves, however, the belief in an afterlife was a coded critique of an unfulfilled life denying them of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in this life. The belief in an afterlife functioned as an eschatological hope and aspiration that their future progenies would indeed have a fulfilled life that they could only purportedly experience in death.
People -across the country as well as the world -have taken to the streets in protest. Social justice and pro-democracy organizations are now employing intersectional approaches to stem the deleterious and regressive laws of this administration.
And it brings to the fore the now urgent need to speak up like Rev. Martin Niemoller, a Protestant pastor who was an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler. Many know his world renown quote – “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist…”-
Janson Wu, executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), wrote in his article “Resistance and Solidarity in the Era Trump” in Boston Pride Guide 2017 a remake of Niemoller’s famous verse. In speaking out against the normalization of hate and prejudice, Wu, like Niemoller, is letting us know who are today’s present-day targets:
“When they come for immigrants, they come for LGBTQ people. When they come for women, they come for LGBTQ people. When they come for Muslims, they come for LGBTQ people. And the inverse is true: when they come for LGBTQ people, they come for everyone.”
While many Americans might feel fatigued from the daily dramas emerging from the White House and feel hopeless with thoughts of an afterlife, we can alter the dystopian pall Trump has cast by living in the present moment fighting back optimistically. One way is to vote in November.
Moreover, while there are now a plethora of materials evident of the afterlife, like the New York Times bestseller “Proof of Heaven” by Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD., I feel the concept- real or imagined- can potentially deprive us of living fully present in this life – missing small miracles, random acts of kindness, and the beauty of a sunrise and sunset in a single day.