Religious “Morality”

I get alternately amused and annoyed when self-identified “religious” folks question the morality of agnostics and atheists. How, they piously declaim, can one be moral without (their version of) God?

It’s pretty easy, actually.

Most of the nonreligious folks I know have thought deeply about the nature of morality and their ethical obligations to their fellow-humans. And my genuinely religious friends–who tend not to be among the self-righteous and self-congratulatory “Pence-ites”–are equally thoughtful. But lately, I’ve begun wondering just how those “Christian warriors” define the morality they’re so sure we nonbelievers don’t have.

Pat Robertson, for example, has weighed in on the issue of how America should respond to Saudi Arabia’s recent murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

A major evangelical leader has spoken in defense of US-Saudi relations after the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, saying that America has more important things — like arms deals — to focus on.

Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, appeared on its flagship television show The 700 Club on Monday to caution Americans against allowing the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia to deteriorate over Khashoggi’s death.

“For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies,” Robertson said. While he called the faith of the Wahabists — the hardline Islamist sect to which the Saudi Royal Family belongs — “obnoxious,” he urged viewers to remember that “we’ve got an arms deal that everybody wanted a piece of…it’ll be a lot of jobs, a lot of money come to our coffers. It’s not something you want to blow up willy-nilly.”

I’m going through the Christian bible right now, looking for the place where Jesus said that money from the sale of weapons with which to kill people takes priority over the sanctity of life. (Unless, I assume, it’s the life of a fetus…)

Robertson’s response is part and parcel of the fervid fundamentalist Christian support for Donald Trump–support that has generated numerous academic analyses and chattering class punditry  devoted to the question: how do these “family values” and “morality police” Christians explain their support for a man who exemplifies everything they previously professed to hate?

It isn’t just his personal immorality–three wives, multiple affairs (including with a porn star), bragging about sexual assault, constant bullying and even more constant (and obvious) lying. It’s also his business practices.

A recent article in The New Yorker provided evidence that fraud is at the heart of the Trump business model.

The Times published a remarkable report, on October 2nd, that showed that much of the profit the Trump Organization made came not from successful real-estate investment but from defrauding state and federal governments through tax fraud. This week, ProPublica and WNYC co-published a stunning storyand a “Trump, Inc.” podcast that can be seen as the international companion to the Timespiece. They show that many of the Trump Organization’s international deals also bore the hallmarks of financial fraud, including money laundering, deceptive borrowing, outright lying to investors, and other potential crimes.

Of course, my question is rhetorical. We all know why so many White Christian men (and the women they dominate) support Trump–he tells it like (they think) it is: they are superior by virtue of their religion, their genitals and their skin color, and so they deserve to keep a more privileged status than women and minorities.

There are lots of words that describe that attitude and that support, but “moral” isn’t one of them.


  1. Usually learn from your columns, but not this one. Are we not divided enough without making it about religion?

  2. You’ve properly ranked their privileged assets. 😉

    I want to quote Naomi Klein’s recent article in The Intercept but my gracious host to the world wide web has been sputtering recently which makes it a chore.

    I specifically sought out a masters degree in servant leadership from a Jesuit school for which much of the lessons were spiritual. None of them required a bible or other religious text.

    In fact, A Question About God, was a great read. It is a discussion between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Once again, enough said.

    The problem with religion is it’s human participants. They can only see the word from a certain level. To go deeper, one must change perceptions.

    So, how does an individual change their perception?

    Also, who teaches Christianity today to their followers? Humans with various levels of understanding. The word may only be as good as the teacher, too.

    Poor Pat sold his soul and religion for profits like so many weak men do.

    Speaking of weak men, I would love to easedrop on conversations between Pastor Pence and Donald Trump. Neither one are very bright or spiritual but both believe they are truly God’s gift to the world. I would pay big bucks for their musings.

  3. “A major evangelical leader has spoken in defense of US-Saudi relations after the apparent killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate, saying that America has more important things — like arms deals — to focus on.”

    This being the case; why isn’t Trump at home in the Oval Office taking care of these “more important things” instead of roaming the country spouting his monstrous lies and fear abroad in the land?

    Pat Ertel; where have you been the past two years that you have obviously even missed Fox News reports that the evangelicals are running his country now? Sheila didn’t make this division about religion; she is simply reporting one segment of the destruction it is causing.

    Religion, no matter which denomination, is simply a belief system. Agnosticism and Atheism are also belief systems.

    Jeeze; another day in the land of Trump has begun!


  4. “The appalling silence” of Christians during these past two years of lies, warmongering, and in the case of innocent children taken from their parents, their unwillingness to recognize what is before them will mark them all as the hypocrites that they are. Coupled with their silence in the face of evil has been the wholesale adoption of greed as a good thing. “I’ve been blessed!”

    Like the man interviewed by the NYT as to why he stayed in the Catholic Church after all of the revelations about child abuse, and he replied that “they tell you what to think”; today’s Trump supporter appears to be of the same cloth… cannot/will not think for themselves.

