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Dare to be a Daniel

By May 7, 2016 8 Comments

It’s hard to think of a more perfect antithesis than the one served up in this week’s news. On Tuesday night Donald Trump became the presumed Republican Party candidate for president, one rung shy of the greatest power that the world’s self-designated sole surviving superpower has to offer. Then yesterday morning, a funeral mass was celebrated for Daniel Berrigan at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City. He was 94.

The contrasts are almost too easy to compile. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, was single; Trump is on his third marriage to a superbly sculpted clothes horse. His offspring are gorgeous as well, though he has joked about sleeping only with the daughters, not the sons. He does, lately, mind his party’s phobia about the same-sex stuff. Trump is filthy rich and more than proud of it; Berrigan died virtually without material possessions. Trump is all bombast; Berrigan was a prize-winning poet. Trump is the epitome of narcissism; Berrigan was a prophet who favored Jeremiah. Trump promises to drop bombs at will; Berrigan took hammers to the nose-cones of nuclear missiles. Trump chides women for their menstrual cycle; Berrigan’s brother Philip, another priest, once soaked draft files with cows’ blood. Later, Daniel joined him in burning more draft records with homemade napalm, in a critical salute to the USA’s use of the same on Vietnamese civilians. Trump says he will fill cabinet posts with generals; Berrigan bore witness against war fearlessly, steadfastly, and persistently over a 50-year career. Trump vows to deport the alien and stranger by the hundreds of thousands; Berrigan repeatedly endured arrest and imprisonment across the decades. Trump learned religion from Norman Vincent Peale; Berrigan, from Thomas Merton, William Stringfellow, and Dorothy Day.

This litany could wind on ad absurdum, though nothing quite as absurd, as hopelessly outrageous, as Trump’s garnering of a plurality of the “evangelical” vote in the Republican primaries to date. What can one do but simply go to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? Ponder anew the Beatitudes, dear reader, with the life and works of Donald J. Trump and Daniel Berrigan in mind. Think he might have a favorite in this contest?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

James Bratt

James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin College, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. Starting in Fall 2016 he took a break from blogging on The Twelve to teach in China and on the Semester at Sea, which venues afforded him some welcome distance from the USA’s descent into its current mortal illness. But now he’s back in the States, looking for hope. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is  “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


  • Paul says:

    We think alike, brother. I just asked my Facebook friends in Lynden to read the Sermon on the Mount after listening to Mr Trump today.

  • wietze adema says:

    I remember the Berrigan brothers, they were great role models, the kind that one wishes you could be like,
    even a fraction.

  • Melania Trump: she has a name. She is in fact a person, a woman. Sure, she’s far from the main point of your article, but what kind of message are you sending by describing her in the degrading way that you have: as an object? Isn’t that the kind of thing Trump would do, just to a different demographic?

    • Jim says:

      I’m communicating–effectively, it would seem–what her status is in the world of Trump. Don’t blame the messenger for pointing out a Stepford wife.

  • Perhaps most of your audience read it as such. But what I saw was a woman reduced to her appearance and made into a joke in a serious article about values. You meant to indict him but you sentenced her. It rankled.

  • Rick Koop says:

    And the purpose of this article is what? I am sure you can find two individuals on any given day that would give you your ‘perfect antithesis.’ Quite honestly, I would not vote to have Daniel Berrigan as President of the United States of America nor would Donald ever become a Jesuit priest. Donald Trump is not running for Sainthood, nor is any other politician that I know. This is not a very good example of loving your enemy or your brother.

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