  5. “. . . including with a porn star.” This is not fair. I know nothing about the life of Stormy Daniels but I suppose she is little different than the rest of us: she got into her line of work because she was desperate and had few choices before her, no where else she could turn. And let’s not forget that Stephanie Clifford is an actress and Stormy Daniels is a character she plays. Mr. Trump probably regarded Stormy no differently than others, but never took the time to know and honor Stephanie, or any of the other women he abused. Let us not forget that before Stephanie and all of us there comes a band of angels saying “Make way! Here comes the image and likeness of God.” She is more than our sister; she is one with us.

  6. Your analysis of Robertson’s moral compass is on target. It can be said his political positions have not changed with the advent of this present presidential administration, however. It would be a correct statement, in my opinion, to state Robertson still holds himself a political player as he was a presidential candidate himself in 1988. For Robertson to support the far right political position isn’t new. What is so distressing is that he continues to have followers at all. He continues to be morally lost on a self centered path, which for the Rev. Robertson’s abusive religious nature is completely consistent as he shuffles down a spiraling and faulty political trail. Unfortunately he followers continue to support Robertson’s pilgrimage of hate both financially and emotionally.

  7. After nuclear weapons and climate change, fundamentalist religious cults are the greatest threat to humans. I give you: Islamic Jihads, the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, Burmese Buddhists, Genocide of Native Americans, etc, etc,

    Dear God, please save me from your followers.

  8. Not all Christians agree with what is communicated by Robertson, Trump or Graham. God does advocate murder or immorality of any kind. God cares about justice, truth and the poor. We live in a time of no compromise. There are issue that all we never agree on but I find both groups are not really searching for peace but power.

  9. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

    There is no rational defense for a man like Robertson. Christ, whether you see him as savior or teacher was clear enough. Steven Weber sums it up nicely, “What’s hard, it seems, is living up to the words spoken by Jesus Christ, who preached naught but love and mercy and justice and humility.”

    There are none of Christ’s teachings in Robertson. None. Nor are there any in those who follow Robertson and his ilk.

  10. There’s one thing about Donald Trump. He’s consistent. He can lie about religion just as easily as he can lie about everything else.

  11. As a progressive Christian, I often wish that people would not only confront the hypocrisy of so called “Christians” like Pat Robertson but some of the brave ways other Christians have addressed political corruption and social justice issues.

    And yes, I am very aware that atheists/agnostics have a moral compass.

    I will be voting Nov 6 to put a check on the current administration not only with the White House but also with the governor of Indiana.

  12. I guess I’m in the Bill Maher school of religion. There is no evidence that any of it is valid. Humans made it up, so it is self-serving. And any fiction that works today is part of the religious practice.

    Pat Robertson is just the poster boy for utter nonsense and the gullibility of the stupid.

  13. Robin

    You make a valid point. Christians who do stand up to Trump, Robertson, et. al. are all too often vilified along with them. Jim Wallis at Sojourners, Tony Campolo and John Pavlovitz have all take vocal stands against the madness, as have others. Haters should not throw the out the baby with the bathwater. Credit should be given where it is due.

  14. Todd’s view that the problem with religion is that it has human participants is on target. I have often written that Christians do not have the religion of Jesus but rather one about him, one fashioned by medieval monks during the days of the Holy Roman Empire when such priests as solitary occupants of prayer cells had nothing better to do than manufacture the rules of play from ancient texts, a political system of sorts in and of itself, and one which reflected the ghostly mores and folkways of their time.

    Politics such as that practiced by Robertson are nothing new, varying only in kind. Martin Luther, one will recall, was for the stern put down of the Peasant’s Revolts in Germany during his day and was hardly a liberal as we understand liberality today. Likewise one historian has written that the crusaders raped more Christian women on the way to liberate the Holy Land than they did Saracen women after they arrived.

    It thus appears that both Western and Eastern religions have been entangled with politics since the beginning, that our sense of moral virtue is one of choice, depending upon money, ego, power plays etc. since, as Todd suggests, the religious system is run by humans (as is our political system). Robertson is a fraud, of course, and in a sense is a victim of ego, money and power plays, but from our virtuous stance a hypocrite. I will leave the philosophical discussion of “what is virtue?” for later.

  15. Now granted this is just my thinking: Morality is subjective. Just like one’s ability to learn or respond to those around us. Our milieu is our world. Some of us have an extremely perverse backgrounding (upbringing.) But who is more perverse: The one who points and says ‘THAT IS WRONG!’ when they see another being hurt by the actions of someone whether physically or verbally – and they hold no faith? Or the one that stands and tells you what is right and wrong! and you are wrong! – and has a pulpit or a religious teaching they follow? It will most likely be, to my thinking, that what is really going on is that the religious person is abusing; the unbeliever is pointing it out (an maybe in an abusive way…) – and the person who is ignorant of their own power of yes and no – is the one being abused (and is guilty of LETTING the situation be.) Actually – then the whole circle to me is immoral – the root of Judeo-Christian- Muslim religion has been totally perverted to begin with and needs to be set right. However the chances of regaining a true equitable morality in the social/political atmosphere of this Nation at this time; look like they are running about the level of ZILCH! That is: unless, we can take ahold of the halls of power through political participation, and attempt to steer this massive hulk of a ship to a course through the straits we are presently facing – and then and THEN, sit down and have a National conversation on what we are BASED ON as a Nation – and it isn’t the Bible. (But again – this is just me.)

  16. The so-called Christians who support Trump and his policies reflect a comment that a Chinese writer (who cannot be published in China) said (in an article in last week’s New Yorker). He said that whenever a religion is introduced into China, it is secularized.

    People like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham have made a Faustian bargain by supporting Trump. They believe that he will eventually do away with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the result will be a theocracy. They believe that the ends justify the means, which is antithetical to everything in the New Testament.

    That is why I refer to them as “so-called” Christians.

  17. As near as I can tell people who claim Christianity are the same mix of good and bad as people who don’t. And also there’s no difference in faith that both rely on. Important things that can’t be known require us to assume something and we all do.

    The political problem among both groups are those whose entertainment choices center around fake news. The rest doesn’t seem to matter.

  18. moralist who sell arms,mmmm,kinda like the devil selling holy water,eh? im a a non believer,as a chatholic kid,(no,the priest didnt have a encounter) as my aunt,moms side was a nun in the ajoining parish.. where did i get my non beliefs,reading history. seems my empathy was a product of my grandfolks who were deeply catholic,but very open minded,and did not see race as a stepping stone.and all created equal… ( whereas,present day white working class in the south sees this as a badge of supremacy,now say im wrong?) my grandmother was invalid,bad heart,and issues, but we had a very open conversation where i was getting my information. i spent alot of time reading in a library,and with local kids,of all classes and colors.Dr.King was making his moves,newark where i was raised was ablaze,and cops were behind the natl guard. 65-66-67. morals,i saw the intent,i witnessed brutality,and seen how white over powered the situation,and it did nothing but fuel the hate.i wanted no part of it. ive become numb at the insults,and bigotry,not as i dont care,its just so massive today. im not giving in,as its not a matter,its a fight,above the evangeliterroists that has been spawned. they may talk big,and they talk taking over,as they spew thier hate,in plain sight. im taking names,and when the dust has settled,ill send them my regards as to thier hell…thier so called moral values are not of any religion ive witnessed in america,but of some silverspoon fed nationalist,who has that spoon hanging put his ass…

  19. “Poor Pat sold his soul and religion for profits like so many weak men do.” Todd Smekens writes. Is it not then logical for him to condone a murder in order to keep ‘selling’ mass murder weapons?

  20. Robertson and his fellow travelers like Billy and Franklin Graham and others have long traveled the path of power, self aggrandizement and greed. They peddle religion like the shopping channels peddle a product.

    Robertson plays into the stratospheric heights of American Foreign Policy Hypocrisy with Theocracy mixed in. American Foreign Policy has for decades counted on the world’s most brutal dictators as “friends and allies”. The Saudi’s and the other Gulf Oil States have absolutely no commitment to any human rights.

    It is at all not surprising to read and hear various politicians and TV Pundits blabbering on about how important the Saudi’s are as allies. Steroid Capitalism has no moral compass. If the Wall Street, Security-Military-Industrial Complex can make a few billion dollars, the compass orients to Profit at all costs.

    Marine Corp General Smedley Butler noted this:
    “In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
    I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.

    I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912.
    I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”

    We can only speculate at this point how much President Agent Orange’s decisions are influenced concerning the Saudi’s by his financial involvements there.

  21. There is only democracy or tyranny. Freedom or slavery. We have one more chance to revert back to democracy. November 6. Be there. Vote D.

  22. Pat Robertson has a TV show. Although he claims to be non political to some extent, he receives donations and must align his views with some of his largest donors. These donors may be Christian on a personal level, but in a public way only by name.
    They have business interests that don’t coincide with biblical points.
    They look at recent history and base their decisions upon rhetoric and the tactics used against them and legitimize their actions as justified.

  23. One of the silver linings to this obscene presidency is that the hypocrisy of religion has been fully exposed. You would have to be a fool at this point to think that any religious leader is in any way more wise than anyone else. Religion made sense when civilizing and controlling a an uneducated population was necessary. Now it simply impedes education.

  24. “…Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul…”

    Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”

  25. Jesus, in my humble opinion, was the first Socialist. He cared about people…he fed people with real food and then told everyone that would listen they should love one another and take care of each other and teach other to love each other. That is what the modern church fails us most…they, sadly, teach hatred and not love. Who cares about those, who I see every day panhandling? Those who need housing are chased away from their park benches because??? America needs to know that living here doesn’t make you a good person…it’s helping those who are down trodden because they can’t get a living picking straw berries…they only exist to serve the rich at the lowest of salaries…and if you can’t work….then die to decrease the surface population. N/

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